The Parent Trap: Bribery

    Dedicated family time with your child is much more valuable to them than material rewards

    We all know bribery doesn’t work. Stop yourself falling into the habit with invaluable advice from Elaine Halligan of The Parent Practice

    One of the biggest parenting challenges in this materialistic world is bringing up children to be appreciative and to value their possessions. We know children have so much, yet it is difficult not to spoil them at times. Many working parents say they often fall into the guilt trap and find themselves over-indulging their kids. There is almost an irresistible urge to buy them things when they respond with, “You’re the best Mummy in the world!” But this can lead children to talk about nothing but possessions, and getting them to be cooperative becomes all about: “What will I get for doing this?”. If this happens, you’ve fallen into the bribery trap and it’s a deep, dark place to get out of.

    The key, of course, is to not fall into the trap in the first place. As psychologist and author Dr Phil McGraw points out, “Your child does not have to love you every minute of every day. He’ll get over the disappointment of having been told ‘no’. But he won’t get over the effects of being spoiled.” So, how can you encourage good habits and cooperative behaviour in your children without bribing them? Here are seven steps to help you avoid the trap:

    1. Use non-material rewards 

    When your child does something good, always acknowledge it with descriptive praise and point out the intrinsic benefits of the achievement, including how happy it makes you. Children want to please their parents, even though it doesn’t always seem like it. “I really love it when you do what Daddy asks you to do quickly. Now we have time for two stories!” Get creative and choose a new reward each day – a pillow fight, a torchlit indoor safari or a picnic tea under the table.

    2. Presence – not presents 

    The one thing children crave more than anything is time with you. In this frenetic age, it’s so easy not to make this a priority as you race from one activity to another. Treat spending time with your children as you would a meeting with an important client. You diarise it and can’t afford to be late or to miss the appointment.

    3. Replace ‘if’ with ‘when’ 

    Some are concerned that there is little difference between a bribe and a reward. A bribe, however, is given in advance of desired behaviour. For example: “If I let you watch TV, you must do your homework straight after.” Rewards come after the desired behaviour: “When you have completed your homework, you will have earned your TV time.”

    4. Appreciate the small things

    “I love the way Daddy always checks with me if I need anything when he’s going to the shops – that’s really thoughtful.” “I love the way Auntie Sally makes my favourite dessert when we go there for Sunday lunch. That makes me feel cared for.” Notice when your children are appreciative and comment on it: “When you said thank you for giving you a lift to Ben’s, I felt really appreciated.”

    5. Model the behaviour you want to see 

    If you hanker after the latest gadget to hit the shops and queue for days to own it, you can expect your children to want to buy things, too. Remember to also talk about being grateful for what you have and the people in your lives.

    6. Let your child earn privileges for good behaviour

    Children are much more appreciative of their screen time, toys, outings and having friends over to play if you have a system in place whereby they earn these privileges. This increases self-esteem and motivation. Can you recall how proud you felt as a child when you earned something through your own efforts?

    7. Teach gratitude

    Allow your children to understand the art of being generous or charitable by donating toys to the local hospital, giving to old peoples’ homes in the form of home-baked cakes, picking up litter in the park or filling shoeboxes to send to African children through Action Aid. Consider keeping a gratitude book in which they record things which made them happy that day.