Brutal honesty here: I bribed my son to get into his car seat and get buckled up by giving him fruit snacks for nearly two whole years. When that same kid was 10, I bribed him to go to counseling by taking him to a trampoline park afterward. I bribed my daughter to eat healthy food by promising a cupcake. I bribed all my kids to get good grades by paying them for each A and B. And all of these bribes worked. So why does bribing children seem like a bad thing?
The very definition of the word “bribe” is giving a gift or money to persuade someone, often to do something illegal or unethical. So the connotation is not good, but aside from that, many parents believe that kids should just do what they’re told, showing true obedience. But I say bribing children can be a good tool! Just make sure you check these 4 things so you don’t regret it.
Sometimes when we say we’re “bribing children,” we are really talking about rewarding them. Rewards are highly motivating for children, and they also teach a lifelong lesson they can carry into adulthood: Hard work pays off! During the process of earning the reward, it helps if kids can have a visual aid to see their progress. Check out this link for lots of fun printable reward charts! This Reading Chart is one of my favorites.
Explain both the short-term reward and the long-term reward.
Kids need short-term rewards because their minds can’t grasp the long-term ones yet. If you try to explain to your child that he needs to go to counseling for his future mental health and because his relationships will be better, he likely will balk—not because he’s rebellious, but because he doesn’t have the life experience or brain development to understand that reward. However, if you also give him a short-term benefit that he can picture (e.g., getting to go to the trampoline park), he’ll be more likely to agree.
Avoid bribes that get stuck on repeat.
Don’t get roped into having to bribe your child to do something that has to happen regularly. That will get tiresome and costly. For example, my car seat/fruit snack bribe was a big mistake. I had to get him in his car seat every day, sometimes multiple times, and if I didn’t have fruit snacks, it became a wrestling match. He also ended up with six cavities. (No joke.) Let your kids know that routine tasks are just that—routine. Build a safe, healthy routine and with consistency, kids will learn to accept and expect it.
Don’t reward a stinky attitude.
“Where is my treat?” When you hear something to this effect coming from your children, entitlement could be brewing. When a child is entitled, he or she is expecting a reward that he or she hasn’t earned. It can also be a red flag for a poor attitude. Maybe your kid earned the reward but is not talking in a respectful way. Tell your kids how you would like them to speak to you, and don’t give them the reward until they do.
When has bribing kids worked (or backfired) in your home?