The Art Of The Bribe And Other Tips For Encouraging Good Behavior

by Michael Nwarneri for Fatherly
Originally Published: 
encouraging good behavior
Zoroyan / Shutterstock

How we encourage good behavior depends on what the stakes are. As a parent I can relate to a couple of things that determine my response to my children’s behaviors. We also talk about these in my pediatric clinic sometimes, with new mothers struggling with their child’s behavior.

These determinants include:

1. How much time do we have? Two hours? All night? Ten minutes?

2. What is the opportunity cost? What sacrifice do I have to make to get the desired outcome?

I quickly consider these two variables and then make a decision, fast. The child is watching for every facial expression, every word uttered, every body language deciphered.

“Mini-me” has also calculated the odds and the variables available to her.

“What will Daddy do?” she wonders. “Will he go late for his appointment? Will he let me get away with it just this once?”

When we desire good behavior, we have to make sure we implement all the tools out there — otherwise we will keep losing and, who knows, end up raising a “bad child” (calm down, that was meant to be tongue-in-cheek).

There are several recommended ways of encouraging good behavior. We see these in the workplace and managerial education webinars and courses. I will do a recap below so that you know I am not a bad parent despite having bribed my children many times.

Follow Through With Consequences

Rules are not rules without consequences. The iniquities of this world as we see them today are rife because people cannot see the consequences of their actions. They reason that it is in the afterlife and not yet reality. Similarly, unless we are ready to follow through with the consequences, when our children hear rules, they are not likely to obey them. We must be firm in ensuring that the consequences are placed there and enforced.

Communication of What Is Expected

We must let our children know what we expect. In our home we try to make those as clear as possible. However, just like Wall Street would tell you, past performance is no guarantee of future performance. The least we have to do however as parents is to set the expectations.

Give Rewards

Children get rewards for good behavior. That is common and depending on the age one may use simple praise, stickers or a dose of heart disease and diabetes (read: fast food and ice cream). Sometimes it can be extra time at the computer, with the iPad or story time. These are tried and tested.

Promised Reward (I Call This a Bribe)

I have discovered that one of the most motivating factors for my children has been a promised reward. However just like communicating expectations, this reward has to be clear, concrete and well defined. No nebulous promises like “a good time” or “ some goodies.” No. It has to be very clear. Yes. Solid and clear. It motivates like crazy. I have used many things for this type of motivation but what seems to work best is money. I bribe them for the desired good behavior. It has worked well for us so far.

We do not do it for many things and use it sparingly, but yes, we do use bribery. I argue that getting a child to do what will be of benefit to them for a reward (immediate gratification) is a small price to pay. This is especially true if it will help save you some aggravation in the future when they will not be struggling with their reading, essays or pre-calculus because of the gains they made when you bribed them to go the extra mile.

It may be cheaper to bribe them in their earlier years (bribing a teen must cost a lot more as they showed in Virginia), but you must find a balance between duty and positive motivation.

Also one must keep the boundaries clear. Basic expectations ought not be bribed for, but for going above and beyond it may be a worthwhile investment.

This post originally appeared on Fatherly.

This article was originally published on