How to bribe your kids?

From Gareth Cook, here are some tips for how to make the bribes work and avoid the undermining of intrinsic motivation:

Based on what is now known, Pierce and others suggest a set of guiding principles.

Choose a specific, positive behavior. “Have at least three bites of a vegetable every dinner for a week.’’ (Good.) “Don’t annoy me.’’ (Not good.)

Choose smart rewards. Work with your kid to choose the prize, investing them and ensuring it’s one they truly desire. A few selections from the LEGO catalogue were all it took me to solve an Olympian parenting problem: thumb sucking. But a reward need not be large.

Stay positive. In our house, we call them “challenges.’’ It is not about “fixing’’ a negative. Don’t nag. Let it be their choice. Pile on the praise.

Small steps first. Faced with an overwhelming task, start with easy goals, and small rewards, and slowly build. So, you might start with “avoid thumb one day between breakfast and nap.’’ Consider a detailed progress chart.

Those are largely good ideas, whether or not you are bribing your kids.


I'm a lurker here, but I thought that it was worth coming out of the woodwork to say that as a parent, I have found that bribery is an excellent strategy. These days I bribe my children with books, which is a huge win for everyone.

Also useful with politicians.

Surely this also depends on where you are in the parenting scale. If you think Amy Chua is too soft hearted, then you should probably make much more use of positive reinforcement. If you're more permissive than Bryan Caplan, then I suggest your family (and the world) would be better off if you exerted more discipline, even of the negative sort.

But remember that 3 year olds have to put up with a lot of our bullshit.

I've found the hardest part of establishing a consistent discipline plan is getting all the adults to adhere to it.

This advice is standard Skinnerian behavior modification and has been available (and used) for decades. Not new, but because Skinner has a bad reputation as a determinist who didn't talk about the mind, his effective practices don't get the attention they should.

PS, The first psychologists to use economic thinking were Skinnerians, for example, Richard Herrnstein (also not a PC favorite because of The Bell Curve.)

"Bribe" is a word that covers a lot of different meanings. Correctly done, "bribes" (incentives) can really help. Poorly done, they can hurt. Just try to think things through before you begin...

I incentivize my six year old getting dressed in the morning by making breakfast clean-clothes-conditional. Anyone have any suggestion for an immediate incentive for brushing his teeth?

We used to have a grid of jobs that would either get stars or demerits both of which impacted our allowance if they were done well or not done. So there'd be a row for brushing teeth, making bed or whatever and a pen to star the days when the task was accomplished. Missing tasks meant a docking of the allowance. If something was done extra well (say all week brushing teeth before a reminder) we'd get a bonus.

I think that started at about 5 or 6 so with the jobs becoming more difficult and complex up to our teen years.

With six children, I start treating them more like roomates when they turn 15 or so, where every rule has a practical benefit that is obvious to everyone.

The young ones already get enough doublespeak at school, and if I say the word "challenge" even once it just sets them off.

Andrew is right about getting the adults to treat kids consistently, especially in extended families with adults who don't have kids. Our kids get a soda as a special treat, by some relatives forbid that under any circumstance for their kids. Makes birthday parties are real bummer either way.

My guiding principle was not to promote external rewards as this approach would be fleeting in many respects (the parent has to keep up with the ever expanding needs/wants of the child) but to make very clear the internal rewards that accrue to good, positive behavior. Thus, in brushing teeth ask how his/her mouth feels after the brushing. They'll say fresh, minty, etc and then I'll say 'see, that's why I want you to brush your teeth.' Like all things with kids though you don't have 'events' you have an ongoing process so even this may take a few years. Homework is a good example. After keeping the child studing ask him/her how it felt to be prepared in class, to be able to comment on the subject, to do well on a test. Always reinforce the realization in the child that they felt good about themselves and tie it to studying. This way when the child leaves your influence (earlier than many parents can believe) they'll be self-directed and will be able to pat themselves on the back, not you. Lifetime mental health will be much better.

love this!

"Consider a detailed progress chart." Powerpoint? Or maybe there's an app for it.

Contests. Some specific examples:

-- A no whining contest. Whichever child whines the least (with score kept in real time) during a day gets a quarter.

-- For car rides, a quiet contest. Whoever has the least utterances in a 5-15 minute period gets a quarter. Also a cash prize for the first person to spot a horse or purple care (takes their minds off bickering)

Note that an important characteristic of these contests is that the situation never become completely hopeless for any child otherwise the incentive effect is lost.

"Eat your vegetables and Daddy will make the pain stop."

"How to get your kids to shut up" is how the discussion ended up going.

Such a parents blog.

Sounds just like the SMART structure of goal setting that is always mentioned in business texts:

While most cute business acronyms are purest bunk, this is a good thought tool that works in most situations. Including, I'd assume, with children.

Once, I saw a one of those old Playskool play-houses fly about 20 feet. I sipped my coffee, said "Hmm. That was strange", and went back inside.

That's a tornado in Western NY. I didn't even know until the evening news what it even was.

Interestingly enough, this is not that far off from the "modern" dog training techniques...

Determine heirarchy of rewards (e.g. cheese, hot dog, peanut butter, kibble)
Focus on positive behavior rather than negative (praise for going poddy in the right place rather than punish for going in the wrong place)
Praise and reward at the instant of positive behavior with a treat that is high enough on the heirarchy to maintain focus and motivation
Train in increments building toward the ultimate training goal

I was just going to say this as well. It's exactly the methodology to train a dog. The only difference is with a dog you usually have to break the desired behavior down into smaller steps.

Funny enough I bribed my daughter to put her dummys in the bin in return for toy cars!

Our kids get a soda as a special treat,Homework is a good example. After keeping the child studing ask him/her how it felt to be prepared in class,

This shows which they last very much lengthier and thus saving you income which could otherwise are actually utilized to purchase new ones.fgfdh

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