Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: I Unabashedly Bribe My Grandsons

Dear Readers,

This is an unabridged version of a column I wrote for GRAND Magazine. My grandsons have reviewed it and have given me permission to write about them.

With the arrival of summer, and because so many grandparents spend lots of time with their grandchildren, I decided to focus this column on the little-talked-about art of . . . hmm . . . motivating? influencing? . . . hmm, okay, I’ll call it what it is . . . bribing. Yes, I bribe my grandsons on a regular basis and I have no intention of stopping. During the summer my husband and I live with our daughter, son-in-law, and our two grandsons, so I’ve been able to hone my bribery skills. Actually, I consider myself a bit of an expert.

It all started two years ago when my older grandson, then 13, was complaining about having to make his bed. He would get all grumpy and say that he would rather do anything than have to make his bed.

“Okay,” I said to him, “would you rather make your bed or give me a big hug?” He thought about it and decided he would rather hug me. So every morning during the summer months, my older grandson gets up, gives me a nice hug, and I make his bed. Jealous of those hugs I was getting, his mother made his bed one morning and when she went for a hug, I cut her off at the pass, saying to my grandson, “Uh, uh. Your mother didn’t make your bed, I did.” I got the hug. Too bad for my daughter, but, after all, lying and bribery do go hand in hand.

Here are some additional examples of my successful bribes.

I asked my younger grandson, age ten, if he would like to play Scrabble with me. “No thank you, Gramma Karen,” says he. I wait. (Patience is another attribute of good bribery.) Soon he approaches me asking for his special breakfast, the one that only I know how to make. (Don’t bother asking; I will not share the recipe. A good briber does not give away one’s leverage.)

“Sure, honey, I’ll make your special breakfast if you’ll play Scrabble with me.” I watch his furrowed brow thoughtfully move up and down, lips purse, relax and purse again; these facial gyrations are repeated several times. As predicted, hunger wins. After he enjoys his breakfast – the special one – we play Scrabble. (The days of my letting him win are long gone. He’s good!)

Or, my grandsons ask me to take them miniature golfing or to Six Flags Great Adventure. I explain that I am happy to do that if they will first take a bike ride with me, something they have already declined to do. They confer and after much whispering they stand in front of me ready to say something. I cut them off: “No, this is not negotiable. We take a bike ride first.” (You never want to undermine a bribe in process with negotiation.) They agree to a bike ride, followed by their activity of choice.

Another benefit of bribing is that it does not have to be limited to one’s grandchildren. I use it all the time with our grand nieces and nephews. For example, when we have our extended family Thanksgiving comprising about 30 of us, our eight grand nieces and nephews do not want to spend any quality time with Gramma Karen and Peps. Understandably, they would rather be with their cousins.

However, if we want more than a cursory hug, we revert to, yes, bribery. Each grand niece and nephew knows that we have a holiday card to give them containing cash. We simply announce that if anyone wants a holiday card, they will have to sit alone with us and tell us how they might spend this holiday money. They end up talking about their lives, absolutely delightful and special conversations. Once the word is out that Gramma Karen and Peps are “doing the cards,” the kids clamor to have alone time with us. “Me, me! My turn!”

Meanwhile, at the same time, my sister, the family photographer, is using her own version of bribery – trying to get all the kids to pose for pictures, something they fiercely object to doing. So, she pays them to pose. That part is fine, but she ups the amount when they squawk that the amount she is paying them is too low. I’ve explained to her that a good briber sets the terms and never acquiesces, but when it comes to the kids, she’s a pushover, an example of how not to bribe.

Anyway, I have many, many such examples in which my artfully-applied bribery is effective with my grandsons – with no muss, no fuss, including, getting them: to write thank-you notes; to shower; to clean their rooms; and best of all, to hug me.

You’re welcome: I shared this useful technique with you and you didn’t even have to bribe me.

If you have your own examples of how you use bribery successfully in your family, I’d love to hear from you. If you want to tell me what a terrible person I am for using bribery, please don’t bother. I’ve already told you I am an unabashed briber.

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
E-mail queries to [email protected].

Karen L. Rancourt’s most recent book is,
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen, Volume II: Savvy Advice to Soothe Parent-Grandparent Conflicts.

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One thought on “Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: I Unabashedly Bribe My Grandsons

  1. Love, love, love this column! And in spite of the fact that you don’t negotiate with your grandsons, this is actually a great way to train them in the broad negotiating concept that you have to give something to get something. 🙂 (My story: We once bribed our daughter, who was about 10 at the time, to put up with a 3+ week driving trip she had no interest in by tacking a visit to Las Vegas onto the end of it.)

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