Reward or Bribe?

When it comes to parenting, a wise grandfather told me, “never reward bad behavior“. He is gone now, but I wish that I had a chance to tell him how often those words have popped into my head and how helpful they have been. Sometimes the lines between reward and bribery can be fuzzy. However, if you say to a child, if you behave when you go to Aunt Mary’s house, I’ll give you a truck or five dollars or something, that looks like bribery to me. If you say to the child who just returned from Aunt Mary’s house and was on their best behavior by say, being helpful to her, and on the way home I suggest that we stop for ice cream, that to me, is a reward.

What is the difference? A reward is something earned that is not done in the expectation of some sort of payoff. Bribery gives a child motivation to do something that does not result from some higher level of caring or respecting or serving others. When you start a pattern of bribery, the expectation will grow bigger. Also, when you give out jelly beans at age five, what do you think that you will have to do to exact a certain kind of behavior when they turn 10 or 15? That road traveled seems like it will be a difficult one indeed.

What kind of children do we want? I never wanted a child who would grow up always expecting or needing a material reward for positive actions. We know that just does not happen in life. I want a child who is generous, sharing and caring and who will be good for goodness sake. I think we would all be a little bit better off if that were so.

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