Bribing Kids for Good Behavior
Lots of parents do it, but bribing your children can backfire.
"Daddy, what do we get if we're good in the store?" Parenting expert Jim Fay could
hardly wait for the response. He pushed his grocery cart a little closer and
heard dad say, "You get a happy family, that's what you get."
Smiling, Fay walked over and patted the man on the back.
That time, dad had resisted the temptation to bribe his kids for good
behavior. Chances are, though, things hadn't always gone so smoothly. After
all, bribing kids for good behavior is a tactic commonly used by many
Parenting Bribes: The Problem With Bribing Kids for Good Behavior
Candy, toys, money, entertainment: What's the harm of a parenting bribe?
After all, who isn't motivated by a little incentive? Several parenting
experts told WebMD that giving in to kids with parenting bribes isn't as
harmless as it sounds. Founder of the Love and Logic philosophy of parenting
(loveandlogic.com), Fay says that bribes -- and sometimes even rewards -- can
send unspoken, but powerful, messages like these to kids:
- You don't want to have good behavior.
- You're not capable of good behavior without bribery.
- Good behavior is only important to adults.
In essence, when you're giving bribes, says Linda Gordon, president and CEO
of Gordon Training International, the child gets the following message:
"That activity must not have any intrinsic value -- you must have to pay me
to get me to do it."
Although the bribe can produce short-term results -- stopping temper tantrums or getting a
kid to do homework -- it can also "up the ante," setting up a
continuous cycle of crying and bad
behavior, says Elizabeth Pantley, parenting educator and author of Kid
Cooperation: How to Stop Yelling, Nagging, and Pleading and Get Kids to
Cooperate. The more you bribe, though, the more you have to fall back on it
-- just as you might feel forced into constantly treating a food-motivated
Bribes fail to teach kids respect and responsibility, says Fay. In place of
respect and responsibility, many of today's kids are cultivating a sense of
entitlement, which is a "prescription for a lifetime of unhappiness."
Fay attributes this shift to a complex cultural milieu that includes
conflicting messages from the media and emphasis on a child-centered
environment that's focused on protection, rescue, and rewards.
"With both parents working, many are looking for quick fixes and feel
guilty about not spending more time with their kids," Fay says. "So
they try to mitigate that feeling by giving them stuff. Kids have been given so
much that they don't feel they have to work for anything." Fay adds that
parents today spend 500% more on their kids than parents a generation ago did
-- and that's adjusted for inflation. "Kids today don't have any idea what
parents had to do to earn this money."