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[Two Pronged] Differing parenting styles

Margarita Holmes
[Two Pronged] Differing parenting styles
How should you discipline and motivate kids?

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons. 

Dear Two Pronged,

In my late thirties I became a single father by choice. It’s been the best decision of my life. I’m writing because of my mom. She’s wanted me to give her grandkids forever. When I was 13, this was her version of the birds and the bees talk with me: “you know how some of your school mates are having accidents with their girlfriends? That’s ok, as long as I get to keep the baby.” 

She waited till I was 37. I made her happy, and she has kinda abandoned her second husband to move back in with me so that she can be a part of my children’s lives.

We mostly get along; she’s fairly cooperative with my parenting strategies, bedtime, diet. We have some natural clashes – like in religion. 

I told her from the beginning that she can tell the kids anything she wants about that and I will do the same. The kids are 8 now, and find mass boring, especially when I am so dismissive of it. 

Her solution? Bribe the children with toys. She gives them a toy if they sit still for a mass. Most of the time it works. But this extends into other things too. They get a toy if they do well in swim class. They get a toy if they behave at the table. This has stopped somewhat, because I showed her articles about why bribery is a very bad way to raise a child, and how it can backfire in the long run. Though she still pays my daughter to do singing lessons. 

Two confessions here:

  1. It’s how she raised me. I’m far from perfect, but I’m arguably functional. 
  2. There’s strong temptation to do this myself. 

It’s easy. And we do like giving our kids things. But I resist and do something else. I don’t consider it bribery, though perhaps you’ll tell me it is another form of bribery. 

I peg their screen time to activities I approve of. If they play tennis (which I’m obsessed about) then they earn screen time. Same for reading educational books, doing typing club on the computer, using a language app.

Otherwise, they don’t get time for games, Netflix, or YouTube. I also explain why I want them to do certain things, why I think it’s healthy behavior for them. 

But old habits die hard. 

Every now and then, my mom will sneak a toy in for doing something. Are she and I playing the same game in the end?

Is there something both of us are missing? To bribe or not to bribe? 


Dear Anthony,

It is one of the mysteries of our so-called civilization that while we require our citizens to prove their capacity to drive a motor car, operate heavy machinery etc, we place only the lightest regulation on marriage and none whatsoever on having children, despite the long-term responsibilities that come with them.

No training is required and often the newly minted mother and father (in those fortunate cases where there is more than one present) are left to find their own way. In many cases help is at hand from close relatives and extended families but when it comes to how to bring up children views can diverge radically from the conservative school of iron discipline to the liberal laissez faire approach, with many other options in between.

Child rearing can be subject to science, tradition, prejudice, fashion, generational shifts and many other influences and the positive reinforcement/bribery debate is not exempt from this. 

Online publications are full of advice, often contradictory advice. Two relevant studies are here while a different view is taken here

Ultimately, however unsatisfactorily, parents generally read up about their concerns, consult family and friends and then just do their best.

Problems arise if there is disagreement between the parents, and others if closely involved, as to the best course of action. A negotiated compromise is ideally the best solution, particularly because children are quick to spot chinks in the adults’ armor and exploit them ruthlessly for their own purposes. 

In most cases where compromise fails, children will adapt to the differences in approach.

All the best,

JAF Baer

Dear Anthony,

Thank you very much for your letter. 

Your major concern is whether bribing is a good strategy to get children to do what you want. Right now, your mother and you see that it is. However, I sense that you are a good enough parent (no bola) to wonder if such a strategy is a good idea now or in the future

We psychologists call this extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation. The latter is the motivation to do something for its own sake, for the sheer enjoyment of a task. The former is motivation to do something in order to attain an external goal (getting a toy or more screen time for activities of your own choice).  

Studies have shown that feelings of self‐determination, control, and satisfaction have long been linked to an intrinsically motivated state, which ideally is what you and your mom seem to want.   

One study’s results were that in all scenarios, children’s willingness to comply with their parents’ wishes was negatively influenced when they had received a reward rather than when they had received praise or no reward. 

One aspect of child compliance is the degree to which children do what parents/grandparents ask of them. Children comply with requests for different reasons. One main distinction is between willing compliance and coerced compliance. Willing compliance reflects internally motivated compliance; coerced compliance, or obedience, reflects externally motivated compliance (e.g. to receive rewards or – and happily neither you or your mom seem to believe in these strategies – to avoid threats or punishment). 

Finally, there’s the study investigating the influence of rewards on young children. After receiving a material reward, children were less likely to engage in said behavior as compared with children who had previously received social praise or no reward at all.

This suggests that some behaviors –learning (via language apps etc) and improving a talent you might naturally have (singing) are usually intrinsically motivated and bribing can undermine this tendency. I would think playing tennis could fall under behaviors intrinsically motivated. Of course, thee are also added “rewards” such as exercise, especially when out in the sunshine and thus getting vitamin D—but perhaps best not to tell them that, given what we now know about extrinsic, vis a vis intrinsic, motivation.  I hope this has shed some light on your concern, Anthony.  Please write us again if there is anything else we can do for you. 


MG Holmes


Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately, the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.

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