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Should you bribe your kids?

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Is it an incentive or a bribe?

In the (imaginary) great reference book of perfect parenting, I'm sure there's a chapter on how perfect parents don't bribe their kids. Instead, in that world, all kids are perfectly self-motivated and the parents excel at developing this by helping the child understand natural consequences and the like. Heh heh heh.

Girl Relunctantly Eating BroccoliI don't live in that world. There have been times that bribery has been an effective - even necessary - part of our days. If you eat the broccoli, you can have the cookie. If you help mom with some cleaning up, you can watch "The Incredibles." And so on.

Incentives, rephrased

What is bribery, really, but a negative way to say "incentives." You could even rearrange words and call them "natural consequences."

In the broccoli and cookies scenario for example, if you phrase it as, "If you eat the broccoli, you can have a cookie," it can be seen as an incentive or a bribe. But if you say, "If you don't eat the healthy stuff, you can't have the treats; if you don't eat the broccoli, you can't have the cookie," it can be seen as a natural consequence. Heck, you could even so far as to call it a rule: "The rule is that unless you eat your vegetables, you can't have dessert." It's all the same issue really, just with different wording.

This example is quite simplistic, yes. There are plenty of examples in your own life, I'm sure.

Keeping it positive

I think that for incentives/bribes to really work, they need to be a positive for all involved - or at least each side gets something they really want. Negative consequences, such a punishment, may be one kind of incentive, and it has it's place, but it's no fun once that place is reached. I've had much better results with positive bribery, and the best results when the incentive isn't a thing, but time: time with mom and/or dad and the family.

So should you or shouldn't you?

Personally, I think as long as the incentives, or bribes (whatever you want to call them), come with communication and an attempt at balance, they are okay. When I feel strongly about a specific thing happening, I know that the bribe is as much a benefit to me as the kids getting something they want. I try not to rely on them, but I do use them when I feel it's necessary.

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