Is it OK to bribe children?

“If you…then you can…” It’s a familiar pattern heard when parents try to persuade their child to do something; “If you come with me now, we’ll stop at the park.” “If you put your toys away, you can stay up fifteen minutes later tonight.” There are always family struggles about the routines and necessities of life: bedtime, bath time, shopping, leaving a friend’s house, getting dressed, and getting ready for school or day care. When logic fails (as it will) and a young child refuses to do what his parents wish, they often resort to bribing.

In theory, most parents are opposed to bribes. They want their children to cooperate and learn to tolerate frustration, and they don’t want their children to expect rewards for good behavior. But it takes years for a child to learn self-control and to understand that certain things have to be done, even when people don’t want to do them. Until he can motivate himself to do necessary tasks, bribery has its uses, and parents will find that an occasional bribe is a strong motivator. But they should be careful not to overuse bribes, or children will look for constant rewards.

One mother could not get her son to leave his friend’s house, even though it was time for dinner. Finally she said, “If you come home now, you can paint with watercolors after dinner.” After hearing this, the boy agreed to leave. Another mother wanted to have her child come and play indoors, but he resisted. However, when she said, “Let’s go in and I’ll play a game with you, and then we’ll have a cookie,” the child came in. Incentives such as these can distract or redirect a child, and often eliminate struggles.

Bribes also can be used to avoid embarrassment. When parents are out in public, they may offer a bribe rather than face a tantrum. When parents go shopping with their child, they may give him a cookie or toy to gain his cooperation and make the shopping trip go smoothly.

You may be worried that once you offer a bribe in a situation your child will expect one whenever a similar situation comes up. But this is rarely a problem, since children can accept compromise and a degree of inconsistency. If you bribed your child to go grocery shopping with you last, week, but don’t, want to offer a bribe this week, let him know ahead of time “Last time I bought you gum, but today I’m not buying a treat.” When you get to the store, remind him of your warning, if necessary, and try to distract him: “I like to bring you to the store so you can help pick out food for dinner.” If you’re firm and allow occasional rewards and compromises, he usually will cooperate.

Sometimes, a way to eliminate the need for frequent bribes is to give your child plenty of warning when you want him to switch activities or go along with you cooperatively. If he’s engrossed in play, tell him, “We need to go to the post office this afternoon.” Then remind him ten minutes before you’re ready to leave so he can bring his game to a pleasant, slow close. That way, he won’t have to abruptly stop what he’s doing in order to do what you want. And the chances are good that he’ll come along peacefully, without needing a bribe.

Picture Credit : Google