• Sun, Jan 13 2013

Wait, Bribing Your Kids Is A Bad Thing? There Goes My Entire Parenting Philosophy

shutterstock_75993835Bribing children is a good thing. What parent hasn’t done it? When my kids were little at least 75 percent of my getting them to do things MY way involved offering them tiny rewards. But now a new parenting book is telling me that because of this tactic my kids will one day be 30 years old and will come over to my house and demand I give them a cookie because they paid their electric bill on time. From the New York Times:

THE TALKING CURE Dr. Deci, now a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, said the biggest problem with tangible rewards is that they actually work, at least in the short run. “If you want somebody to do something, and if you have enough money, you can get them do it,” he said. “Practically anyone, practically anything.”

But with children, he pointed out, since you are trying to get them to do the behavior “more or less ongoingly for the rest of their lives,” the technique will backfire unless you’re prepared to offer the same reward every time. “You don’t want them coming to you when they’re grown,” he said.

I am not sure I agree with this. Although I used the bribe tactic on my eldest when he was little, offering him a trip to the park if he cleaned his room, letting him watch cartoons when he finished his homework, now that he is a teenager he just sort of understands that he needs to TCB. If he doesn’t do his homework, his grades will be bad, and if his grades are bad, he will lose privileges and not be able to get into a decent university and end up selling windows door-to-door. End of story.

Dr. Deci recommends a three-step alternative. First, be clear about why what you’re asking them do is important. Second, be interested in their point of view. “If it’s something they hate doing, acknowledge that, tell them you understand it’s not fun, yet the reason they need to do it is as follows,” he said. Finally, communicate in a way that’s not controlling. “Don’t use words like ‘should,’ ‘must’ and ‘have to,’ ” he said. “All of those things that convey to them you’re a big person trying to push around a little person.”

I am not sure I agree with this either! Because, for example, let’s say your three year old is pulling the dog’s tail. I think a perfect response is “We have to treat the dog nicely because when we pull the dog’s tail we are hurting him and we must never hurt animals.” I just used two of those no-no words in one sentence!

Although my kids are past the bribing stage at this point, I really don’t think it’s a bad parenting tactic, especially when you are rushed and trying to convince a three-year-old to wear their heavy winter coat. The idea of reasoning with little kids is all fine and good, but sometimes you have to bring out the big guns, and by big guns, I mean a cookie or an extra 20 minutes of screen time.

(Photo: Franck Boston /shutterstock)

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  • Blooming_Babies

    Well I have a few great kids and I’ve always said that they got that way through a healthy mix of bribery and fear. The world is built around bribery, your paycheck is bribery, most of us wouldn’t show up to work for free. Good behavior at any age equals privileges and bad behavior consequences.

  • ChopChick

    I think what you reference above is incentivizing good behavior, rather than bribery. Under the definition and examples you use above, giving an allowance is bribery, and any reward system at all is bribery. If you push your argument to the extreme, then telling an adult “If you do a great job, you may get a significant raise, not just a COL increase” is also bribery.

    Bribery, in my opinion, is more like stopping bad behavior by offering a reward such as telling a child who is screaming and throwing food at a restaurant that you will give them ice cream if they stop; or buying your child that snack at the grocery store just to stop them from crying.

    These two mechanisms are inherently different and yes, teach children very different thing–I think that is what the doctor above is saying. From the article cited above: “I find the issue of bribing children — or to be more precise, the giving of blunt, uncreative rewards for desired behavior (“If you just stop kicking that seat in front of you on the plane, I’ll give you 10 minutes of iPad time”; “Clean your room this weekend, I’ll give you 10 bucks”; “If you use good manners at Grandma’s house, I’ll let you have an extra brownie”) — to be one of the more nagging challenges of being a parent.”

    These examples show that the author is referring to rewarding a lack of bad behavior, rather than incentivizing good behavior. The phrases I’m using may be mostly semantic, but I think you see what I’m getting at.

  • http://www.facebook.com/helen.donovan.31 Helen Donovan

    As with all things, moderation. A cookie every time a kid puts on their winter coat? NO. But are you in a rush s/he is fussy today, etc.? Sure. After all, we reward ourselves with little rewards for doing things that we don’t like (I’m not a shoeaholic, I’m just really prompt paying bills, doing my taxes, and deserved some comfort after getting a mammogram).

    I also agree with you completely regarding the judicious use of NO!!