Difference Between Bribe and Rewards

Updated on March 04, 2012
J.S. asks from Green Cove Springs, FL
19 answers

My friend cracks me up. She was talking about how she never bribes her kids and how her SIL always does. She actually said, "She tells her kids that if they eat their dinner than she will give them cookies or whatever. My kids always eat theirs without me having to bribe them. They know that if they don't eat it all they don't get dessert." I started laughing, and when she questioned me on that I told her that I honestly didn't see a difference.

I mean if you reward your kids during potty training, aren't you essentially bribing them to sit and pee on the potty? I used rewards and sometimes bribe, but the more I think about it I wonder. What is the difference really? If she does what I say she gets rewarded (when the situation calls for it). So what's the difference between reward and bribe?

1 mom found this helpful

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

Featured Answers


answers from Rochester on

I don't see a difference, really, except for appropriateness, maybe. Does the bribe/reward fit the situation? For example, on the potty issue...I think, "If you use the potty for a week we can go pick out some new big girl underwear!" is a reward, and "Sit and pee now and I'll give you some M & M's," is more of a bribe, because it's not fitting.

I do both, by the way. :)

6 moms found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

IMO - a bribe is something mentioned in the moment "Do this and you can have that." And a reward would be already established, like as a given rule at all times. So funny you thought about this as yes, they do seem the same.

So for my example:
BRIBE - "If you're a good boy while we're at the grocery store, you can have a cookie when we get home."
REWARD - You go to the grocery store, nothing is said before hand about the cookie, maybe all that's said is "Remember to be a good boy." And when it's all said and done and you are done grocery shopping, you say "I am so glad you were such a good boy in the grocery store! I want to give you a cookie to reward you for such awesome behavior!"

4 moms found this helpful

More Answers


answers from Washington DC on

oooh good question.

I'd LIKE TO THINK there is a difference....
Bribe - to get them to behave in a certain manner.
Reward - to give them acknowledgment for doing something right.

When my kids were potty training - I didn't give them rewards - sorry. My boys got to "aim" at Cheerios in the toilet. I clapped my hands and did a jig when they went potty in the toilet. They thought that was funny.

I'd like to think I am encouraging good behavior. However, I am don't encourage "entitlement" as giving the kids something for doing something they SHOULD be doing - in my opinion - can lead to a sense of entitlement.

So for me - it's a fine line - great grades get rewarded. Bad grades? they get more study time. Is that a bad thing? Well, for the kids it might be. But they are learning.

I don't think I've "bribed" my kids. "If you do this, I will give you that" - even when we went to the store when they were younger - I didn't walk in saying - "if you behave you will get a piece of candy". They KNEW what behavior was expected of them. They MIGHT get it. They might not.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Williamsport on

The bribe is when you are using the lure of the pay off in ADVANCE to cause the child to do something.

The reward is when you decide after the fact to give a treat, or not, but you didn't use it as a way to get the child to do something.

Like, if my kids are good at the grocery store, they may or may not get a lollipop after. But they have to be good at the store no matter what, and I don't cause them to be good by saying they will get a lollipop if they are. Not a huge difference, but a difference. BUT, once my oldest was newly potty training and did not want to pee in a scary port-a-potty at the park, but she HAD TO or we would definitely have an accident in the car and I knew it, so I said, "Sweetie, if you just pee in here, I will give you a treat." One of my rare BRIBES and it worked! I save bribes for emergencies.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

IMO, asking your child do something for something in return is a bribe. surprising your child with a job well done is a reward. or say reaching a goal gets a reward. a goal takes time=reward. immediate act and immediate suprise=bribe.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

semantics? ; )

What we do is give our kids "dollars" on a chart, which they can save up to do something they want. It's still bribery, but they are learning delayed gratification and are actually REALLY happy getting a hashmark on a chart.

If it turns into "I did something good, now give me something", a new approach is needed. If it helps a kid learn to behave (or pee in the potty), eh, whatever it takes...

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

"If" is the word that defines the difference between a bribe and a reward.

"If" you eat this spinach, "If" you clean your room, etc....

"Wow, look at you!!! You ate all your spinach, would you like a cookie?" is noticing when someone did something worth noticing.

Getting a child in the habit of sitting on the potty to get them used to sitting on it, the feel of it, the acknowledgement that there is something in the little cup when they get up, etc...that deserves some sort of distraction. Once there are doing it on their own and have the general idea, then rewards are not needed anymore.

There is a huge difference between telling a child the rules/expectations too.

"IF" you act up in the store I will have XXX come get you and take you to their house for babysitting until I am finished shopping. You are expected to XXX, XXX, XXX, and XXX." Then doing it, not just letting them know you're thinking about it.

There is also nothing wrong with saying "We are going to go to Braums and get an ice cream after shopping at Walmart "if" I am feeling calm and happy when we are finished buying school clothes".

Laying it out in the car before going in, explaining what behaviors are expected, what will happen if those behaviors don't happen, letting them know what will happen if undesired behaviors do happen, etc...is very educational for kids. They have so much information being crammed into their little brains on any given day it's a wonder to me they can remember their own names. Much less 20-30 rules they were told about when they were 3 years old.

"While we are in Walmart I expect you to be within arms reach at all times. You may not do back handsprings down the isle, you may do them as long as you stay within arms reach. You may not touch each individual item that we pass as we walk down each isle, I am not taking all day. You may not have anything today, we are buying food and I only have $25 to spend on that."

"I got a little extra money today on my child support card, after getting all the shopping done if I like how you have acted we may go to the toy department and you can each pick out something for less than $5. If you ask me more than once about the toy department you drop to $4, each time you ask if it's time to go or when we are going you lose $1 each time from then on."

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Colorado Springs on

I think this calls for a definition of terms. Otherwise, ten people could be talking about a bribe and meaning at least nine different things.

Mr. Merriam and Mr. Webster tell me that a bribe is: a) money or favor given or promised *in order to influence the judgment or conduct of a person in a position of trust*, and b) something that serves to induce or influence. That's a pretty wide-open definition, when it comes to everyday behavior.

But, generally speaking, "I'll do this for you so that you'll do that for me" could be interpreted as a bribe. At least I imagine that a six-year-old would look at it that way. It isn't *necessarily* bribery, but it has that general outline - "I'm buying cookies today, and so you will of course eat your veggies in order to get some."

Keep in mind that a consequence can be neither bribery nor reward. If I have a salaried job and do that job well for two weeks, I receive a certain amount of money. The money isn't (legally) a bribe to make me do the work. Nor is it a reward to praise work appropriately done. It's a legitimate consequence, and it's perfectly fair.

And it's fair, perhaps, if Paul and Penny know that they must finish their veggies if they are going to see the cookies. Cookies have become an agreed consequence of eating all the veggies, and Paul might consider it proper justice if the cookie wasn't forthcoming because he shoved the green beans aside or fed them openly to the dog. (Along that line, to say, "Well, you ate your beans but you didn't fold your napkin, so there's no cookie" would be injustice. So would, "Well, I'll give you a cookie anyway.")

It's also well to remember another term: extortion. It's bribery if you say, "If you act nice to your Aunt Rose this afternoon, you can stay up an hour late tonight." It's extortion if the child uses the routine on you: "Don't expect me to be nice to Aunt Rose unless you let me stay up tonight. Write up an agreement to that effect." That's automatically out of line.

A reward for perseverance, obedience, or some sort of very good action (even taking a nasty medicine) is sometimes fine. It might be best that the reward be more like an "award" - say, a sticker or a ribbon or a mark on the chart - rather than anything tangible. (I might make an exception for taking the nasty medicine.) And a reward usually isn't announced in advance; you look for the good behavior you've been teaching, praise it, and back up the praise with a reward *this time.* (That could include the good behavior of doing the right thing on the potty.)

We all know that bribery can be useful on occasion. "We were just invited to go to the pool with the Jones family. IF your house jobs are done by ten a.m., we can go." That's a sort of bribe, because the mention of the reward in advance is a definite incentive to do the chores quickly. But of course you have to follow through as promised. And, since you all have VERY smart children who want to be lawyers when they grow up, watch for, "Hey, Mama, does this mean that if we have our chores done by ten every day this summer, you'll take us to the pool?" That's edging on a bit of manipulation by the chore-doer!

But bribery works best when done sparingly. The law of diminishing returns fully applies - the more often you do it, the less you get the results you hope for.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

A bribe is a promise of something before the activity is started, a reward is given to a completed activity. What she is speaking of is neither, dessert is part of dinner, everyone gets dessert but if you don't finish your dinner everyone but you will still get dessert. In her sister in law's case dessert is not part of dinner, a reward is given only to those that finish dinner because of the bribe.

Sorry I have to agree with your friend, there is a difference. Still what your friend is talking about is not a reward either. Because a reward is not contingent on completing a specific activity it is given whenever, maybe once a week, maybe once a month.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

I see it as a reward is something received after something done. A bribe is something offered with no work on the recipients' part. If my DD is fussing in the store and I say, "Here's candy", that's a bribe. If she's fussing and she gets ahold of herself and is good all the way to the checkout, maybe she'll get candy as a reward for the appropriate behavior.



answers from Boston on

Think of it in adult terms.
A bribe is something you give someone to do something wrong.(Think secrets, espionage, etc.0
A reward is something you give someone to get them to do something right. (Think paycheck.)

The questions for me are, when should we reward our children, how and what are the long term ramifications. Some answers I have discovered effective are rewards should be small and have a connection to our relationship with our children (extra book time, etc.). They can be used to encourage and celebrate success. They should never, never be taken away. And they should not be used to encourage eating. That's tricky territory and should causes problems later.



answers from Minneapolis on

I don't see a difference...I think I "incentivize" my son from time to time by telling him he can earn a sticker, or a piece of candy (jellybean) if he goes potty or picks up all his toys or whatever. I don't do it all the time, but if it's an especially difficult time or he needs a little extra motivation (like it's a BIG mess), then I'll offer it to him. On the other hand I will reward my son occasionally but I won't tell him in advance. He got a matchbox car a couple of weeks ago for being good during an especially difficult week for us--he was soo cooperative with mom and I told him that I really appreciated all of his help and gave him specific examples of what he did that made mommy and daddy so happy and proud. This is a SUPER rare occurrence, but that would be a "reward" in my book...not something he can ask for or earn.



answers from Pittsburgh on

There is no difference. So I do not do either rewards or bribes. Actually praise falls into the same category and we avoid using that as a bribe as well. Of course we are excited and reflect that when DS is proud of something he has accomplished. Of course rewards/bribes are simply the flip side of punishment, so we don't do that either.

A natural consequence is something that happens WITHOUT our assistance. If you try the new food (blueberries) you will discover you love the taste - natural consequence. If you try the new food, afterwards you can eat a cookie - bribe/reward - not a natural consequence.



answers from Minneapolis on

A bribe is giving something BEFORE the behavior in order to get someone to do something. A reward is given AFTER the behavior as a thank you.


answers from Kansas City on

i'm not sure how much difference there is, really....

but i do think that sometimes a little bit of a bribe is fine. for example, my son is normally well behaved, but he is 5. he acts like a 5 year old. my mom and i took him to visit a cousin who has been estranged for quite some time, and she has a brand new baby. NO WAY was i going to take a chance that he'd be bored, whiny, obnoxious, etc, in her house. i packed some new small toys and books for him to play with. i don't ever buy him toys "just because". toys are for birthdays or christmas. anyway, i considered that a bribe well played. it worked like a charm, he played with his backpack of goodies (i also packed some of his own stuff in there too) for over an hour and we had no issues at all.

i used m&m's to get him to potty at first, too.

maybe the difference is that you "reward" with an m&m, for example, at a job well done - but when they begin to ONLY do it to GET the m&m, it becomes more of a "bribe", and that's when it is less okay.

i knew a kid once who was ONLY tolerable to be around if he was promised "things" -for example he would be completely irritating and obnoxious until his mom told him that she'd buy him something when we stopped at walmart. but he was like 10. it was ridiculous. he was WAY too old to act that way. in that case i considered him one of those kids who was only good if he was bribed. that is NOT okay.

a "reward" is less frequent and not expected as a given.



answers from Miami on

You know I have to say not all bribes are bad and not all rewards are good. My daughter's school is going on a trip she wants to go on. She knows that if she wants to go she needs to finish all her school work and work hard at getting good grades. You can say its a bribe but I see it as a reward for doing what she is suppose to do anyway.


You know I have to say not all bribes are bad and not all rewards are good. My daughter's school is going on a trip she wants to go on. She knows that if she wants to go she needs to finish all her school work and work hard at getting good grades. You can say its a bribe but I see it as a reward for doing what she is suppose to do anyway.



answers from Savannah on

I view a reward as a natural (positive) consequence. A bribe is trying to "beg" them to do something as in "if you do this, I will __ ". Close, but perhaps the difference is in the intent?
Saying "Please pick up your room and I'll __ ", to me, is a bribe. But to say "You know the rules. Part of your "job" is to pick up your room." (in the beginning we were big on reminding him that there were good consequences and bad consequences. EVERYTHING has a consequence. good choices have good consequences, bad choices have bad consequences. this is process to teach this foundation. once it's taught though, life is a lot easier---we were teaching it from ages 2 to 4 where we explained it more, and we credit Love & Logic's classes for that). If our oldest (now 5) picks up his room (or whatever) without me having to get on his case after that one sentence, he is free to go ride bikes or play with the neighbors (and if all chores are done at the end of the day and he had a good attitude, he gets a star on that day.....at the end of the week the stars are counted and each star is a quarter....that's how we do allowance). But in that case allowance isn't a "bribe". His "job" is to do certain things with a certain attitude. If he does that, he gets "paid" for doing his "job". If he doesn't have a good attitude, then he gets an X instead of a star and we discuss it, but he still has to do his chores because that's what keeps the family running smoothly. But having to do something again means he's not free to play with the neighbors or ride his bike.
That's just an example. Or maybe your friend is saying she doesn't have to bribe them because she doesn't have to remind them "I will give you cookies". They just know "eat your dinner" and the cookies are a natural consequence for that choice, so she doesn't have to nag or harp on them to do it.


answers from Tyler on

I have older kids, and used bribery OFTEN when they were young. My view is bribery is "act right and we'll get a cookie" parenting and rewards are unexpected "you were so good in the store, let's get a cookie". I hate it when my kids say, "I made an A on my test today, don't I deserve a reward?" accomplishment is its own reward. I often celebrate whatever victory my kids have earned with an unexpected treat.



answers from Chicago on

A bribe is before the wanted behavior a reward is after.

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions