Many of us have seen the research that it is a bad idea to bribe children with treats and presents in exchange for good behavior. But what about if you want to encourage good behavior with a special treat, especially if your child has gone out of his way to make a difficult compromise or has shown stellar behavior?
Fortunately, there is a clear difference between a “reward” and a “bribe.” The difference lies in the context of the situation. It can also depend on the intentions of both the parent and the child.
Bribery: A Clear Attempt at Manipulation
Let’s start with an example. You’re in the grocery store, desperately trying to get the shopping done before it’s time to go home and make dinner, but Junior is making a scene and won’t quit running around the store. After ten minutes of negotiating, an exhausted mum or dad usually offers a treat in exchange for good behavior, or ceasing bad behavior. The offer does the trick, and Junior quiets down.
But this is only temporary. You want your kids to behave in any situation, regardless of whether there is instant gratification involved. Furthermore, in the above situation, Junior has tricked his parents into getting him a treat, which shows him he can act out in order to rope his parents into doing something for him. Therefore, bribery teaches kids to always ask “What’s in in for me?” And even though it’s a quick fix , it’s not a sustainable solution because it will just lead to more bad behavior.
Rewards: Helping a Child Look Ahead
Rewards, on the other hand, involve much more structure and looking ahead. Instead of coming up with a bribe on the spur of the moment, such as in the above situation, rewards are agreed upon beforehand. You can sit down with your child and have a conversation about behavior you wish to correct and then offer an agreed-upon reward if your child comes through. That way, the treat is not chosen out of desperation and is therefore more likely to be reasonable.
You can even make a more robust plan with points in which a certain number of good-behavior points will add up to a special prize, and bad behavior can cause your child to lose points. Once your child understands which actions will result in gained or lost points, you can agree on a prize. Since it will take some time for your child to earn the prize, it’s okay if it’s something a little extravagant. You can even look at an online designer toy store and pick something out together.
Either way, using a reward is a good way to form a structure that promotes good behavior and discourages bad behavior. It’s also a means to teach the merits of delayed gratification. And finally, everybody feels validated instead of manipulated!