Don’t Get Mad, Get Results!

Dear Mamas,

Our library has a summer reading program that gives out coupons for every three books the kids read. My five year old and I were very excited about it until I realized that the coupons were for McDonald’s Happy Meals! I flipped out! I don’t want her eating that garbage but I do want her in the program. I’m so mad that I’m ready to complain to the WHOLE TOWN about this! Any suggestions?
P.O.’d in New York

Dear P.O.’d,
First of all, kudos to your local library for thinking of a clever way to encourage kids to read. That’s definitely a good thing but I get why you’re upset. Those Happy Meals make the company happy but don’t do too much for the little bodies that consume them.

But before you start launching those angry emails and phone calls and getting yourself all worked up, take a breath. And then ask yourself: what is it you’re trying to accomplish? Do you just want to vent or do you want to do something to change the situation and have a lasting impact?

My guess is that you really just want them to come up with a different prize, right? You like the idea of the incentive but want them to offer one that isn’t going to end up causing more problems than it solves.

So here’s what you do:

1. First of all, start off with the thought that the librarians were trying to do something positive for children. Their intentions were good. So right away, you find some common ground. They aren’t out to ruin your child’s health or force you into a confrontation with your daughter –they’re just trying to give her a reason to choose books over the T.V. or computer.

2. Remember that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. It’s human nature to want to listen to someone who’s being nice to you and to shut them out when they start criticizing or judging. If you want them to see your side of things, take the time to join with them first. Compliment them on the idea and thank them for caring. Always give two positive comments for every negative one (think stroke, stroke, kick). They will be much more inclined to hear you out and actually consider what you said after you go away.

3. Don’t criticize someone else’s idea unless you have a better one. Before you say a word, see if you can find some local businesses that would like to participate in the program and offer coupons or prizes that are less questionable, like a small ice cream cone from the local ice cream shop or a little prize from the neighborhood toy store. Then when you talk to the librarians you aren’t just dissing them and their idea, you actually have something constructive to offer. Let them know that you understand how much time it takes to find new sponsors and wanted to help out.

4. Finally, keep in mind that anyone trying to do something good for our kids deserves our thanks, respect and support. They may have part of it wrong, but they have a more important part of it right. Always start there and then figure out how you can join forces to accomplish the goal. My bet is that you’ll have them eating out of your hand in no time at all!

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.


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3 responses to “Don’t Get Mad, Get Results!”

  1. Claire

    Dear MOC,
    I am reporting back after getting amazing advice from you! I wrote to you during the summer to ask your advice on how to deal with a sticky situation. Our local library had a great idea – use incentives to get kids to read. Whenever your child read a certain amount of books, they got a reward. The only problem was one of the rewards was a coupon for McDonalds! I was appalled. With all that we know about childhood obesity and diabetes, promoting McDonalds was not something I ever thought my lovely, local library would do. I was furious.

    Instead of storming into the library and reading them the riot act, I wrote you. I asked what to do. You gave me the best advice and I’m thrilled to report it worked like a charm.

    As instructed, the first thing I did was research. I started calling around to different local businesses and asked them if they would be willing to donate items to the library’s reading program. And since kids are kids, I asked local the local pizza place (that uses wholesome ingredients) since the incentive still had to be appealing. After getting some pledges, I then approached the librarian. I started by thanking her for running the program and told her what a great and important job she was doing. After that, I then talked to her about the actual awards and asked if she’d be willing to stop handing out McDonalds coupons and instead, stick to more local and healthier (but still yummy) options if I helped secure those donations. She agreed immediately and she was 100% willing. Wahoo! What a great deed you did. Thank you for your invaluable advice!

  2. Ann

    I just found this post, and as a librarian want to thank you for your thoughtful advice for this understandably concerned mom. Creating a summer reading program has many many facets, not the largest of which is finding cheap (or free) motivating prizes on a very tight taxpayer based budget. I can’t imagine what I could do if I had the help of others reaching out to the community. I am so pleased with what taking a deep breath, appreciating good intentions, lending a hand, and constructive advice resulted in. Long healthy rewards and reading!

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