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Are You Bribing Or Rewarding Your Child? Learn the Difference

Are You Bribing Or Rewarding Your Child? Learn the Difference

By Amy Morin

Rewards serve as wonderful discipline tools that motivate kids to change their behavior fast. Bribery, however, can make behavior problems worse. Understanding the crucial things that separate a bribe from reward can make all the difference in managing your child’s behavior.

It’s All About Timing

A reward is given after a child exhibits the desired behavior. A bribe is given up front, based on the child’s promise that he’ll behave. Examples of bribes include:

“Here’s a cookie. Now be good while we’re in the store.”
“You can watch another TV show but when it’s time for bed remember I gave you a treat and don’t put up a fight tonight.”
“You can have a few more minutes on the playground as long as you’ll promise to pick up your toys right when we get home.”
“I’ll buy you that toy but you can’t throw another fit, okay?”
“You can go to your friend’s house now as long as you promise to get your homework done tonight.”
“I’ll let you go to the movies this weekend, but you’ll need to start getting better grades.”

Why Bribes Aren’t Effective

When kids are rewarded before they’ve demonstrated the ability to follow the rules, they lose their motivation to behave. A child who accepts a bribe may throw a temper tantrum or refuse to follow your directions just moments later. But by then, it’s too late because he’s already been rewarded.

Bribes also aren’t good practice because they don’t mimic how the rest of the world operates. For example, bosses don’t pay employees before they do the work. You have to show up and complete your tasks before earning a paycheck. Giving kids bribes sends the wrong message about work and incentives.

The same parent who hands out bribes may quickly find himself on the receiving end of bribery. Before entering into the grocery store, a savvy child may say, “Buy me a cookie or I’ll scream really loud.” Sometimes parents find themselves giving into such demands and it gives the child the power to get whatever he wants.

How to Reward Good Behavior

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There are several ways to use positive reinforcement to reward good behavior. Behavior is best reinforced – whether it’s praise or a tangible reward – when it’s given immediately after a child exhibits good behavior. Here are some examples of rewards:

-Providing a child with a piece of candy in the check-out line because he stayed in the cart while you were shopping.
-Giving a teenager permission to go to the movies on Friday night because he completed his homework on time all week.
-Allowing a child to stay up an extra 15 minutes because he did all of his chores without any reminders.
-Letting a child choose a special game to play because he got a good report from his teacher.
-Giving a child an allowance after he completes his chores.

There are several different ways you can provide effective rewards. A formal reward system, such as a sticker chart, can be effective with younger kids. A token economy system is effective for older children.

Informal and surprise rewards can also serve as powerful behavior modification tools. For example, tell a child who behaves exceptionally well at the playground that he’s earned an extra 15 minutes to play. This surprise reward can reinforce his desire to keep up the good work.


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