Is it okay to bribe my kids? First, let me suggest that what might be tripping you up is not the idea of having a system of rewards for good behavior, but the word bribe itself. So let’s reset our view on this together: there is a great difference between a bribe and a reward.
What is a bribe? A bribe is an incentive to do wrong. Of course we do not want to incentivize wrong-doing in our children. So what do we call incentivizing good? That’s called a reward, and rewarding children for being and doing good is a huge part of parenting!
In our family, we have used all kinds of rewards in our 11+ years of parenting: extra screen time, larger dessert, later bed time… Some ideas have been more successful than others. Most of our systems have evolved as our children have grown and as we have matured as parents. I’m sure our family reward systems will continue to change and (hopefully!) improve as the years go by.
Commission Chart. Our ongoing system of rewards is monetary, and is measured on a weekly basis using a “Commission Chart”. Each child has his or her own chart with a listing of 4-5 daily tasks/jobs. Each job is worth a set amount (10 cents for making your bed, 25 cents for taking out the trash, etc.). In addition to the daily chores is the opportunity to do extra jobs that earn extra commissions. These are constantly changing based on the kids’ abilities and our family/household needs.
Extra Jobs. As the kids’ abilities grow, their opportunities to earn money through work around the house also increases. For instance, at age 8-9, washing the dishes is an “extra opportunity to earn money”. They are still learning how to do this well, and they often need extra supervision for this job. But that’s fine, because they are learning and growing. However, as the kids get older, dish-washing will likely become a regularly expected chore that they will need to do well on their own.
Sometimes the kids come up with ideas for new jobs they can do to earn extra commissions. We are open to this, and we encourage ingenuity – however, they are not allowed to earn money for extra jobs until they have completed all the regularly-expected jobs for that week!
Good Family Photos. I have an enormous pet-peeve… I have no tolerance for slow, laborious, painstaking family photos! So I incentivize these heavily! We only do family photos every 12-18 months, so it is worth it to me to give the kids incentives to make the photos fun, fast, and successful. For our most recent family photo session, I told the kids that if they all cooperated, gave real smiles, and just made the whole photo-taking session fun and easy, then each kid would get $5 and a family trip for ice cream. However, I said that if they made the photo-taking session difficult and miserable, they would lose all screen time for a week (I don’t play with family photos!).
After I finished explaining my terms, my daughter smiled and asked me, “Dad, is this a bribe?” I said, “No, a bribe is an incentive to do wrong. I’m giving you guys incentives to do right!” I’m happy to report that we had a lovely time together taking pictures and went out for ice cream afterwards. Each kid also earned an extra $5 on their commission charts for that week. $15 was a small price to pay to have a fun, easy time of family picture-taking!
So – is it okay to bribe your children? Well, if by bribe you mean reward their good behavior, hard work, caring hearts, kind words – yes! please bribe away! But let me suggest that you stop thinking of this as bribery, and start thinking of it for what it really is: incentivizing and rewarding them for being people of integrity, helpfulness, kindness, punctuality, and effort!