If Bribing Your Kids Is Bad, I Don't Want To Be Good
What parent hasn't turned to bribing in a moment of desperation? Who hasn't added on an incentive trip to the ice cream store? Or handed over an extra cookie, or even a pack of Pokemon cards?
Show me a parent who hasn't resorted to bribing, and I will show you a parent who has never spent five minutes with a stubborn child outside of a dentist's office. Right this minute I am in the middle of the biggest bribe of my life; my son is studying for his Bar Mitzvah because he wants to have a party. (Before you shake your head, this is the tradition.)
That said, bribing is bad. Not just bad because it makes for spoiled kids, but bribing is a bad technique because it makes kids rely on external motivation instead of internal. Bribing is a form of control and according to experts, creates kids who are submissive or compliant because the only response to a dictatorship is to defy or deny.
The problem with bribing, says psychologist Dr. Deci, is that it works. Your child will do something they don't want to do for a small reward. But how do you keep the system going? The bribes have to be increased until they become intangible for both parent and child. What you want is for kids to be motivated to do things for themselves. They should want to do well in school because it makes them feel good, not because you pay them for As; they should want a clean room because it means they can find their Ironman figurine when they need it, not because you give them a cupcake; they should want to chant their Hebrew portion because... oh never mind, that one goes too far.
There has been a lot of reaction to a story in the New York Times by writer Bruce Feiler on how he would like to bribe better, but then learns that bribing is in fact something to avoid. Like most parents Feiler relies on bribing, and it's evil twin -- threats, to get through many tough parenting moments.
I think that deep down most parents know that bribing is bad. We know that we are thinking short-term when we wave a desired item in front of a child's face. But sometimes the short-term solutions lead to long-term behaviours. Even smart parents make a lot of mistakes, as this gallery tells us.
It is worth taking a step back every once in a while and looking at your habits. Is bribery your first offence in a difficult situation? Instead of thinking about the treat box, Dr. Deci recommends trying a 3-pronged approach. Ask yourself: Can I motivate them by getting them to buy into the situation? Can I acknowledge their feelings? Can I use words other than "must" and "should"?
Once you retrain yourself to avoid bribery as your first reaction, there is a payoff. You can use that ice cream bribe for when you really, really need it.
Do you bribe your kids?
Want more chaos? Last year, I wrote about Under 13 and on Facebook.