When Bribery Works

I know the title of this post might scare some people off…bribery? Let me go ahead and say that I do NOT believe in using bribery as a parenting tool, other than in certain circumstances. I believe my children should make good choices because they are motivated by the inner peace that comes from doing right. I want their motivations to be God-centered. I want for my children to strive to be like Jesus and not to be doing something only to get a reward for doing it.

I also am a firm believer in discipline and correction. How will my children be able to learn the right path if I don’t correct them when they choose to do wrong? For example if we are at the store shopping I don’t buy my children any prizes nor do I give them any treats for behaving well. They should behave well! It’s expected and I will offer plenty of verbal praise and encouragement for making good choices, being big helpers, etc. However, if they misbehave while in the store they will have consequences. They are aware of those consequences and sometimes it may go as far as us having to leave the store and simply go home. 

Bribery is the exception to my norm in parenting. It comes into play in certain situations and because I don’t use it any other times, it is very effective. I also think bribery works for us, when utilized, because my children don’t get treats/prizes/etc very often. We save gifts for holidays. We don’t do prize machines at stores. We don’t get to pick out a toy when shopping. We don’t do candy at all except on special occasions (yes, I’m that mom who totally throws out majority of the Halloween candy my kids get!). 

Here are times when I have found bribery works:

1. Getting Smiles for Photos: At about the toddler age kids start to be able to understand the concept of reward. We do MANY family photo shoots with our kids and the #1 trick for getting smiles is to tell them they will get a treat for doing so. I bring along fruit snacks and/or smarties. Both are small, quick to eat, and low mess. At around 18 months old I will start using them as a tool to be able to capture the smiles. As my children get older, they become well trained to smile when they see a camera and I no longer give a treat for each smile! The bribery tactic then simply becomes…if you do well for the entire photo session then we will get a special treat later 🙂 

More tips on successful family photos

2. Potty Training: I potty train my children young. My son was 19 months old and my daughter was 16 months old. Treats REALLY help with the process. I use fruit snacks (my treat of choice!) and reward very often in the beginning stages. Obviously as they progress in their abilities, I wean from the treats. I have found that treats continue to be useful in all phases of potty training. For the early days of checking for dryness, to getting them to go in the potty, to even issues I had with my daughter where she would wait to poop in her diaper at nap. I started back with the treats and rewarded her every time she pooped in the potty and the issue was fixed in a matter of days! I also use the treats when nap and night training. If they keep their panties/underwear dry and clean the whole nap or the entire night they get rewarded with a treat. 

Using treats for potty training is very beneficial. It’s a quick way to offer an immediate reward and help them understand what it is they need to do. I have yet to have any problems phasing out the treats. I also haven’t had issues with the older sibling wanting treats since the younger one is getting them so often for potty training. I simply tell the older one that he got lots of treats when he was training too and that ended the discussion!

More potty training tips

3. When Good Behavior is Crucial: I always try to schedule everything I can around the best times for my children. We don’t skip naps. We don’t stay up past bedtime. I do my best to keep them on their schedules and have their routines in place. By doing so, my children are (usually!) very well behaved. However, there are times when you simply can’t be in control. Weddings. Funerals. Graduations. You can’t plan what time of the day these events will take place so you have to just roll with it. And one way I have found to help insure good behavior during critical times? Yup. Treats! I will bring along snacks and games and toys and such to keep the kids quiet and busy during such events and will also tell them if they do a good job they will get rewarded with such and such afterwards. I will remind them over and over about about the special treat coming their way and will praise them like crazy throughout the event. No one wants to be “that parent” with the kid having a meltdown in the middle of a wedding ceremony! It’s about survival and just making it through the event with as little embarrassment as possible, right? 😉

These are some things I pack for church each Sunday and I use the same things at such events (no, we don’t bribe the kids to behave in church…that’s one of those expected places they need to behave!)

Bribery often feels like a “dirty word” that shouldn’t be uttered by a parent. However, I do think all three of these scenarios are examples of when it is effective and when it is a worthwhile parenting tool to utilize. Although I may tell my children a treat is coming their way for good smiles or for good behavior at an event…I also stand by my parenting standards. Poor choices are disciplined as needed. Treats are not given if not earned! I think that the combination of us not giving treats very often and also not using bribery as a regular path of parenting helps it to be more effective when it is a proper time to use it!

Do you ever use bribery in your parenting? Are there other times you find it’s an effective tool? 

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