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Bribing Children with Sugary Treats

As a parent, it becomes second nature to prompt, nudge, motivate, and yes, even bribe our children to behave in the ways that we envision. You know the gig. Your child doesn’t want to change into their pajamas, or won’t sit down at the table and eat their dinner, or refuses to pick up their toys for the umpteenth time today. You become exhausted, and then you reach for the bribery straw.

“If you will pick up your toys, I will give you a cookie.” “If you eat all of your vegetables then you can have dessert.” Or even, “If you get dressed for bed like a big boy I will take you to the store and let you pick out a treat.” Most often, the sugary bribe works, and works well – which is precisely why so many parents resort to it. There is one side of the parental brain that essentially runs out of innovative ideas to get the kids to conform – and then the other side of the parental brain that is aware that bribing children is NOT the right way to teach children discipline. Even so, each and every parent on the face of the earth is guilty of seeking out quick ways to get our kids to do what we want them to do. And yes, this often involves some sort of bribery.

Bribing children with sugary treats is most likely one of the most popular, go-to forms of enticing children to do what mom and dad ask them to do. Even in schools today, many teachers use suckers and sweet treats to reward kids for doing what is expected of them in the classroom. But is it right? And are there negative implications to doing so?

Bribes in general, and in any arena of life – are quite simply inadequate ways to sway others into doing what you want them to. In fact, if you were an adult and tried to bribe someone with money, you would be guilty of fraud or even embezzlement or even blackmail. Is blackmailing your children, really the best way to teach discipline and get them to cooperate with you?

One of the problems with bribing children with sugar treats is that most often these bribes are given to do the normal, day-to-day things that kids must learn to do at some point in their life. Tooth brushing, cleaning up after themselves, brushing their hair, eating their dinner, acting good in the car or at the mall, going to bed on time or even doing their homework. You might offer a ‘sweet reward’ if your child behaves in school. By bribing children to do these types of things, which are essentially routine expectations and age appropriate responsibilities, parents fail to make kids feel responsible for themselves.

Sure, your child will conform when they have a carrot dangling in front of their nose. Yet when they don’t, they will likely act worse, or less responsible – knowing that misbehavior can lead to bribery with a sweet reward. There are certain things in your child’s life that you must be firm about, and have firm boundaries set for. These expectations should be just that, expectations and rather than using a reward for doing them – discipline should be used for NOT doing them. One of the most important things that parents have to teach their children is about self-responsibility, and kids should learn to feel good about handling their responsibilities on their own. They also need to grow up with the realization that throughout their life they will be held to certain expectations, and that they will not be rewarded for upholding these expectations.

Another problem with bribing kids with sugar or rewards is that quick witted and manipulative children (which they all are) will realize that the price for a little drama definitely pays off for them in the end. If your child does and will comply when you throw out an offer for a Popsicle or piece of cake, then you are setting yourself up for a vicious cycle of defiance. Eventually, the child realizes that they can acquire more gains by not listening and not being responsible. Often, kids who are bribed will throw the tantrum or the fit because they know in the end; there is more in it for them.

Perhaps one of the worst aspects of bribing with sugary treats is that children become taught to have their needs met by food. The food or the treat supplies them with the empathy that they truly desire. This is especially true when parents utilize bribes involving food to try and diffuse tantrums, anger, or emotional meltdowns. The parent sends a message that if they will just stop what they are feeling; they will get a sweet treat to pacify them. Unfortunately, despite the fact that children can be over emotional and sometimes unreasonable creatures, it is important that they are taught how to work through their emotions and find amicable ways to deal with their feelings – that don’t involve food. Today, with the obesity problem for both adults and children breaching all time high records, it is obvious that we are a society of people that seeks out comfort, or seeks to solve our problems through food. Starting this habit young in childhood, can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle (emotionally and physically) as they grow into adults.

Most often, bribery – especially with sweet treats and sugary desserts leads to instant conformity. This instant conformity leads to parents being happy, and then as parents, we therefore don’t follow through with the appropriate discipline.

The truth is, that sugar and sweet treats as a REWARD have their place in child rearing. There is nothing wrong with rewarding your child for a job well down, or for compliance or for doing something awesome by offering them a candy bar or lollipop. The trouble arises when parents use sweet treats as the sole go-to method (bribery) to get their children to comply with rules and responsibilities.

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