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The difference between rewards and bribes



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Created on Oct 03, 2023 · 3 mins read

Before figuring out whether it’s ok to use rewards or bribes, you should have a clear understanding of what they mean. Many times parents believe rewarding and bribing are the same and apply the same negative connotation to both. However, this isn’t true.


It’s often assumed rewarding is bad, doesn’t bring up independent children and is ‘lazy’ parenting. Yet, a reward system is how society functions and is fundamental to areas of adult life, such as the workplace. As an example, your paycheck is your reward for working; incentives are important to motivate your child and to develop their understanding of work.

A reward doesn’t have to be a fancy present or a grand gesture for completing a task; it can be as simple as a sticker, a little lolly or being able to play with their favourite toy.

Rewarding is practical and will help your child learn that accomplishing their goals will cause something nice to happen. For example, finishing their homework can result in them getting a sticker or choosing a new book to read for bedtime. Rewards will also make you and your child feel happier as they are doing something you asked of them, and they get something in return, but remember, rewards are never given in a moment of frustration, misbehaviour or stress. The power is with you to give a reward to encourage your child’s good behaviour, not their bad (that is a bribe).


Now bribing can sometimes disguise itself as a reward, however, they are the complete opposite as the control is given to your child. When your child is whinging, throwing a tantrum, acting up or demanding something in return for being quiet and you give-in, that’s a bribe.

We know how hard it can be when your child is pushing you over the edge, and how much easier saying yes is than standing your ground. Yet, a momentary yes can cause a pattern of misbehaviour than they can carry into adulthood. Reminding them that you’re the one in charge is crucial in these moments, ignoring their tantrums (while challenging) will take will power but they will eventually stop. If your child isn’t getting what they want, they tend to understand you’re not budging and will focus their attention onto something else.

Rewarding bad behaviour is a detriment to your child’s learning of what’s right and wrong; try and remain calm (practice stepping away for a moment and taking a few deep breaths if you have to) and stand your ground (you can do it!).

There are many misconceptions about rewarding and bribing, but having these clear definitions will help you understand the distinction. Parenting is not easy by any means, and it’s difficult when you have a screaming toddler in your face, but remind yourself that you are doing the best you can! You are doing a great job and your child will be better for it.

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