Parenting children

Parenting Solutions: Bribing vs. Rewards: How Are They Different?

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Rewards are a common form of reinforcing your child's behavior. Some parents, however, resist rewards, arguing that they feel too much like bribery. "Why should I give my kid a prize for behaving how he's supposed to act anyway?" some parents complain.

The truth is that bribery and rewards are similar: both involve a promise of compensation to your child in exchange for good behavior. However, there is one fundamental difference that is key, and that is when the compensation is promised.

Let's say you're trying to get your 8 year old to settle down and go to sleep. He has been delaying for the last hour and a half with drinks, bathroom stops, and a sudden desire to share new information with you. Finally, fed up, you promise him a chocolate bar with his lunch if he goes to sleep within the next few minutes.

He happily agrees- and you've just bribed your 8 year old. Why is this? Look at what prompted the offer of compensation: was it his good behavior, or his unacceptable behavior? In this case, the reason you decided to offer him a chocolate behavior was to stop his bad behavior.

On the other hand, let's say you sat down with your child and discussed the problem of late bedtimes. After discussing possible causes, and each side giving suggestions on how to solve the problem, you chose a chocolate bar as one of the rewards for going to sleep on time. That night, when your 8 year old chooses to go to sleep on time, he is being rewarded for his good behavior. The reward was a planned response to a desired behavior.

To put it simply: bribes are promised while you're child is acting out, while rewards are promised before the behavior occurs. If you think about it, there isn't really anything so terrible about this. Could you picture yourself turning down your paycheck on payday, explaining to your boss that just being able to help other people is reward enough?

Rewarding children for acceptable behavior can help children muster up the necessary motivation to tackle an otherwise difficult or unpleasant task. As parents we hope that in the long run, our children will eventually see the value of whatever it is we want from them.

What do you think? Do you use rewards in your house? And what for? Do you use rewards as a short-term motivator, or do you use them on a more consistent basis? Leave a comment; I'd love to hear what you think!

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