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Do You Bribe Your Kids?
January 18, 2013 at 11:36 AM

Keep Bribing Your Kid to Be Good & You’ll Still Be Giving Out Gold Stars at College Graduation

Posted by Jacqueline Burt

rewards chart bribeAfter spending almost 12 years as a mom, I have come to the conclusion that nearly all parenting struggles boil down to one core problem: Kids have minds of their own. Who knew?! Thinking thoughts for themselves, exercising free will all over the place. Wanting things we don't want for them, doing the opposite of what we need them to do. The nerve of these ungrateful creatures!

Just kidding -- mostly. Obviously we gave birth to babies, not robots. We didn't have kids just to order them around. But the fact of the matter is, sometimes we really do need them to listen/behave/do as they're told, etc. Particularly in scenarios involving oncoming traffic ("I told you not to play near the street!"), possible infectious disease transfer ("Wash your hands!"), dental hygiene ("Brush! Now!"), education ("Time for homework!"), and so on and so forth.

But because they lack our perspective on such matters, kids often see no reason to comply, and because parents are desperate, we often resort to bribery. But guess what? Even if you think those dangling carrots are getting the job done, they're not. Study after study has shown that bribes simply don't work in the long-term -- take the reward away, and the desired behavior will go with it! Whaddya mean, no stickers?! What's in it for me?

So what are we supposed to do instead? Get down on our knees and beg them to clean their rooms? Stoop to using threats and punishment? Only if you want your kid to become either a spineless doormat or a rebel without a cause:

“Human beings have only two reactions to control,” said Daniel Pink, best-selling author of Drive, a review of over 40 years in research on what motivates human behavior. “They comply or they defy. I don’t think most parents want compliant children, and I don’t think they want defiant children. They want children who are active, engaged and motivated by deeper things.”

And who brush their teeth willingly, I might add. (At this rate I feel like I'll be calling my kids at college every night nagging them to brush and floss.) I don't know if such human beings can actually be raised up from the natural born dictators most children seem to be, but here are a few expert tips on how to get good behavior without bribing, begging, or bullying: 

1. Avoid using words like "should," "must," or "have to" -- these make kids feel like they're being pushed around.

2. Offer praise instead of rewards.

3. If you do give rewards, make them spontaneous and after the fact -- don't promise them ahead of time, wait until you "catch your kid being good."

4. Try to make things fun. Put dance music on when it's time for your kid to clean his room. Make a funny "thinking cap" to wear while doing homework. Whatever it takes.

Do you bribe your kids?


  • MistressMinerva
    January 18, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    I never did it.

  • goddess99
    January 18, 2013 at 1:24 PM

    I bribe for haircuts. For every inch she'll let someone cut off she gets a $1 to spend at the dollar store.

  • SlapItHigh
    January 18, 2013 at 1:40 PM

    I love Daniel Pink!  I've posted his video on the Science of Motivation here on this board quite a few times!

  • SlapItHigh
    January 18, 2013 at 1:41 PM

    I don't know think Danile Pink would consider praise to be "instead" of rewards.  Praise very easily becomes a verbal reward which can be ok if used properly .  But it's very easy to use incorrectly and have the same negative effects as bribery -- so be careful!

  • SlapItHigh
    January 18, 2013 at 1:42 PM


  • thecoffeefairy
    January 18, 2013 at 1:46 PM
    I bribe. I offered my kids a small treat for behaving on a day of errands and grocery shopping. I give treats for good grades. If they clean the house, I cook their favorite meal. If my hubby pleases me, I might give him a back rub.
  • auntangelofsix
    January 18, 2013 at 1:57 PM
    We do not bribe.
  • barneysaid
    January 18, 2013 at 3:09 PM

     I do!!! When it's something well done!! Cleaning, chores, doing things without being asked. But mostly I bribe with my cell phone. Since all they want to do is play games!! 

  • delanna6two
    January 18, 2013 at 3:43 PM

    Some...but not that often.

  • Mama_Gillogley
    January 18, 2013 at 8:07 PM

    i'm so guilty of bribing! my mom used it to potty train all of us 5 kids but it is SO not working for my son. so, we're trying to just go at his pace and we just make it super fun, i pretend he's a rocket that shoots into the air and then lands on the potty. he loves it. :)

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