At Down To Earth, we frequently hear parents remark that “my kid won’t” do what he’s supposed to. They won’t brush their teeth, they won’t do their homework, they won’t clean their room, they won’t stay in their own bed… We also frequently hear that children misbehave when they are out in public. They fidget during church, they ask for everything they see at the grocery store, they won’t sit still for a haircut…

Our typical response to these complaints is, “What’s in it for them?” Parents will usually answer with things like, “Well, she’s got to brush her teeth or she’s going to get cavities,” or “He’s never going to get into college if he doesn’t do his homework,” or “Her hair is going to look silly if she doesn’t sit still during her haircut.”

We don’t disagree, but that doesn’t answer the question, “What’s in it for them?” When we ask the question again, many parents get confused, but will rephrase their original answers as if we didn’t understand them the first time. They’ll say things like, “she’ll have good teeth,” “he’ll get into a good college,” or, “she’ll look nice.”

Our next question is typically, “Does he care about that?” Some parents are really starting to get irritated at this point, thinking they really picked a stupid doctor. They sometimes huff things at us like, “I don’t care if he wants to brush his teeth, I’m not taking him to have a bunch of cavities filled,” or, “He’s got to get a scholarship because we sure can’t pay for college,” or “I don’t want her to have to walk around with a goofy looking haircut.”

We generally reply something to the effect of, “Okay, YOU seem to care a great deal about his teeth, but does HE?” The reply, “Well, I guess not. If he cared, I wouldn’t have to yell at him every night to brush them!” Bingo, we have our answer! He simply does not care about his teeth.

The next thing we ask parents to do is to think of something that they really don’t care about. Something like pro wrestling or stock car racing, perhaps folding socks or ironing curtains, or maybe politics. Assume for a moment that you absolutely hated pro wrestling and that someone wanted you to watch pro wrestling EVERY NIGHT before you went to bed. What would you think of that? Would you do it? Would you care about the wrestlers? Would you worry if it looked like they got hurt? Would you be excited about who was going to win? No, of course not, you hate pro wrestling, you have no interest in it, you see no benefit from it, and you would probably try like heck to get out of watching it any way you could.

That’s the same thing that is going on with your kid brushing his teeth. He hates it, he has no interest in it, he can see no benefit from it, and he tries everything he can think of to get out of it.

Then we ask, “What would it take for you to go ahead and agree to watch pro wrestling every night before you go to bed?” If people haven’t yet figured out where we’re going with this, they say outrageous things like, “you’d have to pay me a million dollars,” or “I would do it if a sexy movie star gave me a massage while I was watching,” or “you couldn’t pay me enough!”

So, we look at the parent who just demanded a million dollars to watch pro wrestling and we suggest that he pay his son 50 cents a night to brush his teeth. They often look at us like we are crazy. What?! Pay my son to brush his teeth? That’s ridiculous. But wait, you just said it would take a MILLION dollars for you to watch pro wrestling, but you won’t pay your kid 50 cents?

Well, now the parent is quite convinced that they have selected a nutty doctor and they try to educate us about the benefits of brushing one’s teeth. We don’t argue, but we then educate them about the benefits of watching pro wrestling. They disagree. They say our arguments are no good. There is no benefit to pro wrestling. We suggest that they are simply not aware of the benefits of pro wrestling yet because they haven’t watched it long enough to learn the full extent that pro wrestling can offer.

This is the same argument they are having with their children. The parent KNOWS the benefits of brushing his teeth because he’s been doing it for years and years and years. The parent KNOWS the pain of having teeth pulled because he’s had it done. The parent KNOWS the cost of dental work because he’s paid for it. The kid doesn’t know any of this any more than you know the long-reaching benefits of pro wrestling.

So, how are you going to get your kid to do it today so that he will gain the years of experience that are needed in order for him to appreciate the real value of brushing his teeth? Make it worth his while now!

Give a kid a quarter when he brushes his teeth without being told. Take the kid out for ice cream if she sits nicely for her haircut. Play a game with your son after he finishes his homework. Let the kid pick where to eat lunch after church if she behaves nicely. Buy the kid one thing he wants at the grocery store if he doesn’t ask for any more things.

It’s common for parents to reply, “Oh, come on now, that’s bribery! I am not going to pay my child to do what he’s supposed to do!”

Why not? Don’t you get paid to do what you’re supposed to do? Would you go to work tomorrow if you weren’t getting paid? “Well, that’s different. That’s work.” Define work for me, then. Some might say that “work” is something that you have to do. (Like brushing your teeth.) Some reply that “work” is something that you don’t want to do. (Like brushing your teeth.) Some reply that work is doing something valuable. (Like brushing your teeth.) For a kid, brushing his teeth is his “work.” He’s also got to do homework and chores and be nice to his sister. That’s his “job.” He should get “paid,” too.

“Now, wait a minute, doctor, this is going to cost me a fortune! I cannot possibly afford to pay my kid for every little thing he does, that’s just unreasonable.” Of course it is. Do you get paid at work for every little thing you do? No. You get a certain amount of pay to do a number of various jobs. If you have a bad day and don’t do all your jobs, you typically still get paid if you manage to catch up the next day. There are probably lots of little extras that you do just because they’re fun and you don’t even expect to get paid for them.

Is all of your “pay” at work money? No, it is not. You get other benefits, too, like life or health insurance, maybe a company fitness room, training, vacation time, recognition, time to socialize, and so on. Your kid’s “pay” should include these types of things, too.

Your kid has a job in your house. His job is to follow directions, take care of himself and his things, do schoolwork, have fun, and learn how to be a grown-up. In exchange for doing his job, he should get paid by your praise, attention, time, special privileges, treats, toys, food, clothing, shelter, and whatever else you think should be in his “benefits package.”

It’s not bribery. It’s simply teaching children how the world works. When you work hard, you get rewarded.

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