Parenting Perspective: Is it a bribe or a reward?

June 10, 2011 11:11:28 AM PDT
My 5 year old son, Luke, has been pestering me for wanting a pair of rollerblades for months now.

At the same time, my husband and I have been suffering from lack of sleep as the result our son coming into our bed in the middle of the night. So, my husband put up an offer: Luke sleeps in his bed every night for a week straight and we would buy him a pair of rollerblades.

Luke argued at first that it wasn't fair, since he really didn't want to sleep in his bed alone all night. But, we stuck to our offer and felt a sense of relief that we finally gave Luke some real motivation to stay in his bed. At the same time, I wondered: are we bribing our child?

Elizabeth Pantley, parenting educator and author of Kid Cooperation: How to Stop Yelling, Nagging, and Pleading and Get Kids to Cooperate says there is a big difference between bribery and a reward for good behavior/ "Bribery is offered during bad behavior to make it stop or in anticipation of bad behavior", says Pantley. "A reward is applause for a job well done and can help encourage future good behavior. For example it's a bad idea to offer an ice cream cone to a child who is having a tantrum about leaving the park. But getting ice cream on the way home to celebrate good behavior at the park is a good way to encourage future good behavior."

"Although the bribe can produce short-term results -- stopping temper tantrums or getting a kid to do homework -- it can also "up the ante," setting up a continuous cycle of crying and bad behavior," says Pantley. "The more you bribe, though, the more you have to fall back on it -- just as you might feel forced into constantly treating a food-motivated golden retriever.

Virginia M. Shiller, clinical psychologist and author (with Meg Schneider) of the book Rewards for Kids! Ready-to-Use Charts & Activities for Positive Parenting, ?says "Timing is the first important consideration. Discussion about healthy rewards should be introduced before you enter into the problem situation, when you and your child are both calm. With the right timing, you have an opportunity to reflect on what kinds of changes are reasonable to expect of your child (e.g., maybe not a perfect homework record, but movement in the right direction). And, you can choose rewards that are attractive but in line with your values. Lastly, your child has a chance to listen to you when emotions aren't taking over everyone's ability to reason."

Luke's challenge of sleeping in his bed for a week straight took him more than a month to complete. But, when he finally did, he was proud of his accomplishment and thrilled to put on his new pair of rollerblades, along with the required helmet and pads. We spend the rest of the day playing roller hockey (yes, even I was forced to get my own pair of rollerblades!)

Happy parenting! Cecily

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