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.
Really great article, I wish there were suggestion on what else could be done instead?
Make what you want them to do seem like fun.
Make a joyful noise, funny faces… Get them to laugh first. That softens them up to some molding to get them to believe what’s about to happen can and will be fun.
Make it a game sometimes (time and place matters… no games at bedtime. that’s calm time) coaxing them into following you or into doing something like picking up their toys.
I have a 2 and 3 yr old and their gramma watches them for me while I work.
She bribes them with candy all the time and I see the impact of this practice when I get them home and I have to fight to correct the behavioral direction they’re being led in.
It’s Very obvious how her way of keeping them compliant is affecting their life away from her home.
Her policy is give them what they want to shut them up.
I am always fighting against this because I cannot afford proper childcare.
I try hard as a single father… and I don’t know everything.
If playing and laughing doesn’t get them to follow along and they keep throwing a tantrum expecting me to give in like gramma…. they get a nose in a corner and have to stand there.
If they fight, growl or take a swing at me cause they don’t want to stay in the corner (this gets them a treat and allowed to get out of the corner at grammas as long as they agree to stop…)
I’ll lightly smack a leg. Just enough to get them to look at me like… whaaaa??
Undivided attention then gets the stern daddy speak… nose in the corner because “insert reasons”.
ALWAYS Explain WHY they’re being punished if you’re going to punish.
Then when you let them out of the punishment Explain again why they were there and what is the right way.
There needs to be an equal mix of punishment and treating and when I give the boys a special treat it is RARELY sugar and when it is sugar it’s minimal portions.
I usually give fruit smoothies made in my blender with fruit, milk, juice and or yogurt.
That is a much appreciated treat my boys LOVE that they only get at home.
I may have been all over the spectrum there but hopefully how I get my boys to fall in line might help with your own Little Ones.
Don’t be afraid to raise your voice or smack them. Just don’t hit them in the face or hit HIT them. Keep in mind… they’re children. They Need to be guided. Being nice all the time will make you seem soft and easy to dominate. Being hard all the time will make a bully.
Find your middle ground!!