On Bribery and Bargaining

We’ve all been there.

A frustrating meal time with a lovingly prepared plate being turned down to the tune of angry cries and unnecessary screams of apparent torture.

A public showdown with an angry toddler in a supermarket who won’t move from the inside of a chest freezer.

Two exhausted parents battling to get a child into bed for longer than forty five seconds at a time.

And we’ve all done it, reached for the biscuit tin, or the chocolate buttons. It’s so easy to manage the situation that way, without raised voices or threats or wasting hours of your time. Aside from that, it’s such a relief to finally have an old enough child that can be reasoned with enough to make a compromise. Eat five more bites of lunch and u can have a chocolate button. If you stay in your bed, I’ll go get you a biscuit. What a pleasure to not have a baby, to not have to reiterate your expectation seventeen different ways, speaking slower and louder as if your child is a Japanese tourist, with large expansive gestures. and at the end of the exchange you’re no better off, with the same comprehension success rate as you would have with the tourist. It’s just so tempting to save yourself the hassle, especially considering the extent of your compromise. It’s one piece of choc. It’s one animal biscuit, it’s a tiny bit of juice. What’s the harm really?

(I would add at this point its not just food, it’s also DVDs, iPad games, etc. basically any ‘treats’ which the kid doesn’t have on tap. In our house unsurprisingly, unhealthy food holds the most allure.)

But at what point does making your life easier simply become spoiling your child?

Lately, I’m beginning to think its much less about how large the treat is, and more about the power play.

To emphasise, let me share a story from this week. R and I were sitting at his table, enjoying a (delicious, not that it matters) lunch of pasta and sauce. I’m aware my son likes his pasta exactly the way I did until I was 16-entirely plain and not touching any other foods. And it makes me want to scream. (Yes, I’m aware of the irony, and yes, I should probably apologise to my own mum.) but I’m trying really hard to break R’s habit at a younger age to my own. After fifteen mins of unsuccessful yum yum noises and many coaxing attempts at telling him what a big boy he is, reading stories and the like, I was ready to scream into a pillow. I turned to him and reached for my hidden Ace. “R? If you eat your pasta, you can have TWO choc buttons. Wowww” I stressed, emphasising the excitement of doubling the usual bribe.
My son sat down in his seat, and picked up his spoon with one hand. Pausing before he began eating, he turned to face me. Using all his new mathematical skills, he spread his other hand in my face, fingers outstretched.

“No.” He smiled through his tearstained face. “Five.”

As momentarily shocked as I was at my two year old playing hardball, I managed to remember my policy of not negotiating with terrorists, and he went to bed without any lunch at all.

But the episode has stayed with me. If I’d given him the five choc buttons, he would have happily munched down the entire plate of food, and it would still have been less choc than I would offer as a special treat in other circumstances. We brush his teeth regularly, he eats healthily and has sugar in moderation, it wouldn’t have done him any damage physically. But what’s stopping him asking for ten next time? Or a snickers bar for that matter? And how can I say no when I’m the one who has given him the expectation that eating his meals = chocolate. Or staying in bed = biscuits? And even more so, that its up to him to set the boundaries?

For me it’s a hard one. I don’t want to give up the ability to fix a problem 123, and sometimes when the food is new or the sleep is urgent I really don’t mind the normal rules dropping by the wayside. But I suppose I’ve noticed how easy it is for them to get lost altogether, and for the ‘one offs’ to become everyday practices. And with what amounts to a tiny little sponge learning from everything we do and say, creating his own world of right and wrong behaviour around our actions, I hope I can try and find some healthier methods of coercion at the next macaroni cheese slinging event or 2am wake up call.

bribing mealtime

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Peppa Pig has Bad Parents.

Is it just me, or is Peppa just not a very good role model for our kids?

My son loves a lot of things. He loves his baby bear, he loves most types of food, he loves books of all kinds, and this week he loves Lego. But as I’m sure most parents find with their kids, he doesn’t love anything as much as the limited time he spends watching TV shows. As we don’t have a television, at the moment his entire repertoire of shows consists of Baby Einstein and Peppa Pig which we’ve downloaded to our laptop/smartphones. Most parents will agree that Peppa is a useful show, because it only lasts five minutes. The perfect amount of time to keep your kid entertained while you make the important phone call, quickly put the supper on, scream into a pillow etc, without making you feel like one of those mums who over-uses TV as a way to entertain their offspring. (After all, 5 minutes even three times a day barely counts as television, I wouldn’t even mention it. ;))

I chose Peppa Pig because I saw endless children who were obsessed with the characters, and because we had received a book with Peppa and George in our Bookstart pack from the library, and R brought it to me to read about 7 times a day. And it’s a cute show, with simple and sweet story lines. For those (luckily) not in the know, the family of pigs consists of Mummy and Daddy Pig, Grandma and Grandpa Pig (I assume Daddy Pig’s parents given the matching surname?) Peppa, who seems to be about 3 or 4, and her baby brother George, somewhere between 1 and 2. Oh the hiijinks they can get up to in five minutes!

So what bothers me? A few things, and I preface this by saying I know I’m probably being over the top, and also that I have only seen approx half of the first season and none of the others.

1. Language
Does anyone else notice the amount of times Peppa exclaims “Naughty Daddy!” or “Messy Mummy!” or “Silly Naughty Daddy!” and the entire family erupts into peals of laughter? I see that the parent in question normally joins in the laughter, so I wouldn’t say it’s exactly encouraging bullying and teasing, but surely there is a correct way to talk to your parents, and this just isn’t it! Aren’t we showing our kids at their most receptive time for learning that it’s okay to use words like naughty and silly, and not only use them but direct them to their mums and dads? Worse still, the parents reinforce this by using the same language to each other in front of the children too. Over the top or not, I find it uncomfortable.

2. Food.
I know they are a family of pigs, so maybe I’m fighting a losing battle with this one, but is there ONE episode of this show where they don’t consume junk food? Biscuits, Pancakes, Chocolate Cake, Cookie batter… and all eaten in two swift bites! Would it kill the writers to give Peppa an apple?

3. Gender Stereotyping.
Daddy Pig works in an Office. He has a flashy laptop and a big desk. If Mummy Pig does any work, it is condescendingly referred to as Very Important, and is done on the Amstrad PC she has upstairs in her bedroom. Of course, the second the computer stops working, she is all a flap and calls Daddy Pig to fix the big mean problem. He promptly turns it on and off again to rapturous applause from the females and children. Phew. What would we do without big strong men-folk.. er, pig-folk.

4. Discipline.
If the Pig residence was a real household, Super Nanny would have been called years ago. Because there is no way that Peppa and George would be such well behaved kids with the lack of discipline they are shown.

Example One
“Peppa, be careful with your bike around my prize pumpkin!”
“Yes Daddy…. [to friends “lets race to Daddy’s pumpkin!”] CRASH …sorry Daddy”
“That’s okay Peppa, as long as you’re ok, now lets make pumpkin pie as a reward for you totally ignoring what I just told you!”

Example Two
Peppa and George are jumping in Muddy Puddles. They are head to toe covered in filth. 
“Let’s go show Daddy!” 
-traipse into house spreading mud everywhere-
“Hahaha, lets get you cleaned up before Mummy Pig sees.” 

Not even a “next time don’t bring mud in the house/ take your boots off first.”

Don’t get me wrong, there are far worse characters out there, who promote much more dangerous activities than pumpkin smashing and mud slinging. And far less educational shows for toddlers as well, which seem to consist of nonsense being babbled at my baby for twenty or thirty minutes. (If I wanted that, I would put him in front of a mirror.) In comparison, Peppa Pig is pretty harmless.

Yet it bothers me that in any episode where Peppa does something naughty, she either looks sheepish for about 3 seconds until her family erupts into laughter, or she says “sorry Daddy/Mummy” in the singsongiest of voices until she gets a tooth decaying treat for her trouble.

I’m not saying they should fill the show with Peppa sitting on the naughty step and receiving lessons on her 5 a day. I’m just not sure I want R looking up to her that much either.
Thoughts?

Adventures of a parent, working from home.

Today may be the last day of my previously mentioned optimistic attempt to Work From Home.

Apparently my son is on a crusade to make it as obvious as possible that he is not happy with the lack of attention he is getting on a Monday and Tuesday morning.

This morning, after a while in his playroom, I heard the whinging begin, and opened the living room door to let him explore the house a bit, hopefully giving me an additional half hour to finish off my current task. It all began well, he immediately went to the magnets on his bedroom radiator, and was happily playing while I returned to my laptop. A few minutes later I see him wander on hands and knees into the kitchen, no doubt to helpfully remove all the food pouches from the shelf and tip out my box of child friendly cutlery. The kitchen being, believe it or not, one of the safer places in our flat, I decided to leave him to it.

A few minutes later, I am suddenly aware of how quiet it is. As every parent knows, it is not the noise you have to fear, the real trouble begins when you hear absolutely nothing. Quickly entering the kitchen, I hear an all too famillar noise. “Mm nyum myum.” From behind, I can see that R has sat himself happily by the now open snack cupboard. Oh disaster, I mentally list all the forbidden foods we currently have in stock. Chocolate, crisps, marshmallows, gummy bears, even boiled sweets and other choking hazards. Rushing over to him, I glance at the floor and spot half a bar of chocolate discarded next to my son. In his hands, the other half of the bar, half covered in the cardboard casing, with chocolate sticking out over the top, in easy reach of my son’s waiting mouth.

Of course, he isnt interested in the chocolate part of this naughty treat. He is far too busy chewing on the aluminium foil wrapping. That’s right, with chocolate a-plenty within swallowing distance, I instead spend the next 2 minutes removing pieces of tin foil from my sons mouth and hands, to great protestations.

This story kind of reminds me of the biblical tale of the first time King Pharoah met baby Moses. The story goes as following. To test the intentions of this tiny babe, the king placed two bowls in front of the baby. One contained gold and jewelry. The other, glowing shiny coals. If Moses reached for the coals, like any baby would when presented with something shiny, he passed the test. If he instead went for the apparently dull looking gems, the king would know he was after his crown, and remove him from the palace. Moses, being indeed cleverer than his years would suggest, reached for the treasure, and if not for an angel of God moving his hands to the coals, perhaps we would not be here today.

Apparently, my son is not the next Messiah. Not only did he fail this test, being enthralled by the shiny foil as opposed to the treasure of chocolate, I would bet money that when Moses was taken away from his treasure, he wasnt as easily placated with half a cracker.