Is It Okay to Bribe Your Kids?
By Virginia M. Shiller, Ph.D
many times have you said If you stop taking your brothers
let you watch TV or If you start doing your homework
Ill buy you a new
Nintendo game? Most parents find themselves giving their children
to get them to behave, and then end up feeling badly because they
they are bribing rather than teaching.
preferably called rewards, actually can have a legitimate place
parenting. How and when you give payment is what matters.
you want to use rewards to help your kids to learn habits that will
not disappear as soon as the rewards are gone. So whats the
is the first important consideration. Discussion about healthy
rewards should be introduced before you enter into the problem situation,
when you and your child are both calm. With the right timing, you
opportunity to reflect on what kinds of changes are reasonable to
expect of your child (e.g., maybe not a perfect homework record,
but movement in the right direction). And, you can choose rewards
that are attractive but in
line with your values. Lastly, your child has a chance to listen
when emotions arent taking over everyones ability to
to your child about reasons for improved behavior. Avoid preaching,
but point out advantages of doing homework regularly, picking up
or fighting less with siblings. As much as possible, take the childs
viewpoint: I know youre tired of me nagging you about
clothes on the bathroom floor
I have a plan that I think will
make us all
you carry out your reward plan, point out the advantages of the
behaviors. Grandma was so impressed at how polite you were
at dinner you might exclaim. She sees you are really
consider interpersonal rewards. Your time and attention can be a
valuable incentive, as can privileges or special activities. The
possibilities are endless: the promise of a trip to the fire station,
fishing expedition, an afternoon ice skating with a parent, picking
dinner menu, or choosing their room color.
so how do you actually carry out a reward plan?
decide how to tackle the problem. Often, establishing short-term,
small goals is better than asking your child to work towards one
long-term goal. For example, rather than rewarding a child for getting
on report cards, offer incentives for thoroughly completing homework,
working ahead on long-term assignments, or getting good grades on
weekly spelling quiz.
a series of mini-goals is helpful. Rather than asking your child
to be in bed by 9:30, make a list of the necessary steps that will
that goal: e.g. finish homework and place in backpack by 8:30, in
teeth brushed by 9, quiet play or reading til 9:30.
make up a chart to keep track of the childs progress. Award
stars or stickers for each completed step. Preschoolers may be happy
a fanciful sticker chart where the sticker is the reward. Children
like to see their photo on a chart, or to decorate it with markers
stickers. For pre-teens, its usually best to stick with no-frill
checklists that they can access privately.
carrying out the plan, keep the emphasis on the positive. Just like
adults, kids ahve good days and bad days. The plan hasn't failed
child slips or misbehaves. Each new day gives the child a chance
improve. Provide encouragement ("Oops, you missed a check today,
bet you can get one tomorrow!" Building into the plan room
for slips, and if
necessary re-examine the plan and make sure that the goals are attainable.
good reward plan rewards parents as well as kids. Theres nothing
feeling that youve succeeded in helping your child move towards
becoming a more responsible and happier youngster!
Virginia M. Shiller, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, a lecturer
at the Yale Child Study Center, and author (with Meg Schneider)
of the book Rewards for Kids! Ready-to-Use Charts & Activities
for Positive Parenting (American Psychological Association, 2003).
For more information, visit www.rewardsforkids.com