Dare I Say It? Are We Parenting by Bribery?!

Updated on February 01, 2011
A.B. asks from Marysville, WA
20 answers

Some food for thought. It just dawned on me this morning as I was browsing today’s “questions” email that the amount of questions/answers I see that come through regarding “rewards” systems for good behavior/tasks is crazy! Do children REALLY need reward charts for good behavior? Why do we feel the pressure of having all these reward systems set in place? Rewards for cleaning, rewards for potty training, rewards for behavior, rewards for doing well in school, rewards for saying please and thank you? Is this parenting by bribery or what?! Does anyone else think that maybe we are “rewarding” our children too much and that maybe this could not be so great for our children in the long run? Why isn’t us telling our children “Good Job!” good enough??

I for one was not constantly rewarded as a child. I said please and thank you because it was the polite thing to do, I learned how to pee/poo in the toilet because it was time for, I cleaned my room, did the dishes and mowed the lawn because I was asked/told to – not because someone was paying me for it or because I’d get to go to Chuck E Cheese. My reward as a child was my parents telling me “Good job!” or “I’m so proud of you!” and that really meant a whole heck of a lot to me.

I am in no way entirely against rewards systems, I LOVE rewarding my son, and have used some myself for potty training – which served as the initial motivation for using the potty but in the end was NOT the reason my son became potty trained. His motivation for this task sky rocketed to new heights when it turned from “if I do this, I get that!” to being completely self driven and overcome with pride going potty all by himself. Love that.

I think we should start a new movement, a “gift free” reward system. Our children should know they are doing the right thing and doing a good job because we make them FEEL that way, not because of something they get or how many stickers they have on some chart. Who’s with me?!!!

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So What Happened?

FYI-I do believe rewarding is a great positive thing to do. This is not meant to be a "personal question/problem" this is just "food for thought" for the masses. A hypothetical question to generate a good discussion and perhaps give us all a new perspective on this topic. Parenting has seemed to change a lot since we were kids ourselves - some for the better and some maybe not so much.. ?

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answers from Chicago on

If done the right way, it should be positive reinforcement. I am a strong believer that even children doing things right should be rewarded (and this can be a simple, "Good job!). Otherwise, children soon learn that they get attention when they misbehave, and will continue to do so for the negative attention.

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answers from Portland on

I agree with you totally. We were not rewarded as children for doing what we were supposed to do...we did it because we were asked or told. The reward was when we were told "Job well done! I/We are proud of you!" I think the way children are being raised today is leading them to expect to be rewarded for anything and everything. I, too, believe we should start a "gift free" system and teach kids right from wrong without constantly giving them physical rewards. The feelings they would get from the pride they feel in a job well done will stay with them a lot longer than a toy that will be broken in a short period of time or a food reward that is gone in an instant. I also believe that giving food rewards will lead to more long term problems with their health, especially when food rewards are usually not healthy foods.

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answers from Portland on

That's a great observation, and I have to agree with you. My son is still pretty young to be using any sort of "reward system" but I certainly don't plan on implementing one any time soon. I think it's sad that the days are long gone when a compliment, a pat on the back, or even an encouraging smile was enough to boost a child's self-esteem. I also don't think it necessarily has to be that way.

This new wave of parenting that rewards children goes hand in hand with the idea of making sure children never doubt or question themselves, deal with a difficult situation, or even handle a problem on their own. It seems to me that it will be really crippling to them in the end. How will they ever learn to do anything for themselves? I can foresee a huge issue with incentive and motivation regarding these reward systems, too. What seems like a great idea for now could have some very long term consequences regarding their behavior. These kids won't be compelled to do anything, let alone what is right and good unless there is some sort of pay-off for them in the end. As they grow older it won't just be about cleaning their room, not kicking up a fuss in the store, or finishing homework. It will turn into much larger issues regarding morals, work ethic, interpersonal relationships, etc. And of course it also instills in them a huge sense of entitlement, which isn't a trait that I much admire.

How will these kids learn what is really good, respectable (and rewardable) behavior if each and every thing they do is treated the same? Rewards should be for something special, not for simply putting away toys or drying the dishes.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I get what you're saying but what you have to realize is that there are "issues" in every home that need a boost. In your case, perhaps it was potty training? I would not assume that you also reward for making a bed, carrying dinner dishes to the sink, feeding the dog, etc. Keep in mind that when a parent feels at an impasse, maybe a reward might be used. I doubt there are families out there rewarding every single positive and productive thing that every O. of their kids does every single day! Most likely, it's used, as you used it, as a way of getting over a "hump."

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

Ditto Denise P. below.

Here is a GOOD article:
On how "not" to talk to kids or encourage them.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

You are right on. My Family Won't listen to me when I say no gifts please for my daughter , myself or my husband. My Husband & myself figure we are adults & don't need gifts & we really don't like getting them, it's more stuff to get rid of & money wasted to us. As far as my daughter goes she needs to learn not to expect to get gifts ever time my extended family gets together. I want Christmas, Birthdays & Easter to be like Thanksgiving, we get together & enjoy each others company. You would think they would get the message when they ask where is this thing I bought you & I tell them we donated or re-gifted it.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I think you are completely right. We do not do rewards. Conversely we do not do punishment or time outs. DS learned to use the toilet because it was time to, eat because he is hungry, use utensils because that is what civilized people do. I do not 'good job' all the time and DH is working on it. We go a little further and try to decrease praise as well - we are more in to getting excited when he gets excited that he has done something. And rather than - wow, what a great picture, more of a wow, you used a lot of colors, tell me about that.

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answers from Biloxi on

I am so with you on this.

Being 45, and raised in another era, I managed to make it through childhood into successful adulthood without rewards. The rewards were inherent - praise from my parents, a sense of self satisfaction and achievement, the reward of being a contributing member of my family. I did not get prizes, or stickers, or stars, or even allowance for the "chores" that I did.

And neither does my son. He gets my praise, I say "Thank You", but I do not, and have never, given him prizes or money for his contributions to the household. Since he turned 14 I have begun giving him a flat fee per month that he can use for anything from extra lunch at school, to ice cream, to toys, and special events. But it is not tied to his household responsibilities. He gets it regardless.

I think the assumption of responsibilities is us, as parents, teaching our children how to be successful adults. Let's face it, when we join the adult world, with all its responsibilities, we do not get stars and stickers for going to work and paying taxes. To teach them that they will be rewarded for everything they do, especially those things they have to do, sets them up for disappointment when they realize the real world just doesn't work that way.

But gosh, sometimes I really would like a gold star or a smiley face sticker for paying my taxes!!

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answers from Portland on

I agree with you, A.. Prizes, rewards, bribes, and even over-the-top praise for every little thing are intended to be motivational. Unfortunately, the research shows it's all too often just the opposite.

Here's one eye-opening article: How NOT to Talk to Kids, by Po Bronson: http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/

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answers from Dallas on

I agree with you 100%. I don't believe in rewarding kids for every little thing they do that they ARE supposed to do. I agree with giving them a kiss and a hug and telling them :"Good job!" or "I am proud of you for doing that" etc, but the actual "buying" of things to give them as rewards are a big no for me, and for my husband too. We agree in this 100%.
My daughter will have millions of kisses and hugs for doing the things she is supposed to, and for achieving things in life, but real presents are given only on special occasions, birthdays, holidays, graduations and promotions (in the future) etc.

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answers from Austin on

Amen.. We never gave rewards for things like this..

It used to crack me up with the dentist had a prize drawer (stickers, little books..)for kids to get a treat for being good during their procedures and check ups. They also made a big deal about "what a great patient she was". Our daughter was 3 and said, "that is weird, who does not sit still for the Dentist?"

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answers from Louisville on

I agree. When I was little, I did things because I was told. There was not a means of rewarding us with treats or toys because we minded what we were told by our parents. If I wanted extra money, I did extra chores around the house during summer break while my parents worked and they would pay me for it. But they never bribed me with stuff to get me to do anything. I hope I can instill that same ethic in my daughter.

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answers from Dallas on

As an adult, do we not get rewarded for great work? A bonus at work, a smile because you were polite? A rewarding marriage because you reward each other with a date night or a back massage? I teach my kids that when you try your hardest, you get the reap the benefits.

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answers from Spokane on

We don't use rewards in our house, the few times I've tried it had no effect beyond day two. Of course my kids get regular hugs, kisses and verbal praise, but I consider that part of being their mom - it's what I do, I don't do it TO motivate them, I do it because I truly do love them and am proud of their efforts in life and that's my natural way of expressing it. I agree that rewards have gotten totally out of control - to the point that people "expect" them at work, when really, your paycheck IS your reward. My husbands company rewards people with things like having an extra day to wear jeans, or a free parking pass, one day they had pajama day if you took overtime during the holidays - he was totally shocked and thought the whole thing was SO rediculous, he wore a suit even though his "superiors" were wearing pajamas (mind you, most of the people who work there are just out of high school, and for him this is an "in between" job while we wait for his military ship out date). But that's what I'm talking about, the kids who live in this "reward system generation" are now turning into grownups, but still acting like children. My kids were both potty trained by 2 1/2, fed themselves starting at 6 months (tiny bits of what I ate), do chores, and are polite people (they are only 2 1/2 and 6 yrs old now). They don't get rewards for ANY of these things. They just get my unconditional love every day simply for being my children!

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answers from Portland on

I was JUST thinking about this as I put my toddler down for a nap... he has been crying every day every time I put him down for nap or bedtime. Not out of fear, I believe, but out of wanting me to come back and not wanting to go to bed and miss out on things.

I am trying a few things - first was leaving him to cry/shout for me which I hated and just escalated into tears, now I am trying "bribery". It feels silly to offer a sticker "if you are quiet and go to sleep", but if it works, it will only be for a short time that we use it. I just need to get him out of the habit of making such a ruckus before sleep times!!

You're right though, how do we help our children to be SELF-motivated for life? Some kids just a smile and a pat on the back doesnt do - just like for some kids, time-outs don't work, for other kids, revoking privileges won't be effective.

It's all about balance and moderation and personalizing parenting for each child.



answers from Corvallis on

THANK YOU!!! for writing this question/statement. I do think that as a culture we again have tried to take 'the easy way out' when it comes to parenting and frankly it has screwed up our children royally! Kids are completely externally focused rather than feeling good about themself just because they tried or did whatever task they were working at. I think it is completely ridiculous that in some team sports a team gets a reward just for showing up or for trying. The rewards should come from within!



answers from Portland on

I completely agree. While I do use a sticker chart for potty training it is the ONLY thing that we use that type of incentives for. And my 2 year old is far more interested in hearing, "wow, we are so proud of you" than in getting his stickers. As I write this he has used the potty 4 times today and we have "forgotten" to get a sticker every time. My 5 year old complains often when I ask him to clean his room or help with the trash etc. I politely remind him that being a part of a family means doing our share. I remind him how disgusting our home would be if no one did any chores. I also tell him that I don't particularly enjoy washing and folding clothes, making dinners, and doing dishes but since I am a mommy those are my responsibilities and they must get done.

I think we are creating the wrong expectations for our kids. They will be adults and think, well if I do this then I get something. Instead we should be fostering a sense of community and doing our part because that is what decent human beings should do!

Great post!



answers from Yakima on

Oh, I SO agree! My eldest refused to potty train, I tried everything to no avail.....if she won't poop for M&M's, forget 'rewards'! Since then, we give verbal praise and a hug/kiss for good behaviour. They are expected to be polite, do their chores, etc. because they are part of our family...that we all need to work together, not for rewards!


answers from Santa Fe on

Interesting post! My 6 yr old son is not motivated at all by a rewards chart and never was. He would just be completely uninterested. I used to be sooo jealous of the other parents whose child was excited to put a sticker on each day and work toward earning something. The way we do it, is when he asks to do something he really wants to do (like play video games (he gets 30 m a day) or go outside to play with friends) we say, yes, you can do that after you do x and y first. Then he's motivated to go brush his teeth, or go make his bed, or go put away his game in the livingroom, etc. Anyway, this works for us for a lot of things he needs to do.



answers from Portland on

I thought the exact same thing, until I had my daughter. My son is easy to discipline and my daughter is not. We have tried everything with her. More consequences, more attention, more praise, reward systems, etc. The only thing that seems to be working is the praise, empathy and reward systems that only reward specific behavioral issues we're working on...not easy stuff like getting dressed or whatever. We reward for staying calm, using a normal tone of voice, etc. This is working! So, normally, I would agree with you, but once you are dealing with a challenging child, you have to try everything. My son gets to do the reward system too, but only because his sister is doing it. The boy gets points all over the place! lol. So, with that kind of kid, it's completely unnecessary. For my daughter, one thing I read said that if you get a little incentive for doing something challenging, you are more likely to repeat it and eventually it will become a habit. It seems to be the case for us and that helped me to realize that we aren't bribing her, but we are helping her establish a new normal for her behavior. So, as part of a larger plan, I think rewards are wonderful. You just have to be careful how you structure it. You aren't just throwing a toy out to them here and there.

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