My daughter usually goes to the grocery store with me. As a parent, I would like to think it is because she loves me and wants to be in my company, but it is more likely because almost every time we go, she talks me into a treat of some kind.
Sometimes it is a small toy ($1 matchbox cars are her favorite), but usually, it is a bag of M&Ms. We’ll reach the checkout line, and she’ll look up at me with her little blue eyes and squeaky voice and say, “Dad, can I have a treat?”
It is hard to say no, at least when she asks. Most of the time, she simply grabs the bag and chucks it on the conveyor belt with the rest of the groceries. She always asks me to open them as soon as we get in the car, even though we live less than a mile from the store.
I say all of this as a lead up to a simple point: My daughter really likes M&Ms. If I go to the store without her but still get her a bag, she’ll start panting like a dog when she sees them. They make her happy, and my wife and I use this to our advantage.
The Power of Bribes
Like most parents, my wife and I have a complicated relationship with bribes. We want our children to listen to us when we tell them what to do. We are the parents. They are the children. We are in charge. But then there are times when we are tired or worn out, or just need a break from arguing, and we fall into the trap a lot of parents do: if you do what we say, we will give you something you want.
This turned into a key part of our potty training process. Early on my daughter struggled to know when she had to go to the bathroom. There was a disconnect between feeling like she had to go and going to her toilet. To combat this, my wife and I wanted her to spend time simply sitting on the toilet—even if she said she didn’t need to go — to get accustomed to going to the bathroom there.
Like most two-and-a-half-year-olds, she resisted. The problem was when she was not on the toilet she would have an accident and go to the bathroom on the floor. The answer to our problem was M&Ms.
We started to bribe my daughter to use the toilet. She would get one M&M if she sat on the toilet, two if she peed in the toilet and four if she pooped. We were happy just to get her to sit there. Once she got her M&M treat, she would sit on her toilet and watch television for a little bit. After a while, she would spend longer and longer amounts of time just sitting on the toilet, sometimes using it as she was expected.
It helped us reduce the number of accidents along with getting her accustomed to using the toilet. When she did go to the potty, we would cheer and then give her an earned M&M reward.
It can be difficult to know when to use a bribe for a child, but in this case, it worked. A few M&M’s were a small price to pay for our sanity.