Rewards vs. Bribes: Are You Corrupting Your Child?

Does rewarding your child equate to bribery? Have you struggled with the thought of compensating your child for doing something you think they should do without compensation? Have you worried that you’ll be corrupting your child if you do reward them for just meeting expectations?

These are all questions that many parents wonder as they are in the grocery store, wishing their kids wouldn’t fight while they shop for dinner. Or, when you really need them to finish their homework so you can get them to practice. You just want them to comply. Without struggle. Without drama. Without a lot of discussion.

You can reward your child without it being a bribe. However, rewards can be bribes as well. What’s the difference? It is a bribe when you are under duress. You had no intention of offering a reward, your child is in control of the particular situation, and you need control back. For example, it’s Monday morning, your children are all melting down and refusing to get out of bed and get ready for school. It’s 20 minutes before the bus arrives. You give in and tell them they can have a candy bar for breakfast if they would just get out of bed and get ready in time. That’s a bribe, and the next time, they may demand a candy bar just to get out bed. On the other hand, it’s Monday morning, and your children know that if they get up and get themselves ready without hassle and make the bus on time, there will be an ice cream sundae snack after school. This is a deal you made with them when the school year started. Sometimes, you have to remind them of the ice cream sundae deal, but for the most part, every Monday, they get up and get ready without much fanfare. That’s a reward.

In our home, we have a coveted prize box that is filled with items that I know my kids will enjoy. Most items cost less than a dollar and I have fun finding things to add to the box.There are certain situations that my kids know will earn a trip to the prize box. They remind each other to do the right thing so that we can “do” prize box. It definitely doesn’t work every time. That would be too easy. But I have noticed that the stress level in our home has decreased. I feel like it helps me engage in more positive parenting. There’s less yelling and frustration. And the kids know what my expectations are and most of the time, they agree when we can’t “do” prize box because the expectations weren’t met. .

If you know there are certain days, events, or activities that illicit stress in your home, put a reward system in place. Make sure the reward is appropriate for your child, it should motivate them to do the right thing without diluting the situation. Be clear and consistent about the reward and what your child needs to do to acheive it. There will be times when you do need to use a bribe, it happens. But it should be an exception, else your children will be on to you and may manipulate situations in order to receive bribes. Rewarding children by celebrating appropriate behavior is effective in teaching the benefits of responsibility

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