Bribe Your Kids

Is Bribing a Good Way to Motivate Your Kids?

ParentBribingKid-DrShirinSherkatAs you’re mastering the art of motivating your kids, it’s important to avoid falling back into old habits. In my experience, sometimes while parents are learning how to create a more motivated and grateful child, they may confuse bribing with using incentives. Let’s focus on specific ways you can differentiate between bribes, threats and incentives.

First, let’s make sure we are all on the same page:


In general, a bribe is defined as giving (or promising) something to a kid in order to elicit an advantage or to influence the child to do something you want. For example, saying “I’ll give you ten dollars if you do the dishes and wash my car.” The person paying the bribe (in this example, the parent) is at the mercy of the kid to do the task for the amount offered.


Threats may take the form of punitive verbal warnings that will scare your kid and influence his/her behavior. For example, “If you don’t finish your homework, I’m going to take away all your privileges this evening: NO MOVIE or GAME tonight.”  This focuses the kid’s attention on a negative outcome in response to poor choices.


Incentives are anything from a list of motivators or privileges you and your child develop. You offer incentives as privileges your children earn when they make appropriate choices. For example, they can earn  computer time after they take care of their homework, chores, etc.

How do these work differently from each other?

A bribe may yield short-term results occasionally. However, a bribe will not help you teach responsibility, create a self-starter, and help your kid earn – and appreciate – privileges because you control the outcome and influence the child’s action. The child responds to a bribe by doing a task in order to get something you have offered. This, by the way, puts you at the mercy of the kid! Next time, as often happens with bribes, the price may go up!

Threats may also yield short-term results occasionally (when the kids are younger). However, threats will not plant hope or offer any guidance about the behavior you expect or what good choices the child should focus on. Threats don’t  teach anything positive. Also, they have a way of losing their potency over time! Be careful if you use this method, because when threats start to lose their potency, you will have to raise the stakes! How far would a parent have to go in making threats to see results without crossing a line?

None of the methods above is as effective or consistent as using incentives. The use of incentives to motivate kids has more long-term positive results than the use of threats or bribes. By now, it should be obvious that I do not promote the use of threats or bribes. I find using incentives as motivators to be powerful because doing so helps your child earn privileges. As a result of motivating your kid to earn privileges, you can achieve the following goals:

  • Empower children to make better choices (such as taking responsibility)
  • Create self-starters
  • Create children who appreciate what they have

MotivatedKidsOver time, children start to internalize how they feel about doing the right things in life. If a three-year-old girl learns to take responsibility and earns privileges in return, then over the next ten years, she will become a conscientious thirteen-year-old who can be motivated to take action, complete tasks, and need less parental “policing” – all because she has learned over time to internalize the “good” feeling she got every time she met a goal or made an appropriate choice. Now, in contrast, if the same three-year-old is bribed, threatened or generally manipulated to make choices or complete tasks, then that kid will grow up to be more dependent on external cues. Ten years later, she will have become a manipulative and highly dependent thirteen-year-old. So, let’s not resort to bribes!

In my next post I’ll talk about choosing age appropriate privileges.

This is an excerpt from my book: “Create Happy Kids”

Dr. Sherkat is a parent strategist who is available to do Parent Education Workshops, either Private or PTA Sponsored Classes.

Contact her at 425-772-6698.


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