The Best Parenting Tip in the World

27 Jan

photo credit: K. Wittkamp/Lifesize/Getty

It’s the eve of the annual big snow* here in Georgia, and I, like many other idiots I’m sure, plan to hit the grocery store this afternoon before all of Atlanta shuts down. And I, like many other idiots I’m sure, am trying to figure out how to successfully accomplish this with a child in tow.

* there’s always one

It puts me in mind of a little parenting trick passed down through the generations in my family. This one little trick has prevented many a public meltdown, and I’m prepared to share it with you today. Are you ready? Here it is. It’s called….

Priming.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of bribery as it relates to children. And if you’re a parent, you’ve engaged in it at least once or twice (don’t even try to lie). It goes something like this:

Chic Mother and Cherubic Child enter the grocery store.

Chic Mother: Now little Charlie, we just need to pick up a few things and it won’t take very long.

Cherubic Child: I want to ride in the green car!

Mother:  Yes, it’s a very nice green car, but we only need a couple things so this handheld shopping basket with the thin bare metal handles is all we need.

Child: But I want the ride in the GREEN CAR!!

Mother (sensing trouble): Hey! Hey! I’ll tell you what Charlie! If you behave during the shopping, you can have a lollipop when we leave. OK? OK?

For kicks and giggles, let’s say little C.C. agrees to this bribe. A few minutes later Mother’s in the toothpaste aisle, trying to decide if Vivid White or Optic White will remove more of the wine stains.  

Child: Moooom, pick me up!

Mother: I can’t pick you up, I’m carrying the basket.

Child: eeeaaaHH….

Mother: (using warning voice) Charlie–if you don’t behave you will not get a lollypop.

Child: I WANT a lollipop! eeeaaaaHH–

Chicer Mother with more Adorable Child down the aisle looks at you with something like contempt. 

Mother: — OK OK! I’ve got you!

An hour later: Now carrying approximately 45 pounds in her arms and no longer looking chic, they approach the checkout counter.

Child: Lollipop!

Mother: I don’t know Charlie, you haven’t been very cooperative with mommy today.

Child: LOLLIPOP NOW!!!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH! flops on floor and rolls around while everyone in the store casts the disapproving stank eye upon the pair like so many stones cast at a Biblical prostitute. 

Does C.C. get the lollypop? You decide.

The point is, it’s not uncommon for a quick errand turned into an extended nightmare when bribery is employed. Priming, on the other hand, is bribery backwards. Go ahead and give the kid what he wants from the get go, and then ask for good behavior.

We lived in Washington, D.C. one summer when I was little. We went to the National Zoo like, every week. My brother and I got it into our heads to collect those little animals they sell at the souvenir shop. We wanted them so bad–we didn’t give a crap about seeing the actual, living creature if we couldn’t obtain the miniature plastic version. So my mom took to buying us a new piece for our collection first thing when we walked in the park. All three of us got to see the animals in peace.

You might think this sounds like a terrible plan. Hope your kid will be good, having already given her what she wants? Insanity! I tell you my friends, it works every time.* A happy kid is a cooperative kid. And if you’re worried about spoiling, just think about what bribery does–at least 67% of the time in the above scenario, mom will give him the lollipop, amirite? What could be spoiling a child more than letting him have what he wants right in the middle of throwing a big fit to get it? Better to avoid the fit in the first place, even if he does end up with 42 useless animal figures at the end of the summer. Small price to pay, if you ask me.

*nothing works every time. Don’t kid yourself. 

As soon as I detected the faintest whiff of reasoning capability in T, I started with the priming. Headed to the store? Give him a lollipop first thing (and for God’s sake–let the child have the green car), he spends twenty minutes sucking contentedly and I get to spend an extra 3.2 minutes dithering over whitening toothpaste (huh what?). Side note: lollipops are better than chocolate bars because they last longer, red dye #40 be damned.

My grandparents knew about priming too. On my birthday, they used to take me to Toys R Us and tell me to fill the cart with everything my heart desired–anything in the whole store. When stuff started falling off of the top of the cart, they let me choose one single item to take home. Do you think I ever complained about this arrangement? No way. But how hard would it have been for a six-year-old to be given the run of the store and told she could only pick one thing out? Don’t even answer that question unless you’ve seen my My Little Pony collection.

I’m telling you. If you are ever in charge of a child, your own or someone else’s*, and you want a smooth public outing experience, give them what they want at the beginning of the trip. Priming. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to plan your outing to be after meal time and nap time too. Happy baby = good baby.

* Bonus bonus hint: this works on spouses too. Just replace lollypop with something they want. Don’t ask me what it is, it’s your spouse. 

So do I plan to follow my own formula this afternoon? Ah, young grasshopper. The best advice for running errands with a toddler is: don’t run errands with a toddler if you can help it. I’ll pick him up later.

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