"Oh you bet I bribe my kids. And this is why."

I always knew I would never bribe my kids. Especially with food. How lame. How lazy. How damaging. How negligent.

And then I actually had kids.

All bets are off. Whatever works. The end.

I love bribery. I prefer to call it ‘incentivising’ and my children have always responded to it very well indeed. Sometimes we bribe incentivise with food.

Would you like a Freddo Frog with that?

For example, when my first child was transitioning from the potty to the toilet, we hit a bit of a wall and he basically refused. Flat out refused to go on the toilet. He was incredibly stubborn (I’ve never met anyone like that *cough*).

So someone suggested we try  bribing incentivising him with a treat. That’s how we ended up with a large jar of Fredo frogs in the bathroom, in front of the loo. Visual inspiration, if you like.

All good until we noticed that even though he was making no progress with using the toilet, the frogs were disappearing. Soon, the jar was less than half-full even though he had never completed the requisite task.

Out-smarted again. By a 3 year old.

I’m proud to tell you we’ve refined our bribery methods over the years since then. The infiltration of technology has brought with it a world of potential new bribes for parents: apps, TV shows, movies, access to the iPad…..all used to great effect to reward good behaviour and facilitate compliance [ie: STOP PLAYING WITH THOSE SKYLANDERS AND PUT ON YOUR UNIFORM BECAUSE WE HAVE TO LEAVE IN 3 MINUTES TO GO TO SCHOOL OR YOU WILL NOT HAVE ANY SCREEN TIME THIS ARVO]

“I always knew I would never bribe my kids… and then I actually had kids.”



I’ve always found all my kids respond really well to star charts. They like the positive reinforcement for doing things and they like working towards a goal (eg: 10 stars = 1 Skylander).

And I like the reverse bribery aspect of witholding good stuff as a consequence of bad behaviour (hit your sister = no screen time today).


But APPARENTLY, bribery doesn’t work. Wait, what?

Read this from the New York Times where parenting author Bruce Feiller burst my bubble big time:

On one hand, I’ve read a small library of articles that have laid out with undeniable persuasiveness evidence that giving children tangible rewards — from money to sweets to an extra hour before bedtime — not only doesn’t work in the long term, it actually has a negative effect on them.

As early as the 1960s, Edward Deci, then a psychology graduate student at Carnegie Mellon, showed that when external rewards are given, subjects “lose intrinsic interest for the activity.”

More recently, Daniel Pink, in his best-selling book “Drive,” reviewed four decades of research and concluded that offering short-term incentives to elicit behavior is unreliable, ineffective and causes “considerable long-term damage.”

(The main downside: People perform the task merely to get the reward; when the reward is removed, they stop doing it.)

Feiller went on to talk to an expert who said parents should try to inspire their children to do things in deeper ways.

Really? Like, “Could you please stop hitting your brother otherwise the sibling relationship between you could be irrevocably damaged and he will have lots of repressed hostility towards you that he will have to unpack in therapy which is expensive and time consuming although ultimately worthwhile.”

That? Should I try that, Dr Expert?

But another New York Times writer quickly hit back defending bribery with the following awesome argument:

Bribery. Because no kid has ever been this happy to brush their teeth before school.

I’ve read the research on bribery, too. I know that children who are given a tangible reward for learning activities have been shown to lose interest in doing those activities without the reward.

But I’m not talking about bribing children to perform activities that come with their own intrinsic pleasures, and I suspect most parents aren’t either. We’re bribing children to do the things that no one really wants to do in the first place.

I use bribes when I need speed. When I’m asking a lot. When I know a particular child, for whatever reason — temperament, exhaustion, hunger, reluctance — is going to have trouble doing something that needs to be done. And when it makes a dull task more fun, I’ll liven it up with a bribe — the same way I might, even as I write, be promising myself a little social media time when I’ve finished writing this column.

Huzzah! I love that and agree wholeheartedly.

Did your parents ever bribe incentivise you? If you have kids, do you bribe? With what?

Want more? Try these:

The 10 crucial life skills they don’t teach you at school (and how to teach yourself).

Pocket money. When? How much?

The 6 things ALL kids should know about money.