I get asked frequently by parents whether or not they should bribe their children. I'm guessing you know my answer on that one. Of course, I don't recommend bribing. Having said that, I also know that most of us do it (yes, I'm ashamed to say that includes me).
As with any parenting approach, it helps to understand the whys and hows. First, the whys. Why do we bribe our kids? In my experience, parents may resort to bribing for a number of reasons including:
- They want their children to change their behavior quickly. This is most likely to occur when they are out in public.
- They lack the energy to deal with difficult behaviors, e.g., the are overwhelmed, sick, etc.
- They just don't know what else to do to get their children to behave.
Bribing is a slippery slope. While it can motivate kids to change their behavior temporarily, it does not generally have stay power. By that I mean that the undesirable behaviors are likely to return. It really has the opposite effect long term that we desire. When we bribe, we are actually reinforcing the behavior we want to extinguish.
Kids learn real quickly that when they act up, they increase the likelihood that they can get something they want. Not the message we want to send. Many times, by the time the parent has realized this, they have set themselves up for an even more difficult time. The parent tries to find another way to deal with the undesirable behavior and the child, in essence, says "Oh yeah?! I'll REALLY make a stink and see how you handle that!"
To make things worse, I often hear from parents that while they do not bribe, their spouse does. This can be a HUGE source of conflict between parents. Not being on the same page is a whole, separate post...
Another consideration is what bribing teaches children about their world. Bribing really models and unhealthy dynamic in relationships. Consider the implications this learned behavior can have for kids in school, in relationships, and in the work environment as adults.
The gist of this post is that bribing is not a very effective parenting technique to change difficult behaviors. If you bribe your children a lot, I would suggest trying to find some more effective ways to shape their behavior. If you bribe on occasion for very minor things, don't beat yourself up about it. If you are consistent in your expectations about your child's behavior in all settings, children know it and are less likely to take advantage of an occasional bribe. Like I said in the beginning, most of us do it at some point in time. Hopefully, however, it is not one of the primary tools we use to deal with problem behaviors.
Have you bribed your kids? What are your thoughts on this topic? I'd be interested to know in what situations you are most likely to resort to bribing. Share your thoughts!