Rewards vs. Bribes, What is the Difference?
We have all witnessed the scene of a tantrum in the middle of a grocery store. Suddenly, the screaming stops, what happened to stop the screaming? Perhaps it was the promise of a toy or a favorite candy that stopped the screaming. Sometimes parents just need to get through the store or finish an errand, so they resort to bribing their child to stop screaming and comply. Is that achieving the desired result? In the moment yes, the screaming stopped, but in the long run no, it just taught the child that screaming in the store gets rewarded. So, the same cycle will happen again and again. How can we tell the difference between using a reward and bribing our children? Remember, “rewards are given for good behavior and bribes and given to stop an unpleasant or unwanted behavior.” Keeping that in mind can help you determine if you are rewarding or bribing your child. Knowing the difference can help you achieve cooperative behavior while helping your child learn some lasting character lessons.
How can we achieve the desired behavior that we all want for our child(ren)? Let’s take a look at some strategies that can be used to help us teach our child(ren) the qualities and character traits we all desire. First, understand that “bribes reward negative behavior and rewards celebrate positive behavior.” What are some ways we can use rewards to help our children learn acceptable behavior? You can set a goal for your child to reach over a period of time for the desired behavior. For example, if there is a place your child has been wanting to visit, a favorite restaurant, or new movie coming out, you can have your child work toward that reward. This will probably be a better strategy for an older child instead of a toddler or preschooler. Another choice is to give a reward for good behavior or when your child does better than expected in each situation. It can be an
unplanned surprise treat or fun activity. The idea is to make sure your child does not “expect” there to always be a reward for doing good. Then, you are only teaching them to behave to “get” something in return. According to Live Real, Now, “The goal is to reinforce the good to encourage positive behaviors even when there is no likelihood for reward.” Besty Cadel tells us that rewards are controlled by you not your child, meaning that you decide to give the reward, not have your child ask to be rewarded for doing something like picking up their toys. If you decide to reward your child for cleaning up, then that is your choice. If your child cleans up and asks for a “reward”, then it is actually a “bribe”.
So, how can you actually put a reward system in place that is easy, affordable, and practical? Let’s take the same scenario with the tantrum in the grocery store and before even leaving the house set the expectation with your child. Tell them you are going to the store and explain how you expect them to behave. Bring some small treats, stickers work well if you don’t want to use candy. You can use anything you think will work for your child. Giving an immediate reward to a young child helps them learn the positive behavior. An example of this would be, if your child is walking nicely you would give the reward. Every time you get to another isle and they are exhibiting the desired behavior reward again. If they are following your instructions or acting appropriately give the reward. Small frequent rewards for an accomplished behavior will help establish the routine and behavior you desire. Remember to be in control of the reward system and don’t let your child dictate when they receive it. As they become more successful you can spread the rewards out longer.
In general rewards work well to help shape and mold the behaviors of young children. Remember to “reward” the positive behavior that you want to see in your child. Set expectations in advance to prepare your child. Bribes may work temporarily in the moment, but over time will not achieve a positive result. Bribes give control to the child; rewards allow the parent to be in control of shaping behaviors. Use rewards that will motivate your child and encourage positive behavior. Highlight the positive behavior, ignore the negative, and say good bye to grocery store tantrums!
Cadel, B. (2018, May 24). The Difference between a Reward and a Bribe. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://alphamom.com/parenting/young-child/how-to-tell-the-difference-between-a-reward-and-a-bribe/
J. (2010, December 19). Bribery Vs Rewards: What’s the Difference? Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://www.fatheradviser.com/family/bribery-vs-rewards-whats-the-difference/
Bribes vs Rewards. (n.d.). Retrieved September 10, 2020, from http://liverealnow.net/bribes-vs-rewards/