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Should I bribe my kids for good behavior?

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Sometimes your little one may need a little something extra in order to behave as he or she should. It’s important, however, to encourage desired behaviors without leading to incentive abuse.

What are incentives?
According to Barton Schmitt, MD, at Children’s Hospital Colorado, incentives are rewards that are given for desired behaviors.

“Incentives are especially helpful for overcoming resistance when children are locked in a power struggle with their parents,” said Dr. Schmitt. “Rewards provide a child with a reason to end the battle and move on.”

How do I use incentives?
Four factors make incentives more powerful:

1. The incentive is strongly desired by the child. You can ask your child for ideas.
2. The reward is given immediately after the child meets the goal.
3. The child is given access to the incentive for 30 to 60 minutes.
4. The reward continues to be owned and controlled by the parent. The fourth rule is essential. The child’s access to the toy, costume or other incentive needs to be time-limited. That way your child is really earning a privilege and not another possession. That’s the only way to maintain the incentive’s value.

What are some good incentives?

• Time with a favorite toy or game
• Activities, like drawing, baking or reading together
• Dress-up time in a special outfit or costume
• A favorite movie, video game or TV show
• Special food like frozen yogurt or going to a favorite restaurant
• Coins to save to buy something special

What is essential before incentives will work?

Your child has to feel loved. He or she will not give up the tug-of-war if he or she feels rejected or controlled. Lots of physical affection (hugs and kisses) is more powerful than words or praise to let your child know he is loved.

Activities with you — playing board games, reading, going to the park or on walks — are also important. Not only are they essential for your child’s emotional growth and mental health, they also make your child more receptive to following your rules and requests.

Want more parenting tips? Attend a free parenting seminar hosted by Children’s Colorado. Go here for a list of topics and experts–everything from picky eaters to positive body image.

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson September 14, 2012

    Ohhhhh, good topic. I’d never really thought of the difference between bribes and incentives.

    For the record when I was potty training my daughter, we offered her enough in bribes that equaled a cruise, I’m sure!

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  • comment avatar Lisa - Laughing Yoga Mama September 14, 2012

    I like using incentives that don’t cost anything. We created a grab bag of ideas when the boys were younger that we used to build relationships and reward them for targeted behaviors we were working on. Some of their favorites were a 10 minute dance party – they chose the music, a picnic dinner – inside or out depending on the weather, playing a game together, and extra time reading stories.

  • comment avatar Anna September 14, 2012

    At home it’s incentives, and in public it’s bribery if need be to prevent a meltdown. You’re welcome public.

  • comment avatar Marie September 14, 2012

    Our child’s behavioral therapist recommended it to curb meltdowns. My daughter figured it out pretty quick though. She’d hold it together long enough to get her candy and then completely lose it.

  • comment avatar Meagan September 14, 2012

    It’s all bribery and empty threats.

  • comment avatar Kayla September 14, 2012

    I bribe on rare occasion when I need ____ behavior for something. I also threaten to take away trips we’re going on or that we will leave the place we are at. Heck ya, we left ballet lessons yesterday before they started!

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