Bribing Vs. Rewarding - What works and Why

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Aayuushi Bose
4 months ago
Bribing Vs. Rewarding - What works and Why

We get it! Sometimes parenting can be really frustrating, especially when your kid refuses to cooperate. Maybe once in a while, you want to get off easy. “Stop throwing a tantrum if you want a chocolate.” An easy, quick fix like a bribe or promising a reward in return for compliance, might seem like the perfect solution at the moment, but it can have disastrous effects on your child’s behavior and response mechanism in the long run. 


Bribing child


Where does the difference lie


While bribing and rewarding may seem interchangeable terms, they’re far from it. Rewards are synonymous with accolades, they are given in recognition of some effort or achievement. Bribes, on the other hand, are used as a means of persuasion to induce someone to act in your favor. 


The following pointers further elucidate the difference between bribing and rewarding:





Also read: How to deal with stubborn kids?


  1. Bribes are used to stop bad behaviors, rewards are meant to encourage good behavior:

    Scenario 1 (Rewards): Suppose you tell your child at the beginning of a school term that if they get a high percentage at the end of term, they get to pick a reasonable gift for themselves. Here, you’ve made a promise to compensate your child for their hard work and efforts. 

    Scenario 2 (Bribes): Now, take a situation wherein your child hates the idea of school, and consequently, doing homework. In the middle of an argument, you tell your child, “I’ll give you 2 dollars if you finish your homework right now.” Here, you were forced to provide an incentive to curtail a bad habit. 



  1. Bribes are offered in a moment of helplessness:

 You’re getting late for the office, but your child refuses to eat breakfast because it’s not their favorite pancakes and syrup. Since you’re running short on time, you offer half an hour of extended playtime in return for an empty plate. And lo and behold, what took you 30 minutes to achieve was finished in 3 minutes. You most likely offered the incentive in a moment of desperation, which is exactly what a bribe is. 


Why Bribes are a big NO!

Parents tend to offer bribes right in the middle of tricky situations, hoping to make the child act under duress. But we forget to question the destructive nature of the incentive. Unfortunately, parenting isn’t about over negotiation. 

For example, your child does not brush their teeth every night and refuses to do so when told. This is a non-negotiable activity since it will be detrimental to their dental health. In such a scenario, you should not be offering an incentive to make your child comply. This is because: 

Misbehaving Child


  • Your child will interpret lousy behavior as a way to get what they want, putting them in the driver’s seat. This causes a power imbalance that cultivates a sense of entitlement, which parenting expert Jim Fay calls a “prescription for a lifetime of unhappiness.” They expect to be offered something in return for good behavior all the time. 
  • Eradicating bad habits in your child through bribes is very similar to training your dog with treats. It becomes the only alternative to make your child comply with your demands. This is a result of a lack of intrinsic motivation. Daniel H. Pink’s “Drive” talks about the very same concept.

Essentially, humans are species with a fragile inclination to learn and perform tasks they enjoy. However, when an external reward is offered for an activity they enjoy, the brain perceives it as a chore, making you dislike the activity altogether. Thus bribes kill any form of intrinsic motivation your child possesses or can inculcate in the future. 


Check out: Understanding and managing children's misbehaviour


If incentives are so bad, will rewards give you positive results?


Rewards: How and When to use them as Tools to Motivate your Child

The above statement on providing rewards and incentives may leave you skeptical about trying out this strategy. It’s essential to bear in mind that not every acceptable behavior needs to be rewarded. Nor do all rewards have to be tangible objects such as toys, money, etc. 


What exactly are rewards?

Rewards are a sort of positive reinforcement and are an essential part of your parenting toolkit. While your child may possess the intrinsic motivation to get good grades or pursue a sport, not many children are excited to comply with house rules or habits like cleaning, brushing, etc. Something as simple as a few words of appreciation for being consistent or a sticker chart to track their progress can make a world of difference. To each their own. But if you genuinely want to make the most of the reward system, keep the following things in mind: 




  1. Use Rewards when Required:

Think about it. If you offer your child a reward for anything and everything, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to get them to do anything without having a bar of chocolate for the taking. Therefore, it’s important to use rewards sparingly so both you and your child aren’t overwhelmed. 


You might also like: Are You Fulfilling All the Whims and Demands of Your Child? Here's our take on Overindulgence Parenting


Appreciating your child


  1. Notice their progress and be generous with your praise

There’s no end to research that suggests that most adults perform better when their efforts are genuinely appreciated. The same concept applies to children. Compliment your child on what they’re doing right, and you’ll see it happen every day without coaxing them in the slightest. 


  1.  Effective Communication is critical

The question remains, how do I deal with bad behavior? It’s time to sit down with your child and have a serious talk. Ask questions that will help you determine why your child is acting out or engaging in poor behavior. Be patient and understanding and formulate a way to abstain from them more efficiently. 




  1. Take the SMART Approach:





T-Time specific

When you plan rewards ahead of time, you want to clarify how you want things done to your child. By following the SMART approach, your child has an objective view of what he is expected to do, improving their resilience and work ethic. 


  1. Don’t limit reward to Monetary Incentives

Making the reward something that gives them a sense of control acts as a great motivator and instills confidence in children. Consider the following non-monetary incentives you can provide your child: 


  • Choosing a meal
  • Extra playtime with friends or family
  • Extra time on the phone/tablet

As parents, it’s normal to feel pushed into a corner when your child refuses to cooperate. However, if your child is whimsical, don’t give them bribes. Not only are you causing long-term damage to their interpretation of non-compliance, but you are also jeopardizing your dynamic with them. While parenting is not a dictatorship, neither is it a democracy. So the final answer authority lies in your hand. Use rewards as tools to reinforce that idea, not bribes to give your child a sense of control. 

This article has been reviewed by our panel. The points, views and suggestions put forth in this article have been expressed keeping the best interests of fellow parents in mind. We hope you found the article beneficial.
• behaviour
• parenting advice
• upbringing
• Stubborn Kids