“If you stop crying and behave, I’ll buy you a piece of candy!” Most of us have witnessed the common scenario of “Bribing Children” when an embarrassed parent desperately tries to calm her child at the grocery store checkout.
Many parents have used bribery to get their children to behave, perhaps out of desperation or because they know it will be a quick fix. But are they helpful, or can they do more harm than good?
How far should it be taken?
While bribery may be useful in restoring family harmony, it is only a temporary fix – and we should really focus on restoring family harmony through respect, not by paying a child off.
However, bribery or incentives are also used to reward children for good behavior.
It works for some things. However, we’ve noticed that if it’s used too frequently, kids start expecting something in return for things that should be done anyway… For example, chores or being good.
Some parents, educators, and others believe that some of these practices are beneficial to both parent and child. Telling your child that you will buy them a new toy or give them money if they behave well provides an incentive for them to do what you want and do their best for themselves.
The stumbling blocks.
However, Eric Herman, a clinical psychologist at Detroit’s Children’s Hospital, is concerned about the practice.
“If parents have to bribe their children to listen, it’s a sign that they aren’t in charge of their own home,” Herman says. “Part of the problem is that parents don’t impose negative consequences when their children don’t do what they’re supposed to.”
Young people need to learn that doing the right thing is important in and of itself, regardless of whether or not they will be financially rewarded for their efforts.
Caution is advised:
A small treat just makes life easier.
My three-year-old never wants to leave the park, but if I promise her an organic sucker when she gets home, she runs right over to the stroller and jumps in – no meltdowns. I’m happy, she’s happy, and everyone else at the park is happy.
If you bribe your child with a cookie every time they have a meltdown, it encourages them to behave badly. It is all about balance; if bribery is used constantly, it will lose its effectiveness.
Bribery rewards, when used correctly, can help children learn independence and desire. My 8-year-old was given an allowance for doing chores around the house, and she’s recently asked what else she can do to earn money – because she really wants to buy something.
The distinction is in how things are earned. If you earn something, the work is done… If you follow the rules, good things will follow.