Are Your Kids Hooked on Rewards and Bribes? Part 1

Do your kids expect rewards BEFORE they will do anything? Are they always asking "What do I get", or "What will you give me?" Do you have to bribe them so they will get started on a task, or do what you have asked them?

OR... have you ever found yourself offering bribes so your child will stop throwing a fit, clean their room, or get their homework done?

It is okay to give small incentives now and again. There isn't a parent out there who hasn't done it. But, if our kids will only respond when they "get something", it is time to make some changes.

Research shows us that...

  • Rewards elicit a quick fix, but not a long term solution.
  • Kids who only respond when given rewards are less likely to be self-reliant. At 2 this might not seem like a big deal, but as a young adult and adult, this is big trouble.
  • Eventually kids become addicted to the rewards and bribes and demand bigger and better. At first your daughter might require one sucker to be obedient. But before you know it, one sucker won't do it and she will demand the whole bag. 
  • When children are rewarded with candy for normal everyday tasks, the children will care more about the treats than the task. 
  • Research shows that when parents reward their children for being kind and sharing with other kids, the kids actually become less giving and less cooperative over time than children who are raised without the constant rewards.
As parents, one of our biggest responsibilities is to raise children who are self-reliant. We want our kids to be able to rely on themselves, not extrinsic rewards. We want our children to be internally motivated to help, work, and make right choices. 

Here are some solutions you can use to get the behavior you desire, without your children expecting something in return. 

Stop giving rewards for EVERYTHING. 
Tell your children, right now, that they will no longer be receiving material rewards for everything they do. Explain that you expect them to help around the house, do well in school, be kind to others, because it is the right thing to do, because that is how things work in your home, and because you said so. Don't give in, don't back down. They will complain, so be it. 

Reward Don'ts.
1. Don't reward your children unless they deserve it. For example: Don't say, "I know you wont throw a tantrum next time so here is a treat now" Not the approach we are looking to take. They have to not do it first. Then you can think about a reward. They have to exhibit the behavior first. 

2. Don't give unreasonable bribes and rewards. Be sure the reward matches the action. A shopping spree at Toys R' Us because your son didn't hit his sister is a little much, don't you think? 

3. Don't give up your expectations. Make your expectations clear before you get into the situation. In our house this means that I "prep" our kids. On the way to the store, before they are begging for the new toy, I explain that I expect no begging or whining for a new toy. "If you don't whine, then we can go to the park on the way home." If expectations are not met, DON'T GIVE IN.

4. Don't reward bad behavior. Try to never, ever, give a reward to stop a bad behavior. "Stop throwing a fit and you can have a sucker." Yikes, this teaches our kids that if they throw a fit and then stop, it will get them a treat. 

My husband learned his lesson about rewards last school year. Our son was not finishing his timed math tests at school. They were too easy for him and he would get bored and start to day dream and doodle. So, one day after school my husband told our son that if he finished his test he would get 50 dollars to spend at his favorite toy store. He came home from school the next day with a 100 percent on his completed math test. But, the week after that he came home with an unfinished test again. The next week, another unfinished test. 
We knew he knew the material and could finish the tests. My husband sat him down to talk to him about it. During the conversation he asked what he could do to finish the tests on time. His response, "I bet I could finish if I got another 50 dollars." 
Lesson learned.  

Internally Motivative - Wean Your Kids
  • If you are guilty of always giving material rewards such as treats and toys, begin replacing those with stickers. Once stickers become your main reward, start replacing those with encouraging words and praise. Over time the praise will turn into internal motivation and your kids will do things because it makes them happy and feel good. 
  • Delay rewards. Young children need instant recognition. Use praise. Tell them how good they did. Ask small children how it makes them feel to do such a good job. With older children wait a little bit before you reward and praise. Start by waiting a few hours to point out the good dead or success. Then wait a day or two. This will teach kids to do things for the right reason, not for an instant reward. 
  • Get your kids involved. Instead of promising a new toy if your son finishes his math test. Get your son involved in a solution to take the place of the reward. "Your not finishing your math tests. What can you do so that you can finish your test this week?"
Whew, that's a lot to think about. It's like totally re-evaluating our parenting strategies. 
Tomorrow we will talk about better ways to reward, and internal praise. 


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  1. I have never been one to bribe my kids for every little thing. I try to praise my children when they do something good/right. The problem that I have now is that if I praise one of my twins the other one starts whining because I didn't praise her as well. I then have to explain for the hundredth time that I didn't praise her because she didn't do what I asked.

  2. At home praise and a BIG hug and high five usually get dolled out regularly.

    Shopping is usually my downfall with my 3 yr old son. He just doesn't have patience to be a "big kid" yet but doesn't want to sit in the cart either. I've found the dollar section in Target to be my friend. When we first go into the store he gets to pick out a toy to play with in the store. If he's good he gets to keep playing. Once in a while we take it home, other times we put it "back with it's friends" on the way out. This little bit of something new seems to be just enough motivation to get all of us through the store.

  3. When it comes to shopping my kids are great for the most part. I get a loaf of fresh, hot bread, and let them pick at it while we finish up. Right now we are into the rewards thing because we are potty training Asher. It was getting expensive to give him a treat everytime, so I set up a sticker system. Now he is almost as excited for the sticker and the praise, as he is for the CARS prizes.

  4. My little girl was scared to go to school, so after one day on her own she got a dollar toy, after 5 days she got a candy. Oops.
    But it helped her to go.
    This parenting gig is hard.


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