Rewarding Your Child Without Bribing Them

As adults, we often put off the things we don’t like doing or things that bore us and get on with doing the things that we like. So why should our children be any different? And how can we stop getting so frustrated when our children won’t do the things we want them to?

If we really want to get our children to do the things they don’t find to be fun and stimulating, we need to offer them something that is fun and rewarding in return. That doesn’t mean that we need to decorate our lives with sticker charts or constantly offer chocolates and treats as bribes.

How often do we see toddlers fighting off a coat or a pair of shoes? They don’t understand that they need to wear these things to keep them warm and dry. They may be simply be feeling contrary or they might see them as restrictive or a nuisance. And what about getting the older children to finish their homework or help clear the table after dinner?

All too often we expect children to do things “because we say so”. There may be times when we can’t explain why we need something done (usually in a hurry) as often it is simply that we are the adults and have the life experience to know what is best, but it is rare that anybody responds well to a “dictator”. So if, as parents, we can try to stop being the dictator in our children’s live (and I’m sure almost everybody does it to some degree), we will find that our children are more willing to help us get on with the everyday things that we usually struggle to get them to do.

Next time you see yourself entering into a potential battle with your child, stop for a second and think about how you can word your request differently so that they can understand why they are doing it and how it will bring them pleasure as a result. If you’re thinking that you don’t always have time for a big explanation or that there can’t always be pleasure in our lives, think again, most things we do will indirectly lead to some sort of reward. We just need to get creative and identify the reward before selling the idea to our children. And the time it will take you to sell the idea to your child will be far shorter than the time it takes to ask them to do it six or eight times.

Here are some examples:

  • Instead of calling my toddler from the other side of the room and telling her to put her coat and shoes on, I walk over to her, look her in the eye and smile for a moment. Then I say, “Mimi, would you like to come to the shops and help me to find something delicious for dinner?” or “Would you like to come outside and jump in some puddles on the way to the shops?” I offer her something that I know she likes doing, and then when she nods and says, “Yes,” I say, “Great, I’d love you to help me/come out with me. But first, we need to put OUR shoes and coats on because it’s cold/wet out.” I’m asking her if she would like to do something she likes doing and telling her to do something that she doesn’t necessarily like doing, but needs to.
  • Instead of sounding like a broken record, repeatedly asking my daughter to do her homework, piano practice and reading, we had a conversation that went something like this: “You know that you need to do your homework, piano and reading every day. I know that you hate it when I nag you all evening to do them, so WE’re going to put a tick-list on the wall and when you finish each thing you can tick it off. When everything is ticked off you can have half on hour of TV or computer if there’s time before bed. If I don’t have to nag you about it, we’ll both be happier and we can sit down and watch something together if you like?” Again, I’m not asking her to do the thing she doesn’t like doing, I’m telling her what pleasurable outcome there will be when she has done it. Also the reward here is two-fold – a little responsibility and some quality time together. I’ve not banned television, or used it as a threat and it’s not guaranteed every night.

Rewards don’t need to be physical things and they don’t need to be “treats”. Often, our children value a bit of quality time with us, more than a few Haribos. Physical bribes are great for changing a pattern of behaviour, but we can’t use them to get all of the everyday things done.