The Lesser Known Dangers of Bribing a Bilingual Child

I admit it; I have used bribery with my kids before. I’m not proud of it and I don’t encourage it, but it is just one of those tools in the parenting toolbox that is available when all other tactics have failed. Some parents may disagree with me, but I willingly confess this child-rearing sin; my only problem is that the tables have turned.

You see, the secret to a good “mordida” is finding out the one thing your child really wants — after that, it’s pan comido. You tell your niño what you’ll give them (a small toy, a piece of candy, a pony), in exchange for whatever it is you want, (good behavior while running errands or an hour of uninterrupted silence, for example), and you make a deal. The problem occurs when your clever niño finally figures out that you want your end of the deal just as much as they want theirs, and they begin to bribe you!

I often used to bribe my boys into speaking Spanish, as in, “If you speak Spanish to me today, you can stay up an hour later than usual.” … But like I said, kids are clever, and the day will come when they realize what you want — what you really, really want more than anything in the whole world.

Last week my 10-year-old was asking me for a popsicle, but he had already had one.

No, ya comiste una — no más,” I told him with finality.

He sighed in defeat and then a smile formed on his lips, “If you let me have one more, I’ll speak Spanish all day,” he said in a sing-song voice, raising his eyebrows in expectation.

I wasn’t exactly shocked because my 10-year-old has been using Spanish against me for awhile now. Beyond simple bribes, he has actually begun to use his knowledge of how badly I want him to be bilingual in other charming (i.e. manipulating) ways. Yesterday he asked me in English to play a dancing video game with him — because I was busy with work, I brushed him off with a “Tal vez más tarde.”

My son put the sweetest look on his face and switched to Spanish, “Mami, ¿no quieres bailar conmigo?… Por fa?

My boys are becoming bilingual, but they’re becoming quite tricky as well. So, ojo, bilingual parents, if you consider using bribery, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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