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A bribe by any other name convinces Big Guy to read

Submitted by on Monday, 14 July 2008 No Comment

Big Guy roared through the door with a fire up his fanny, barreling past me to the bookcase. He picked the biggest volume he could find — a 13-book Dr. Seuss compilation — and lugging it to the living room.

“”Mom, I almost forgot. We have to do a reading lesson every day now — teacher says.”"

His next words, though, wiped the Chester Cheetah grin off my face. “”I have to learn to read so they’ll give me a book.”"

Uh-oh. Four days of kindergarten under his belt and the school system already had corrupted him with one of my pet peeves: The bribe.

I readily admit I’m a bit — no, a lot — sanctimonious on this point. No one bribes me to do my job every day — the state of the newspaper business of late, I’m lucky they still pay me. No one bribes me to fix dinner — in fact, there are nights when the reaction to my efforts is so hostile I wonder why I bother.

So why bribe a kid to do something he has to do — get out of bed in the morning with a minimum of grumping, get dressed, learn to read.

I’d succeeded, thus far, in pouring a lot of knowledge into his head without resorting to bribes. So much that just the other day he was shocked when a kid 3 years older asked if he were allergic to the ice in his water. “”Doesn’t she know that ice is water?”" he laughed.

And he’d always paid rapt attention each night at story time, even when I thought he wasn’t. For the month leading to his kindergarten start, he wanted to read “”Franklin Goes to School”" so many times that it seemed he’d lost interest in the tale of his favorite turtle’s first day.

I found out differently, though, on Big Guy’s actual first day when he woke up and began re-enacting the story. “”I don’t want breakfast. My tummy feels like it’s fully of jumping frogs,”" he said. Just as Franklin tells his parents in the book.

Still, it bothered me that he never wanted to take a more active role in reading. I tried last fall, when he started learning letters at preschool. We’d pause every few pages and I’d ask if he could find an A or a B or whatever the letter was that week. After a few weeks, it became more frustration than it was worth, so I gave up.

Now, though, there was a chance to get him involved. All I had to do was abandon a principle I’d stuck to since the day he was born. Suddenly I understood that whole apple in the Garden of Eden thing.

As Big Guy pushed the book at me, Little Guy pulled me toward the bathroom. Potty trumps stories. I told Big Guy I’d be back in a minute.

Little Guy finished his business and clamored for his sticker. It’s a system I set up when Big Guy was so intractably stubborn about potty-training. Use the potty, get a sticker. Finish a row of stickers and you get to stick your hand in a bag and pull out a small prize.

Holy crap. I’d been bribing my kids for more than three years but had never admitted it. Great. I’m sanctimonious and a hypocrite.

Come on, Big Guy. Let’s read some Seuss and earn you a book.

I refuse to call it a bribe, though. How about a reward for a job well done? An intellectual pay day?

I know — that’s all pure Oscar Mayer, but my ego needs the balm.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Genevieve said:

    “LOL – I do the sticker thing too. Except my little guy wants to wear them on his feet and then act out whatever that sticker is. Dinosaurs, spiderman,Diego, cars, etc and so on.

    My pet peeve is to threaten to take something away … that you know you’ll never do. Empty threats?

    Heard one mom say, “”Get over here now or you won’t get your present.”"

    a. kid had no idea he had a present coming.
    b. heard her say to someone else it was a puppy.

    Good luck taking that back ;) .

    Great post, enjoyed it!”

  • Debra said:

    “No stickers on the feet here — yet. But Little Guy insists on two now. One for him and one for his El.

    My principles took another dive today. We used — shudder! — flash cards. You know — those tools of the devil that teach rote memorization? Except the way his teachers explained it, it actually made sense to use them. When you’re rolling through the alphabet, well, alphabetically, you never know if they really KNOW something or if they’ve memorized it in order. All right, then. Flash cards it is!

    At least they were on sale for $1 at Target, so selling out was cheap.”