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“Bribery and Corruption”

I was asked today for some advice from a mom at my school which I will share in case you find yourself in a similar position. She is having a problem with her child not wanting to do class swimming in the winter months (in our heated pool). If your issue is something else, substitute any non-conformist situation and apply advice! Perhaps your child refuses to participate in sports or attend their extra lessons or puts up resistance on days where there is PT or a certain activity (which is a school-required activity).

Firstly I need to warn you that bribery is going to be involved. Some may not agree with this course of action, but these are the options: 1. Force (with fights and tantrums and possible punishment if the child does not comply) resulting in the child still disliking the activity, and now possibly, disliking you too. 2. “Rescue” the child by not insisting on their attendance, thereby cheating them out of valuable and beneficial school activities and not allowing them to grow in character by facing hardship. They will still like you, but they will be the poorer for it. Remember that sometimes you have to make tough decisions in being a good parent. OR 3) Co-erce the child into participating in the activity by offering a reasonable reward. They will benefit, they will be stretched, and you could possibly still come off as the ‘good guy’.
Bribery is not something entered into lightly or with unreasonable standards. I would rather call it a “compromise” with the child and there would need to be a one-on-one discussion first stating the terms of agreement. Bribery also cannot be used for every little thing a child does not feel like doing, eg. household chores. But in a situation where there is real fear or real discomfort (eg. swimming lessons or a big walk day) then perhaps a compromise can be reached.

A one-on-one discussion would involve you acknowledging the child’s fear and appealing to their honour by saying that you are prepared to reward their bravery. The “prize” would have to be something that means a lot to the child (ie whatever their “currency” is, whether it is money, toys, sweets, TV time, milkshakes, an outing, computer game time, extra reading time after bedtime, a playdate….etc.) If it is money it should be relative to their pocket money earnings and not a huge one-off amount, or else your child will soon learn that a little protest can lead to extortion! There could even be a bonus reward for non-performance prior to the event. My friend who originally asked for the advice not only wishes her daughter to participate in the required swimming lesson each week, but also to avoid the tears and melt-down scene the night before a swimming day. The pep talk is a big part of making the bribery work. Acknowledge feelings. Ask questions. Try to get to the bottom of why there is a problem. Discuss solutions. At the end of the chat, the fact remains that the child is still required to participate.
Make it more formal and make the child feel more part of the arrangement by drawing up a little ‘deal’ which outlines parent expectations in order for the child to be rewarded with their gift. Let them ‘sign’ the deal too as a novelty.

There are too many parents who go for the soft option as soon as an uncomfortable activity arises at school. Excuse notes and absenteeism are rife whenever there is a big walk or a fun gala or winter swimming. You are not teaching your child anything about hardship or overcoming or participating for the sake of fellowship and fun, or conforming for the sake of conforming to rules of an institution to which you belong. You may even be denying them an enjoyable day with their class and friends. Also, if the majority of the children hated the activity or moaned about it, the school would most likely look twice at whether it was beneficial to continue (I am talking about Foundation Phase pupils who are generally enthusiastic about most activities! Older children may moan just because it’s “cool” to be disinterested). Possibly your child is one of a minority who reacts against the activity. This mom wanted to know if most children complained about swimming in winter. Truthfully, no, they do not. I have had a handful of children over my 11 years who have had a serious issue with swimming lessons. Even though most are cold for a few minutes before they hop into the heated indoor pool (we are very fortunate to have raised money for that a number of years ago), they enjoy their lesson, and are allowed to hop out if too cold during the lesson. Very few do. As soon as they are back in their tracksuits, they are warm again. Perhaps the issue is also that the child is not a strong swimmer. As far as I can see, Foundation Phase children do not tease others about their swimming prowess. They swim in three ability groups and there are more than a few in the ‘weaker’ group. Children also need to learn to be comfortable in having different strengths and weaknesses.

You could even get the teacher on board without creating an admin project for her : explain the situation and game plan to her. She may be prepared to reward the child at school (peer recognition is very powerful) or ask if the child can bring the homework diary to the teacher for a smiley face after the activity has been completed. This lets the child know that they have their pre-arranged gift “in the bag” but lets them have a taste of success at school before they even get home.

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