A Little Bribery Can Go A Long Way

Anyone who knows our family can attest that my 5-year-old could be the poster child for Middle Child Syndrome.  While her big brother and baby sister are confident, focused, and reliable, C is insecure, irresponsible, and generally out to lunch. I love her to death, but she is by far my most challenging child. 

(Well, that does not take into account her 2-year-old sister’s current reign of terror, which everyone assures me is a passing phase.  They better be right because I might be buying a one-way ticket to a deserted island if it doesn’t pass shortly.)

But back to the 5-year-old.  She has always been reticent to go into a classroom, whether it be school or Sunday School or any other childcare situation.  Every year we have dealt with this issue.  This year she is in kindergarten at the local elementary school, and she was doing great getting on the bus with the other neighborhood kids.  She expressed some anxiety over finding her classroom during the first week of school, but her big brother promised to walk her to her room until she was comfortable doing it alone.  I am so very thankful she has him.

So basically, all was going swimmingly.  Until yesterday. 

When the bus rolled around the corner, instead of climbing on with the rest of the kids, C turned around and clung to my leg, burying her face in my stomach.  The first time I hugged her, reassured her, and encouraged her to get on the bus.  She wasn’t budging.

So two times I walked her over to the bus, told her to get on, and firmly walked away.  Each time she ran after me and clung to me.

WHAT was I going to do?  The bus was full of school students, and the kindly older man who has been our bus driver for 3 years was smiling, waiting patiently for her to board.  There was no teacher to gently pry her off my leg and distract her while I made my escape.

I knew I had to get her on that bus so I resorted to the threat of discipline, and she went on grudgingly.  I walked home, wondering how I was going to get her to overcome her reluctance to get on that bus.  Because I do NOT want to go through this every day.

I don’t think she’s seeking attention, although it is possible she has me totally duped.  I really do think she has some anxiety about school that she can’t explain.  It saddens me, but after talking to Hub, we are confident that she needs to be in school.  At this point, there are no other options we’re willing to consider.

After school, her teacher brought her to my car and informed me that C had been sad to come to school.  She tried to talk to her about what would make her feel better but couldn’t get much out of her.  Welcome to my world.

Later that afternoon I exchanged a few emails with her teacher.  She assured me that she isn’t worried about C’s social interactions, but she is concerned with how she is feeling and perceiving school.  She suggested some positive reinforcement, and she is going to send home a book for me to read with her.  She is also going to change her seating in class, as she seems to feel she has no good friends at school.  This is only week 3, so I know it is early, but that is her perception. 

So yesterday afternoon I talked to C about getting on the bus, and I told her that when she gets on the bus happily and willingly, she can watch a TV show after school.  On the days she balks, there is no TV.

Well, that did the trick.  This morning I reminded her of our deal, and sure enough, she hopped right on the bus and turned around and waved.

Could it really be this easy?  Only time will tell.  But for now, I’m not above a little bribery to get the job done.

UPDATE: I just picked C up at school.  She was high as a kite, and the teacher informed me that she had almost been a problem in the other direction.   She CAN be quite silly and hyper.   It’s like one extreme or the other with this one.  I guess that’s good news, all things considered.  Now if we can just help her find some balance.

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16 Responses

  1. I say bribe, bribe and bribe some more! I have been a mother for 19 years (almost) and I still find myself offering bribes on a regular basis. You simply have to figure out what works for C and do what is best for her and you. Good luck and let me know if you find a deserted island ticket at a good price. I will bring the Pinot!

  2. I think it is great that C has a teacher that is willing to help not only her, but you as well, with the situation. I would find that very comforting.

  3. My middle child Hannah is just the same. I think you’ve picked a great motivator. My husband and I discussed this a few years ago. You can either motivate with a carrot or a stick. I think a balance of the two is key. And with my Hannah, the carrot is much more effective. She’s hyper-responsible as it is; if I dole out negative consequences too harshly, it crushes her.

    It’s been a tough lesson to learn, since hubby and I grew up with more “stick” motivation. I really had to lighten up. Now I’m grateful for Hannah and her need for that, since it’s made me a better parent for all three kids.

    (Hannah’s in 3rd grade this year, and she seems to have finally found her rhythm in the start of school. No anxiety yet. So maybe it’ll pass for C too.)

  4. Rewards and consequence are a natural part of life. I think you did the right thing.

    Don’t think of it as a bribe. Think of it as a consequence if her behavior does not meet your minimum expectations!

    A true bribe would have been offering her candy (or other treat/toy/special event) if she was a ‘good girl’ and did what you wanted…but there was not consequnce if she did not obey. THAT would be unacceptable in my book!

    I’ve dealt with parents I was babysitting for (FRIENDS OF MINE!) who would not enforce consequences for bad behavior and basically told their child they did not have to obey my rules while at my house.

    That did not fly.

    I had to say ‘no’ to keeping their child for them.

    So, take heart! You are on the right path!

    🙂 Traci Best

  5. I’d stick to the tv offer, its a good consequence. I think I’d call the guidance counselor. Its very common and they have all sorts of ways of helping children feel positive about school and themselves. We had to do it for C when he was in kindergarten.
    He was fine until Isaac was born and then school was horrible. We later found out it was over a comment made by the kindergarten aide but the counselor was very helpful.

  6. We went through this…..and we still go through this sometimes with our now 9 year old. Strangely enough, we have recently been told by teachers at school that kids who express anxiety at this age are often WAY more emotionally mature than their peers. This is even considered one defining trait of gifted and talented children. Odds are that she is seeing something in the situation that makes her uneasy….some of the rules, etc. and she is reading way more into the situation than what is needed. We have struggled with this more than a few times and I have found that punishing makes it worse, rewards like you mentioned work well, but by far the most effective thing is by telling stories about when you were young (make them up! have no shame!) about new situations you encountered, how they made you feel and how you learned different ways of dealing with them. I think we set our kids up so badly when they start K. We hype it up “oh it’s going to be FUN.” And then after 2 weeks the reality of the situation (i.e. RULES!, structure!, social situations!) comes crashing in like a hurricane. Go with it, love her through it, reach back in time and remind her she has been in situations where she was upset at first, but once she got used to it she was fine. Remind her of her strength, appreciate that she is not going to be a child who just jumps in to situations without knowing the lay of the land. And then remind yourself next year that it is probably going to all come around again after a few weeks of school.

  7. Our son had the VERY same situation last year in kindergarten wherein he felt he “had no good friends” in his class…
    I think it’s particularly hard when the new students have likely fantastized about what school will be…and it may not match or measure up…especially in the first three weeks.

    That said, you did just fine! You call it a bribe; I call it a behavioral motivator. 😉

  8. I used to have a problem with not wanting to bribe my kids. I now realize they sometimes need that extra encouragement to get things done. If used sparingly, bribes are not such a bad thing.

    And those hot wheels and Barbie clothes I doled out in the morning were well worth it to get them to stay dry at night when they were potty training.

  9. I completely empathize with you — my 2nd child is also like that! Instead of bribery, I prefer the word “REWARD”!! =) That make ME feel better anyway…. Whatever works!

  10. Oh, how I could relate to this. My middle child is my 3-year-old son. Ditto, ditto and ditto to everything you said. The first few weeks of preschool were rough for him (he only goes three half-days a week), but once he found a friend, things have improved tremendously. You’re right. There must be something about that middle child. 🙂

  11. I was a very shy child and a middle child also. I remember never eating my lunch in first grade. My mother couldn’t understand why I kept bringing home a full lunch box. Until our neighbor told her that I would just sit in the lunch room and cry. I was so scared! My mother was able to make arrangements to come and pick me up at school and take me home for lunch, that was allowed way back in the dark ages. Hopefully your little girl will make some friends and that should help her!

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