We’ve all done it at one point or another…bribing our kids to gain their cooperation. “If you finish your dinner, you can have a cookie.” “Be a good boy at Grandmas house and then we can go to the park.” “If you do your homework, then you can have some TV time.”
It is so easy to fall into the trap of bribing our kids, because it seems like the quickest way to gain their compliance. Parents say “it works” because it gets kids to do what we ask, but bribes can have long-term negative effects on our children’s motivation and behavior. Here are 5 reasons to stop bribing your kids and what to do instead:
Bribes strip away internal motivation
Using bribes makes children hyper-focused on external motivators (such as candy, prizes, or treats) instead of internal motivators (satisfaction, pride, and accomplishment). Because children’s motivation is external rather than internal, they become more likely to rush through their work in order to gain their reward. They aren’t taking pride or feeling the same sense of accomplishment as they would if they were working without a bribe.
Bribes create a sense of entitlement
When we use bribes we condition our children to think that they are entitled to a reward every time they do something we ask them to do. Expected behaviors like cleaning their room or completing their homework seem more like a choice to them because we have attached an incentive to it. This often backfires when the incentive isn’t motivating enough for our kids, because they may decide that the incentive isn’t worth the work you are asking them to do.
Check out: How Entitlement Steals Our Kids Joy
Bribes cause satiation and dependence
Satiation happens when children become too used to getting treats and rewards, and they start to want more and more. It’s like using pain medication… at first it works, but then your body becomes used it and you need more in order to feel the effects. Bribes are exactly the same. With every bribe a child’s entitlement grows stronger, and they become less willing to do what you ask without a bigger reward. When a child is unwilling to do what you’ve asked without a bribe, it means they have become completely dependent on the reward as a source of motivation. Rewards are truly like a drug to children, and if you take them away, expect a withdrawal period.
Bribes teach children to manipulate and control
Bribes are all about control, especially when we use withholding of rewards as a threat. “If you keep screaming in the store, we aren’t going to the movies.” Withholding rewards creates fear in our kids, and that anxiety makes them less likely to be able to behave in the way we want them to. When we use bribes in order to control children’s behavior, kids become more likely to try to use control tactics and manipulate us in the same way.
Bribes don’t prepare children for real life
In the real world, we don’t get rewards for doing things that we are supposed to do. You don’t get a raise for showing up to work, and kids should not get rewards for doing the right thing either. When we use bribes, we do not teach our children to have personal responsibility over their work. As adults they become people who need to be micromanaged, because that’s how they’ve been trained to work.
What to do instead:
The big question is…what can we do instead? We still need a way to get our kids to do what we ask, and if not bribes, then what?
Make your child feel capable
Keep in mind that true cooperation comes from children who feel important and capable. We need to spend more time building up our children’s confidence in their abilities to do the right thing and their internal motivation. For example, “You worked so hard on that project, that must have felt really good.”
Give up some control
This is difficult, but so important. Our kids need to have experience making choices for themselves and dealing with the real life consequences. Your toddler chooses not to eat breakfast? They may feel hungry until lunchtime. Your child doesn’t want to go to soccer practice? They don’t get to start in the next game. Teaching children to have personal responsibility means giving them room to make mistakes and to learn from it.
Reward your child unexpectedly and genuinely
Let’s say your child goes above and beyond their regular chores by cleaning the house. You can express your genuine appreciation by saying “I really appreciate your hard work, you’ve done such a nice thing for me. Why don’t we go in the kitchen and bake up some brownies together.” There is nothing wrong with expressing genuine appreciation in your child’s work after the fact. The key here is that your child didn’t clean the house expecting a reward, they did it to do something nice for you.
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