Parent myth busting: Bribery vs. Rewards


I read a recent article on about parenting myths and want to clear up something about what the author calls “bribery.”  Nothing against Ms. Newman, described as “popular and edgy.”  She writes well (clearly, as she is published in a lot of cool places), but she’s a freelance writer and a film producer.  She has some good points and includes professional opinions, but I need to clarify one of her points a bit further from the professional behavior analyst side of things.

There is a difference between reinforcement strategies (we can use the word rewards here if you like that better) and “bribery.”  It really is an issue of timing and planning. Here is a quick example to differentiate the two, and to explain why bribery, as I define it here, can get you in trouble:

BRIBERY: You go into Wal-Mart at noon on Sunday with your kid in tow.  After the turn down the frozen food section aisle, you kid starts wiggling and complaining.  



PARENT:  “Not if you are acting like this.  NOW SIT DOWN!”



 CHILD:      “NO! I.    WANT.    ICE.   CREAM!”

PARENT:   “O.K., If you sit down and be quiet, I will get you your ice cream sandwiches”

Did you see what just happened?  The ice cream sandwiches only became available after the bad behavior as a ploy, A BRIBE, to get that child to sit down and be quiet.  The child probably sat, but this is not good. 

REINFORCEMENT:  Same scenario…different outcome short and long term.  

Conversation begins in the car:

PARENT:  “OK, We are only going to get a few things, so we will be in and out.  If you can hold my hand, sit in your seat and use your inside voice, we can get ice cream sandwiches on the way out.”

                                       Fast forward to the store

PARENT:  “You are doing a good job sitting in your seat, we are almost to the ice cream sandwiches!”  

CHILD:     “Can I get chocolate?”

PARENT:  “As long as you keep sitting nice and quiet”

CHILD:     “HEY!  There are the ICE CREAM SANDWICHES!!!”

PARENT:  “You did a good job, Grab those chocolate ones!”

See the difference?  Now, I made the examples clearly different.  It will not be 100% compliance every time you set it up, but at least you have communicated what gets the ice cream sandwiches and what doesn’t, BEFORE THE BAD BEHAVIOR OCCURS—-THAT’S THE POINT.  

3 thoughts on “Parent myth busting: Bribery vs. Rewards

  1. Pingback: To reward or not to reward…that is the question |

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