The Difference between Bribing and Rewarding your Child

Parenting is a tricky business. There are no set rules, no crash courses, and no ideal way to go about it. So when it comes down to raising your children right, you need to bank on your instincts and follow a pragmatic approach.


A wonderful idea to channelize a child’s energies in the right direction is to provide incentives to him/her. Awarding a child with anything that will please him/her will undoubtedly prove to be motivating. While applying this method for effective parenting, one may end up doing one of these two things: bribing the child or rewarding the child.

Many find themselves in a dilemma as they do not understand the contrast between the two. There is a fine line between bribing and rewarding a child, which actually makes or mars the efficacy of incentive provision. It is therefore, imperative to understand the difference between the two, and the exact scope of the two terms.

Consider this. Some guests have come over. Your child starts to throw tantrums in front of them. To stop him/her from doing so, you offer candy to the child. You have just bribed your child.

Now consider your child behaves well throughout the three days that the guests stay over. Pleased, you gift a new toy to your child after the guests have left. There. You have just rewarded your child.

Bribing and rewarding might seem to be very similar concepts at first glance. However, they vary greatly on a number of aspects. The difference does not come on the basis of what the incentive is- some candy, a doll, a cycle, or the new iPhone; the difference between bribing and rewarding your child is derived on the basis of the intent, occasion, and style of providing incentives. What are you rewarding? Being well- mannered, or not throwing tantrums? Studying hard as a habit, or simply passing a certain final examination? As is obvious here, the aim is to provide value education and not just divert an impending failure for the time being. If you gift your child a gaming console for consistently scoring well in exams throughout the year, it will be a reward. Now the child knows how hard he/she should work, and doing well at school becomes a habit. Whereas, if you promise him/her a new phone just before the final exams so that he/she passes, it will be considered a bribe rather than a reward.

Rewards are a positive reinforcement. It is like a pat on the back for having done something well. Anything can count as a reward- a silver star on the class board for a student, new clothes, even praise. The reward need not have commercial value; it should simply lead to long term benefits for the child. For example, one can reward a child with new books instead of pocket money. The aim of rewarding is to keep the control in your hand, and inculcate need, not greed. The child should know he/she cannot act demanding or threaten with bad behaviour in public simply to extort a new toy from the parent. Rewards will make the child proud, while bribes will make him/her feel powerful. Rewards are for the efforts of the child, not wishes.

Rewards are thus earned for good behaviour, while bribes are handed out to stop bad behaviour. The key then, is to follow a cognitivist approach. Set ample time periods for realistic goals. Don’t be vague, mention clearly (and well in time) what the reward will be and how exactly the child can achieve it. Plan it out in a way that they too understand why you are employing this deal. They should understand that is not a barter system, it is a constant race to attain self- goals, and then be rewarded with the trophy. Over a period of time, good habits and correct values will become a part of their thinking and character.

Rewards thus provide great motivation. Rewarding is a  highly useful way of parenting which can mould your child into a self- sufficient and discerning individual. Bribes shall do none of this, and are unhealthy for your family in the long run. Let the child know that bad behaviour will not be tolerated at any cost, let alone be given an ‘incentive’ to curb it. Figure out the distinction between bribes and rewards for yourself, customize it according to your needs, and then push your child in the right direction. You will most definitely experience joy and pride at having done well. That will be your reward!


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