by Ann Herren, publisher

You might be thinking - ‘Reals? A parenting magazine is telling us how to bribe?’ Well, yes.

Because as crazy as it sounds, bribery is really just how we function on a daily basis. Why did you work extra hard on that presentation? For the praise and recognition. Why are your kids hustling to get ready for bed instead of dawdling and fighting? Because they get to stay up later.

Incentivizing and bribing are really flip sides of the same coin. If your child does what you ask in the moment - ‘I’ll pay you $10 babysit your younger brother while I go to the store’, it’s really the same as ‘don’t let this child die while I’m gone and there’s money in it for you’.

Don't reinforce bad behavior. The bad connotation of bribery comes from doing exactly that. In one case, you’re rewarding good behavior (cleaning their room or finishing homework early to get later bedtimes or more TV time). But played wrong, and you’re actually reinforcing the bad behavior (letting them have candy if they stop hitting their sibling). You’re giving them a reason to do the bad behavior, so you’ll bribe them to stop.

Do what I say, not what I do. That is completely ridiculous when it comes to modeling good behavior. If you want them to say please and thank you, make sure you do as well. Conversely, don’t curse like a truck driver and be appalled when they pop out with a zinger. Those aren’t grown-up things, they’re bad habits - and you’re modeling them if you do them in front of your kids. If it’s a legal issue, then say so. No, you can’t drink (or drive) until the law says you’re old enough. Once you are, then you can. Feel free to explain why. In fact, we encourage it. It’s not just a grown-up thing. Kid bodies and brains can’t handle booze. It’s much more dangerous for youngsters - for many reasons. Same for driving.

Modeling the behavior you want from them especially holds true for screen time. If you want your kids to limit their screen time, then put down your phone. Put. It. Down.

Follow through. If you tell them they’ll get something for a good behavior (staying up 15 minutes later for doing homework early) then make sure you do what you say. Your kids need to trust you.  No take-backs (well, you didn’t clean your room like you were supposed to). 

Don’t use candy for a reward. Simply put - you’re making something unhealthy the end goal. (But ok, if once in a while you tell your child - behave civilly while we’re out to dinner and you can get dessert, that’s okay).

Finally, one last do and don’t.

Do set reasonable expectations. You shouldn’t expect them to master a behavior or action that they’re just not ready for - emotionally or age-wise.

Don’t confuse bribery (incentives) with chores. Chores are the basic responsibilities that come with being a member of the family. Make your bed, do your laundry, take out the trash - whatever is age-appropriate. Incentives - those glorious bribes - are the lagniappe. What they get for doing something right, unlearning a bad habit, or saving your sanity after a long, long, day.

Did you like this article? Read 10 Tips for Changing Challenging Behavior.

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