Holiday Bribery – Roundtable Discussion

13 Dec

Even though we do the whole “Santa thing” in our house, I really don’t like bribing my kids with presents in order to ensure their good behavior.  (I’m not saying that I’ve NEVER bribed my kids – I wish!  I remember months of my daughter demanding – and receiving – a lollipop every time she pooped on the potty.  I don’t care, it worked.)

For some reason, I just don’t like the idea of saying, “Hey, you need to behave or Santa won’t bring you any presents.”  Something about that rubs me the wrong way.  You shouldn’t refrain from hitting your brother just because you want a new bike!  So I basically try…and try…and try…to encourage good behavior simply because it’s the right thing to do.

And now, as many of you know, the world has been introduced to the Elf on the Shelf –  Santa’s little minion who hides around your house, spies on your kids, and then flies back to the North Pole every night to give behavior reports.  Good old-fashioned creepy Christmas fun!

So the kids are supposed to behave because the elf is taking notes, Santa is making a list, and they hope to get presents on Christmas morning.  While this may influence kids’ behavior in December, what about the rest of the year?

How do you handle your “holiday bribery”?  Do you push the Santa idea to keep your kids in line?  We’d love to hear from you!


8 Responses to “Holiday Bribery – Roundtable Discussion”

  1. Nathan M McTague December 13, 2010 at 10:46 pm #

    No WAAAAY!! 🙂

    In fact, our girls picked up the idea from friends and songs like “Santa Claus is coming to Town”, so we sat them down and made sure they knew that Santa knows they are good children even if they do cry, or pout, or shout. It has even become a little bit of a joke in our house that “Santa is gonna bust you for that…”

    We also happen to avoid bribery all together. But that’s a whole other blog post…

  2. Tanya December 13, 2010 at 11:26 pm #

    Nope. Not at all. While we “do Santa”… we also know the story of St. Nicholas. That it’s his spirit of giving that we all try to emulate at Christmas. We’ve come up with an all inclusive view that Santa is real, but not in the literal sense that he’s one dude that lives up north with little people for employees and a cool vehicle!

    Our jokes this year is that all the people in line buying toys at Target forgot their elf ears at home… and that certain behaviors “just might earn you as much coal as toys!”

    We also celebrate Epiphany. The Wise Men brought gifts to baby Jesus. Like Santa/St. Nick, they don’t literally come to our house the night of January 5th… but, in my family’s Puerto Rican cultural tradition, the kids have little boxes/baskets with hay (imitating baby Jesus’ cradle in the manger) next to their beds and in the morning there are some gifts. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh are not exactly what I want in my 7 yr old’s little box… but in the past we’ve put gold chocolate coins, nice scented lotions, and a religious book or Veggie Tale video.

    I love seeing pictures of people’s elf on a shelf… often not on shelves at all, but hanging from the chandeliers or sitting in a bag of sugar getting into michief themselves. I don’t like the idea that they’re Santa’s naughty or nice spies. I thought of doing this elf thing for my daughter… but just for fun. Maybe next year. 🙂

  3. Lori December 14, 2010 at 3:13 am #

    While I am not opposed to bribery in some forms (like you Jen, I agree that desperate times call for desperate measures); I do not like the idea of telling my own kids “Santa” won’t bring them stuff if they don’t behave. For our family, it’s not the “right” message.

    Though, it seems our family is definitely unique in that we don’t subscribe to the “Santa” fantasy. When Christmas time is coming, I read books to my kids about Saint Nicholas and we’ve even talked about how over hundreds of years, his story and image have morphed over time into the modern day “character” of “Santa Clause”.

    I know what some of you may be thinking; no I’m not the Grinch, and believe me, my children have PLENTY of opportunity for fun and pretend; I don’t in any way feel that I am “robbing” them of any childhood fantasy. In fact, my kids don’t really care that Santa is not real. The real bummer for them was that the tooth fairy isn’t real! I have promised my 5 year old that when she loses her teeth, I will “play the tooth fairy game” with her. To avoid angering every parent I know, I have explained to my kids that they whole Santa thing is a game some parents like to play with their children. The children believe it’s real, until the parents feel it’s time to let them in on the secret, that he’s not really an actual person. I talk to them about respecting people’s differences and let them know it would not be appropriate for them to let another child in on the secret; that’s their parents’ job. So far, it hasn’t been an issue.

    It boils down to one very basic virtue for me. Honesty. I don’t believe in lying to my kids. About anything. I want my children to trust me and for me personally, I feel that this is one major way in which I can do this.

    I also think forcing a child to sit on a stranger’s lap to pose for a picture is contrary to what I am teaching my kids about stranger danger. So, we also don’t do the ever popular mall pictures.

    Long story short, there is no way I’d ever buy the Elf on the Shelf. But, as fate would have it, my 5 year old’s teacher read the story to them in class and hides the Elf every morning in their classroom! My daughter tells me the teacher tells the kids that the elf is watching, and will tell Santa when they are not behaving. She uses it against some of the kids in the class, reminding them if they do not cooperate, the elf will let Santa know! My daughter isn’t phased because she knows it’s not true. She plays along faithfully though, and for that, I am appreciative!

    • Tanya December 14, 2010 at 5:22 pm #

      Lori… is this a Christian school? There is a Muslim girl in my daughter’s class, so that wouldn’t fly well. But, makes me wonder if her school or teacher would actually do that in the classroom if they knew all the kids were Christians.

      I agree with the honesty, and I have loads of friends who tease me for not 100% pushing her into “Santa” or the “tooth fairy.” Both of which, my daughter uses air quotes when talking about them (funny on a 7yr old!). We likely had the identical conversation about respecting other family’s traditions and not spoiling the story for other kids. We play along and read the books, watch the TV specials, but always go back to talking about St. Nicholas. “Santa” is almost more of a verb for us, something you do – generosity, charity, giving, etc… not someone who is watching you and will show up with gifts one day a year. I do like the silliness that some do with the elf, and as a “what’s mom going to do with the elf while I’m asleep tonight?!?” fun game.

      I also agree they’re not being robbed of any fantasies. I think the heartbreak of a 6-7 yr old finding out from a classmate or older cousin in a mean “haha, santa’s not real, you’re a baby if you believe that, your parents lied to you!!” is way worse than having known the truth all along (that’s how I found out). My daughter’s silly dragon rescuing a goldfish from the jaws of an alligator fantasy stories she makes up with Lego and Little People are way more important to me than Santa and the Tooth Fairy. I wish that dragon was “real.” 😀

  4. Lori December 15, 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    Tanya, my daughter does NOT attend a Christian school. We’ve never been asked about our personal religious or spiritual beliefs, so it’s highly unlikely the teacher even knows what the preferences of the families are. You certainly bring up a great point though. I know she means no harm at the same time. It’s a fun way to get the children excited about Christmas, and keep some of them “in line”!

    Another point of contention happens when EVERY adult we encounter throughout the Christmas season, and even after asks, “What is Santa bringing you?” Or “What did Santa bring you?” My oldest daughter literally looks at me with a huge question mark expression, because here is an adult (who she knows KNOWS Santa does not exist), asking her what she perceives as a ridiculous question! I will interject at that point and say, “What do you really want for Christmas?” Or “What was the favorite thing you got?” It’s weird and cause for yet another conversation about how most adults believe ALL kids play the game, and so not wanting to spoil it, they play along. But again, it’s really a weird concept to explain to a child.

  5. Lisa Martin December 16, 2010 at 2:02 pm #

    With our 5-year-old son, I just say, “Are you going on the naughty list?” when he does something questionable this time of year. I don’t outright say anything about presents or Santa because the implication seems to do the trick. For now at least!

  6. Nathan M McTague December 18, 2010 at 9:27 am #

    We have taken our cues from the kids about Santa. Both the older girls know there is no actual guy, and that Santa is a concept, and told us so in their own ways and times. But like all things they play, they play for real. So they talk about Santa as though he were real. The also have a more potent belief in the Christmas Faery. We leave cookies for Santa Claus, and fruits or veggie bits for Holly. The youngest has been inundated by the elders, so she is the one who actually dictated a letter to Santa this year, and asked for things for her sisters… We figure, who are we to tell them they are wrong about either, really. I remember fully believing in Santa, and how good it felt, even after I knew it was a “game”, but then I never had the embarrassing school play ground variety of Santa revelation either.

    We also do the whole informational exposé each year about Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, Father Winter/Christmas, and Odin — all of whom are portions of the modern composite Santa. We also celebrate what we call “Yule Tide” which includes observance of certain portions and information about Hanukah, traditional Yule (which begins on the Winter Solstice), Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s.

    So don’t feel alone, Lori. I can identify with feeling like the odd balls in the holiday world. I frequently find myself shouting, “Bon Yule!” too fervently to holiday well-wishers happening by. And explaining ad nauseam what Yule means, and whether or not we’re pagan, and why we don’t just go more low key…

    Bottom line, though, on the bribery — I think it creates trouble that takes long enough to show up that parents often don’t get that bribery led to A, B and C. They see it make things happen in the moment, and then once the parenting economy has been set up that way, it becomes self-perpetuating. If we choose instead to negotiate, and to respect their time and process(es), and to reconsider our requests, and to focus on the relationship more than on achieving compliance exclusively, then we set up a different version of parent-child relations. And by strengthening and maintaining the relationship (read:bond), and using it to teach our kids about how life works, as well as to lead our children in appropriate methods of interaction, bribery becomes utterly unnecessary.


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    […] recently came across a blog that was asking the readers to weigh in about bribing kids with the notion that Santa will only […]

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