A parent’s guide to rewards, bribes and extortion.
When I discuss the “B” word with parents, what I am usually told is that either their child will then want a bribe for every little behavior, or their child will act up without a bribe. In these situations, it turns out we aren’t talking about bribes (or incentives) at all. I’ve realized we’re discussing the child extorting the parent.
What’s the difference between a bribe (aka an incentive) and extortion? It’s all about power. What parents call bribes often mean control of the situation has moved from the parent being in charge to the child being in charge. At those times, the parent pays off the child with a reward to prevent the child from doing something bad or undesirable. You can see it in the mall, the desperate mom or dad promising a reward if only the child will not cause such a scene. That is extortion, defined as demanding payment to prevent something terrible from happening. You’ll know in your gut which it is: If it feels wrong to you, you are not bribing or rewarding — you are being extorted.
The difference is who sets the rules and who is in control. If the parent discusses with the child, offers a reward if the child does what is asked of them and then pays off, the parent is in charge and it is truly a reward. The child will likely behave well in the future.
The bottom line is that rewards are a very useful way to help children do things they find difficult. We never actually bribe kids, and we should watch out to make sure they are not extorting us.
What types of rewards and incentives have helped your child develop healthy habits or good behaviors?