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Master negotiations

Bribing, rewards and positive reinforcement

If you’ve ever had to get a resistant child to leave a public place without having a complete meltdown or found yourself pulling your hair out over days of unsuccessful potty training, you’ve probably discovered the beauty of offering rewards.

To avoid an all-out crisis, are they really bad?

Call it bribing, offering an incentive or simply a way to keep sanity and peace in check. To bribe or not to bribe, that is the question...

Giving in to a child's demands is always a bad idea unless the request is totally reasonable. We love incentives for children. As working adults, our compensation is also based on incentives; annual reviews affect our bonuses or raises, so why not with children? It teaches them responsibility, goal setting and celebrating accomplishments.

Reward, don't bribe

According to Dr. Fran Walfish, leading child, teen, parent and family psychotherapist and author in Beverly Hills, California, rewards are a fine way to motivate children. It's only bribing if you say, "I'll give you this 'if' you do that…"

For instance, it's appropriate to say to your preschooler, "Show Mommy how you can pick up your toys so we can go to the park." Or with an older school-age child you can say, "Show Mom how you can get dressed, eat breakfast and organize your backpack so you can play on the playground before going to school."

Dr. Walfish does not recommend using rewards as incentives for potty training, sleeping through the night or eating. These are body functions that your child needs to learn to master and control. If she gets the idea that the issue is important to you she may withhold your objectives.

Catch them being good

Positive reinforcement could be the key in keeping children happy and well-behaved. Dawn Nichols, creator of the Caught Being Good app says her method uses positive reinforcement on an intermittent schedule, which has been proven to be a powerful motivator. Using Caught Being Good will increase your child's self-esteem, bring focus to the positive, promote desirable behavior and reward good behavior instead of bad. It's easy: "Catch" your child doing something good and ask her to spin for her reward such as a sweet treat, family outing, new toy, etc.

Caught Being Good (available on iTunes for 99 cents) comes completely ready to go, preset with rewards. Just edit or turn off any you choose not to use and because you can change and add rewards, the app can be used for all ages.

By focusing both parent and child on the positive, Caught Being Good produces effective and dramatic results. Try this app and Nichols believes your parenting will become easier, more enjoyable and more productive.

Show them who is in charge

We talked to Carl Grody, LISW who says "repeated studies have shown that children will make positive choices to earn a reward much more easily than they'll change their behavior based on the threat of discipline. The power struggle that often comes with taking something away or handing out a punishment actually is likely to increase the negative behavior because attention increases behavior." In other words, if you establish who is in charge very early then you won't have as many conflicts or temper tantrums to deal with.

More on negotiating with kids

How to bribe your kids
Avoiding power struggles: Parenting without bribes or threats

Are we bribing our kids?

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