Are You Bribing or Rewarding Your Kids?

I have a fear of becoming one of those parents who bribes their kids for everything. Someone who has to offer something every time they want their kids to do something. But, I also like rewarding them. What if they passed all their exams and I want to show them how proud I am? Is it an act of bribery because it might make them expect something after they do a certain task? Sometimes the line between bribes and rewards can get quite blurry. (Trust me, I know.) So, I’ve come up with a few general guidelines, along with some personal examples that just might help you out.

Bribes vs. Rewards



I was at the bank one day with two-year-old Enrique (don’t ask me why I brought him–I wasn’t thinking), and he started throwing a tantrum. A full-blown, all-out, no-holds-barred tantrum (a.k.a. the worst tantrum possible). He was crying, kicking, waving his arms like they were two miniature tornadoes, and screaming his lungs out. He was making a scene, and I was desperate and wanted to put an end to it. So I set him down, grabbed my pack of cranberry Ricola, and shook the pack in his face. “If you stop crying, I’ll give you a candy.” Immediately, the tears, kicking, and screaming stopped, and Enrique put out his hand for a candy. The lady in front of me surreptitiously shook her head at my tactics, and I was immediately overcome with a sense of guilt.

Bribes 1. Are offered to stop or avoid a bad behavior 2. Are overt and deliberate (once we put it out there, the kids will expect something from you) 3. Encourage bad or incorrect behavior 4. Put the kids in charge. For them to change their behavior, the kids demand something in exchange, and the power shifts to them. 5. Are usually given in frustration 6. Are short-term



On another occasion, Alfonso was out doing the grocery with me. Now, I normally don’t buy ice cream (it’s definitely a luxury in our house), but as we were passing the ice cream aisle, I reached out and pulled a tub of strawberry ice cream (Alfonso’s favorite flavor), and put it in the cart. Alfonso didn’t miss me getting the ice cream, and his eyes were wide. “You’re getting ice cream? Why?” “Well, you finished grade 3, and I think you deserve it.” He smiled the rest of the way home (definitely anticipating eating the ice cream).

Rewards 1. Are earned for good behavior 2. Can be surprises (the kids don't always expect it) 3. Encourage good behavior 4. Put the parents in charge. We say at what point a reward can be given, and whether the actions taken to obtain the reward are acceptable. (The power is with us.) 5. Are usually given in joyful recognition of something 6. Are long-term


While I know it’s nearly impossible for us not to bribe our kids 100% of the time, knowing the difference between bribes and rewards has really helped me become aware of how easily I whip out my Ricola box. So every time one of the little ones throws a tantrum, I always try to come back to these simple differences, and choose an an alternative way to calm them down. We’re not perfect moms–but hey, we’re trying–and that is a feat in itself. High five!




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