Mini marshmallows. Tiny. White. Unassuming. Squishy. Vague vanilla aroma. Always playing second fiddle to the likes of gooey, melty chocolate and graham crackers.
But, oh, what power this itty bitty confection has over my little one. It is the currency of many a preschooler. And, for good or for bad, in recent months it has turned out to be the motivator supreme in our household.
Indeed, I am living the cliche. Doing things that I said I never would as a parent . . . that is until I actually became a parent and saw the error of my kid-free thinking ways. In this case, using food (just marshmallows, really) to bribe motivate and encourage my lovely little daughter into doing things that,
#1: I know she can if she puts her mind to it, and
#2: I know I don’t have the patience or stomach for taking the long, self-satisfying-in-its-own-right approach.
I always avowed not to use food as a motivation strategy. I suppose I was worried about what long-term damage I was doing by using food as a reward system. I don’t have to look much further than in the mirror to know where that can lead.
But here I am . . . occasionally making withdrawals from the bank of marshmallows that we keep stashed in the cupboard to nudge M in the direction we’d like to her go, just without a lot of drama, thank you very much.
Perhaps the reason it has worked so well is that we really don’t break out the bag of mini-marshmallows unless we’re trying to make some serious headway without a lot of conflict or pomp and circumstance. We don’t use them for stopping inappropriate behavior like the occasional meltdown situation or curbing whining. We also don’t use them to reward her for doing routine things, like her daily “chores” which meagerly consist of putting the cloth napkins in the laundry after dinner, picking up her toys and feeding the cat. I suppose our philosophy on that is that we’re all part of the household, and we each do things to help make it a nice place to live, unwind and play. Heck, no one gave me a chocolate bar (my preferred culinary currency) when I cleaned the hair out of the drain. If they had, we’d have much cleaner sinks.
But there are some things that, while I am sure she could do them with a lot of loving and persistent encouragement from us over many weeks, I just don’t have the energy for it. Turns out I am not necessarily one who needs to make each of M’s life ordeals into a glowing life lesson about finding inner confidence and self-motivation. I’m sure the Tiger Mom would have something to say about that! Two recent cases in point. First, getting her to always use the big toilet instead of her little plastic one. After more than a year of cleaning that little thing out, I was pretty much over the excitement of it all. Second, ending the bad habit of her coming into our bed at night and us indulging the request, EVERY night, since she’s been born (minus a 6 month stretch that I still wish I could figure out what magic made her sleep all night in her own bed those months!) and getting her to sleep on a sleeping bag on our bedroom floor if she wants to come in our room. Those little size 9 feet were just kicking me too much to make the whole family bed thing seem bearable any longer. Not to mention . . . I never knew little kids could have morning breath. Yikes.
Now, mind you, we had suggested changes in these directions for months before. But of course there was some whining, shifty delay tactics, and flat out refusal. Just so happens that the 3 to 4 year old set is pretty crafty in making deals and I am increasingly meeting my match, which probably does not say much for me considering my current profession. This is when I usually curse her preschool teachers for teaching the kids how to find common ground and negotiate better terms. Those skills really should be limited to who gets a turn with the blocks first!
Then things like holidays or sickness enter the picture and it sometimes seems unfair to rip the rug out from underneath what has largely been a smoothly running machine. And past experience tells us that stickers and charts don’t work with her. I mean really, can I blame her? If her father or I only got a Hello Kitty sticker each time we did a load of laundry, well let’s just say there’d be a LOT less laundry to fold around here and we’d need bigger hampers. Cold hard cash just doesn’t mean much to her at this age either, although I imagine that we will be broke when she’s a teenager.
Enter the lowly mini marshmallow. There is something about this tiny treat that just moves her. For the big toilet transition, the deal we struck was (while leaving the little potty out so she could actively choose to be part of the change), she got 1 marshmallow for each time she peed on the porcelain throne, and two marshmallows for each time she . . . again, we’re dealing with preschool logic: you get 1 for #1 and 2 for #2. Don’t fix what ain’t broke, as the saying goes. I think it took all of two days before she completely forgot about the little plastic potties. She had found marshmallow nirvana. Although, looking back, it does seem like she was drinking a whole lot more water to drive up the number of visits to the bathroom . . . hmmm. Same for the sleeping bag transition. She’s been going strong for more than 10 days, and I think it’s only cost me 5 mini marshmallows out of pocket to seal the deal.
The best part? She usually forgets about the extortion reward system within less than a week and eventually doesn’t remember to ask for marshmallows.
So, the lessons here are, #1, why did I not do these things sooner?!
But, more importantly, #2, sometimes you just have to go with what works and what makes life easier, even if you are essentially partaking in blatant bribery. Hey. . . I signed up to be a mom, not Mother Theresa. After about 5 minutes primarily to convince myself much serious concentrated thought, I really couldn’t find a meaningful or philosophical difference between marshmallows and money and stickers (and if one exists, please don’t burst my marshmallow flavored bubble). If I gave her money because it motivated her, she’d want to buy something with it…which is not always in line with my personal simple living goals, so where would that leave me? Moreover, I am probably not far off the mark in saying that most people go to their job (myself included) because they get a paycheck, not because it is so overwhelmingly personally satisfying. Otherwise, there’d be a heck of a lot more volunteers around! And stickers are really no different to the extent that they also represent something tangible in exchange for something largely intangible. Although I find it hard to imagine I’d still be struggling to wear a smaller pant size if I had gone through life heading down the sticker aisle at the craft store after a bad day at work, especially if they still made those oily stickers from the ’80s!
So, we will use the mini marshmallow while it still works. Not for everything, just some things. It forms the basis of a very straightforward deal, cut and dry. And slightly squishy. But once little Miss Negotiator finds out about JUMBO marshmallows, I’m in trouble.
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