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Q: What is the difference between bribing and rewarding my child? Aren't they the same thing?

posted Nov 11, 2016, 6:33 AM by Marlana Preston
Bribing and rewarding are similar in that your child is getting something for doing what you want him to do.  However, bribery can include interactions in which parents promise all types of tempting rewards or activities in exchange for behaving appropriately, usually out of desperation during times of stress. It often happens quickly, when all you want is to change your child’s behavior on the spot, so you offer him something that you had no previous intention of offering. As a result, kids can come to expect something extra for simply completing their daily responsibilities or behaving appropriately, which can in turn lead to a sense of entitlement.  This pattern can ultimately teach your child to act out to get what they want.  

On the other hand, the effective use of rewards is quite different, because you are compensating your child for his good behavior. Rewards then, as opposed to bribery, are a preplanned list of rewards that are discussed with the child ahead of time. That way, when your child behaves in the grocery store, for example, he knows ahead of time what his reward will be—and so will you.  Whenever possible, determine most rewards in advance and be clear with behavioral expectations.  While the goal is always to motive your child to please his parents and receive intrinsic rewards such as satisfaction, at different phases in their development and with different behaviors, children may be more motivated by external things.

So take a look at what behavior you might be reinforcing and how you are reinforcing it.  Remember that when you resort to bribery to control your child’s behavior, the price that you wind up paying is actually a lot higher than it may seem in the moment. Instead, require that your child earn reasonable rewards by taking care of his responsibilities and making positive steps toward improving his behavior.

Need to help with establishing appropriate behavior patterns with your children?  Call Dr. Bell at (843) 810-9202.
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