How to bribe your kids

Jun 5, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. ET

Any parent who tries to say they've never bribed their kids is either a liar or too hopped up on juice boxes to think straight. But the real question remains, do you know how to bribe your children effectively? Stay tuned — we'll show you how.

They say bribes are always better than threats. And whether you are a mobster or a parent of busy toddlers just trying to make it out of the grocery store alive, this certainly rings true. (Kidding!) Okay, so “bribe” might be too strong a word. But, the fact remains that offering incentives for good grades and good behavior can be a very effective parenting technique. Curious about how to get the most bang for your buck? Check out our tips for the ABCs of bribery below.

Set clear expectations

Raising responsible children takes work. It would be nice if all you had to do was offer a lollipop for angelic behavior, but it just isn’t that easy. Children need clear boundaries and guidelines. As parents, it is our job to provide these things; otherwise our children may not even comprehend our basic expectations. One common parenting pitfall is not being consistent with discipline. If Junior learns that the rules change depending on your mood or how exhausted you are, then he will work this knowledge to the fullest. Take the time to sit down with your child and explain your family rules (as well as the consequences of breaking the rules) so everyone is on the same page.

What role does discipline play in parenting? >>

Try a reward chart

One of the best ways to monitor and encourage good behavior is to set up a reward chart. Choose six to eight goals to work on at a given time. Some examples might include:

  • Use respectful language, no talking back
  • Pick up toys when finished playing
  • Keep bedroom clean
  • No fighting with siblings
  • Finish homework without whining
  • Do daily chores
  • Complete 20 minutes of daily reading

Each day, praise your children for good behavior and talk to them about the areas in which they need improvement. Give your children stickers to place on the chart for each of the daily goals completed. For each sticker, allow each child to place a bean in a jar. When the jar is full, a larger reward is achieved. Make the reward something special and out of the ordinary like a trip to the zoo or the movie theatre. The great thing about this system is that children are motivated on several levels to behave. They will be learning to develop their own internal motivation for responsible behavior and good decision-making while they collect daily stickers and work toward a special reward.

Learn more about positive parenting >>

Make sure the reward fits the behavior

When picking what kind of reward to offer your child, take care that the reward matches the expected behavior. You don’t want to offer a trip to Disneyland just because your kid sat through dinner without throwing broccoli at his brother. Psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Phil McGraw explains, “Rewards are clearly better than punishment in terms of shaping a child’s behavior. But you have to be careful because if the rewards get too big, too lavish, then you actually wind up undermining their internal motivation.”

Is it an incentive or a bribe? >>

Don’t bribe around the clock

While it can be tempting to bribe your children into good behavior around the clock (“Stop throwing grapes in the fish tank and I’ll give you a chocolate sprinkle ice cream cone”), this can quickly backfire. Children will learn to only behave when given a physical reward. Make sure that you aren’t overusing rewards as a way to modify behavior. And definitely, don’t give in and pass out the reward anyway, if your child didn’t meet expectations. This is a surefire way to get yourself recommended for a serious visit from Supernanny.

Get the dish! SheKnows talks to Supernanny Jo Frost >>

More parenting advice

Co-parenting: Should you present a united front or play good cop/bad cop?
How to create good parent/child relationships
How not to raise a brat