5 Ways to Stop Bribing Your Kids, Forever

My friend, Julie, mom to 3, whose baby just went off to Kindergarten asked, “What’s the difference between a bribe and a reward?”  She asked this question somewhat as a joke because her new little Kindergartner, T2, no longer wanted to go to school, after just 3 days of Kindergarten.

But nonetheless, a great question. 

What Is the Difference Between a Reward and a Bribe?

Before we think about it in parenting terms, let’s think about it in grown-up world terms.  In grown-up world, you get a reward when you do something great, say like find a sack of money and return it to it’s rightful owner.  But a bribe is something you get paid for doing something wrong.  So right off the bat, it should be easy to see what the difference is (in grown-up world).

You see where I’m going with this, right?


We’ve all seen the harried mom in the Walmart checkout aisle, kids screaming, begging for stuff, touching everything in the point of sale display (oh wait, that’s me! HA!)  Anyway.

We’ve all seen this mom, (or been this mom) and heard her say, “If you’ll stop acting like that, I’ll take you to McDonalds.” Or, “Please just be good and I’ll get you a toy.”

So I ask you, bribe or reward?

Go ahead and answer.  I’m waiting . . .

If you said, “Bribe” then you are right. 

The mom in this case has one plan, to get her kids to behave, no matter the cost to her personally.  So these kids, who have been holy terrors throughout the store, get a trip to McDonalds.  They just got rewarded for bad behavior. 

It might feel like they are getting rewarded for changing to good behavior, but not so.  The behavior you are reinforcing in this case is the bad one.  (“If we behave bad enough, long enough, she’ll eventually give us something/buy us something to stop.”)  Make sense?


Let me change gears here for a second and describe the two types of rewards, extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic rewards are something tangible we get for completing a certain task a certain way.  They can include:

  •          A hug
  •         Encouraging words
  •         Stickers
  •         Candy
  •        Allowance
  •        A desired activity (going somewhere, playing a certain game, baking something, etc.)

Extrinsic rewards require goal setting, and goal achieving to work, eventually moving the child completely away from needing a reward to accomplish the goal at all.

An intrinsic reward is a positive, internal feeling we get when we know we have done something well.

Ideally, we want to train our children to thrive on intrinsic rewards instead of always needing extrinsic ones.  But if you think you will replace the need for extrinsic rewards altogether, you are wrong.  Even as adults we still need and receive extrinsic rewards.  (Think hugs, words of affirmation, paychecks, etc.)


Extrinsic Rewards should be used as positive reinforcers to encourage desired behaviors.

Let’s say in the case of T2 he suddenly develops a severe case of “I don’t want to go to schoolitis.”  One way to help him reach the goal of going to school each day with a good attitude is to set up a reward system.

Remember I said extrinsic rewards require goal setting and goal achieving?  THIS IS SO IMPORTANT!!!!  Reward bad behavior one time with a bribe and you are going to be hard-pressed to stop that behavior from happening again. Think about what you are reinforcing and reinforce the right thing!

(If Julie offered T2 $5 to stop crying and go to school happily, you think he might want to get that $5 again? You can bet he will want it!)

1.  Validate Their Problem – Julie should tell T2, “I know you’re having a hard time going to school.  Tell you what, today, when you get home from school, let’s talk about some ways we can help you feel better about going to school in the morning.”

I know I talk about validation a lot.  I think it is so important in every area of life!

2.  Discuss Desired Behaviors - At the end of the day, after school, Julie and T2 can discuss what his desired morning behavior should be.  “T2, you know what I’d like to see?  I’d like you to leave for school each morning excited about school and all the fun things you get to do there!  In fact, I want to help you, so I made you this fun, “I Love School Sticker Chart.”  Let him choose his own reward.  Every child is different, so let his love language tell you what he wants for a reward.

(quick aside: If this were for the mom at Walmart whose kids always misbehave, she might do the same thing for them BEFORE they go to the store the next time!

Or, if it was for a teenager who hates to do their homework, you could set up some type of extrinisic system for them . . . likely though, stickers wouldn’t cut it!  Speak their love language!)

3.  Role Play the Desired Behaviors – Once you have established what the desired behavior is, practice it, multiple times, including ACTUALLY putting stickers on the chart. (Kind of a free reward at this point that gets him really close to his goal!)  This is very important to help him remember how he is supposed to act.  You might have to refer back to the practice.  For example, Julie might say to T2, “I know you want to stay home but remember how we practiced going to school in the mornings?  Let’s try that.”

4.  Over-Reward in the Beginning – Remember the point is to get to the goal to reinforce the desired behavior. So the faster you get to the goal the first time, the quicker the desired behavior is reinforced and the quicker the desired behavior becomes the more common behavior.  (This is why you gave out rewards in the role-playing phase!)  You can even say things like, “Man, that was the best I have ever seen you _____.  I’m giving you three stickers today” to get to the goal more quickly.

5.  Replacing the Extrinsic with Intrinsic – Once you’ve reached the goal, over time you’ll want to help move your child from needing the extrinsic reward and replacing it with an intrinsic reward (see above).  Do this gradually.  Let your child experience some rewards, and after awhile, you’ll notice they stop asking for the reward.  This is how you’ll know they are ready to lose the chart!

For the Love, Stop Bribing Your Kids!

So that’s it.  Don’t bribe your children, but absolutely help them understand (and repeat) the behaviors you value by using a reward system.

What do you think?  Did I nail it, or did I leave something out?  Did I leave you with more questions than answers, or are you armed and ready to train your kiddos to reach their goals? Leave your comments below.  I'd love to hear from you!  (And if you have your own parenting question, don't forget to leave it in the comments too!)

Talking to Your Toddler About Childbirth

Photo by ChipGillespie.com
Recently, my five-year-old daughter, Nikki, and I visited a friend who was in the hospital about to have her 30wk baby delivered due to complications in the pregnancy. This morning at the breakfast table, I told Nikki that our friend had given birth to a baby girl.

What ensued was nothing short of an epic conversation about where babies come from.  

I am a veteran at this conversation with young children. I mean, I've raise a set of kids already.  This is a very common question. There are rules you follow. No problem to answer.  Remain calm, follow the rules.    

Remain. Calm.

Follow. The. Rules.


6 Simple Rules to Remember When Talking to Your Toddler About Birth

Me: "Nikki, our friend had her baby!"
Nikki: "Did it come out of her tummy?"
Me: "Yes, she did."

Shannay: "How did it get out?"
Me:  "The doctor helped her come out."
Shannay: "Did the mommy burp and it came out of her mouth?"
Me: "No, that's not how babies come out.  But that's funny."

Shannay: "Where do babies come from?'


Me: (I'm a veteran at this question!) "What do you mean?"
Shannay: "How did it get in there and how does it come out?"


Me: "God makes a special place inside a mommy's belly for the baby to grow.  And when it's time, He makes a special way for it to come out."

Shannay: "What's that special place called?"


Me: "It's called a womb."

Shannay: "And then she frows up and the baby comes out?"
Me: "No, it doesn't come out of her mouth.  It's not in her stomach.  It's in her womb, which is different."
Shannay: "Okay."

Phew. Conversation over.  Long period of silence.  I feel confident I have answered her questions for today. 

And then things go awry. All the sudden, wise-veteran-mom panics.

Shannay: "Where is the other special place?"

("PLAY DUMB, PLAY DUMB, PLAY DUMB," says the voice in my head.)

Me: "What do you mean?" (my voice is pitched noticeably higher at this point.)

Shannay: "Where the baby comes out."


Me: "Shannay you need to eat your breakfast."

Shannay: "Where is the special place God makes for the baby to come out?"


Shannay: "If the baby doesn't come out of your mouth, how does it get out?"


Me: "Well, the baby comes out of your vagina." (we use the real words in this house folks.) God makes a way for the baby to come out of your vagina."


Shannay: "Does it hurt?"
Me: "Well, yes, it does hurt a little."
Shannay: "But you have to have a baby in your belly for that to happen, right?"

Shannay: (clearly thinking about this one.)  "Well, that's cool.  That was a good idea God had 'bout that."


Me: "Do you have any more questions about it?"
Shannay: "Yes."
Me: "What?"
Shannay: "Can I have gum today?"


And that, dear friends, is how you talk to your toddler about where babies come from.  

I would LOVE to hear your panicked version of where babies come from. Come on now, you know you want to!

10 Ways to Parent Your Argumentative Child

It's a little humorous to me that I have " mom peers" that are the same age as my grown sons; mommies that I can remember as children themselves who now have kids the same age as my girls.  Funny the way life turns.

One of those moms is my friend, Staci, mom to TJ, and Staci writes:

Any advice for a toddler who argues with everything I say? 

Me: "It's raining so hard outside."
TJ: "No it's not raining."

And so it goes on and on.  Exhausting.

Staci, having an argumentative child can be quite exhausting.  And if you're like most moms, on some days you can playfully engage him, and on other days you want to scream, "WHY MUST YOU ARGUE WITH EVERY SINGLE THING I SAY TO YOU?!!!!"

You might be pleased to know that this is actually a very common behavior, and especially so in children who have a gifted languaging center in their brain (so that's good news, right?!)

But knowing that something is a common behavior and surviving it can be two very different things, so I'm going to give you a few coping tips (just to keep you sane), as well as some things you can do to capitalize on TJ's strengths.

Let's begin with how to keep you sane.  


1. Remember, He's Not Trying to Push Your Buttons 

If you can remember this one first, it will be so helpful. In the early toddler years, it's really more about exploration and learning than it is arguing, but over time, you can be training your child to argue.  

Allowing TJ to push your buttons becomes a learned response, something he quickly realizes gives him the upper hand.

The downside is, you may have already trained him to realize he gets a "rise" out of you when he says the opposite of what you say.  

But even if this is the case, you can undo the damage (training) already done by protecting your buttons and using other strategies before you blow up.

2. Don't Engage 

While you might think that TJ is arguing with you, in reality, he's likely doing one of two things; 
  • He's either testing boundaries, "If I say this, how will she react?"
  • He's just trying out his vocabulary.  

Both are normal.  Either is frustrating.

3.  Use Simple Facial and Body Language 

Use simple facial and body language, but don't use words.  It's another form of "Don't engage" but communicates to TJ that you heard him.
  • Shrug your shoulders
  • Smile with an amused look
  • Raise your eyebrows
  • Fake shock (like the shocked face you'd use to discover it isn't raining, when clearly there is rain falling.)

4. Decide What is a Non-Negotiable and What Really Doesn't Matter.  (If it doesn't matter, don't engage.)

  • Non-Negotiable: "TJ, don't touch the stove, it's hot." TJ: "It's not hot." (Reaches for stove)
      Clearly requires a response from you.
  • Doesn't Matter: "TJ, look at the rain." TJ: "It's not raining."  (requires no response from you.  Does it really matter if it's raining or not?)

5.  Look, a Giant Stuffed Salmon

Ah, the art of a good subject change. One quick way to diffuse your own tension and your child's argument is to quickly change the subject (unless #4 applies).

Staci: "Look, it's raining."
TJ: "It's not raining."
Staci: "That rain makes me thirsty.  I think I'll get a drink.  Do you want a drink?"

BONUS: Just Knowing You Are Right Can Be Enough 

I'm going to confess, this isn't my most mature response, but it helps me when my 5-year-olds argue with me.  In my head I say to myself, "Well, it doesn't really matter what you think because I know I'm right."  (Seriously, I do say that to myself sometimes . . . in my head . . . and then I smile victoriously. WINNING!)

I know, very mature. :)


The good news is, you can actually use this very annoying (albeit very likely temporary) stage to help your child learn a thing or two about communication and life. 

I know I have a bunch of pictures of
this kid, but really, isn't he awesome?!

1. Play the What If Game

Staci:  "Look TJ, it's raining."

TJ: "It's not raining."
Staci:  "But what if it was raining, what could we do in the rain?"

This strategy takes the focus off the argument and helps your child build some critical thinking skills.  Sometimes they might persist with the argument part ("but it's not raining,") at which point you just continue to say, "But what if it was?" 

You might have to offer up some examples of your own to get the ball rolling.

2.  Use Your Imagination

Staci:  "Look TJ, it's raining."
TJ: "It's not raining."
Staci:  "Oh my goodness, you are right.  That's not rain.  It's chocolate milk!"

This strategy allows your child to be silly and imaginative.  Typically, they will very quickly join in the game.  To help your child understand, you can say, "Wait, is that chocolate milk?  What is that falling from the sky?"

3.  Make Him Convince You

You would think this one would require a great level of intellect and maturity on the part of your child, but you'd be amazed how much this does for his linguistic and reasoning skills!

Staci: "It's raining."
TJ: "It's not raining."
Staci: "What? (faked shock) It's not raining? Convince me."

In the beginning, he won't understand.  But he'll catch on quickly enough.  This actually turned out to be a fun game with my sons (and probably why they are such darned good debaters!)

4.  Agree to Disagree

This is actually an incredible life skill that your child needs to learn.  Sometimes in life, we just have to agree to disagree.  

Staci: "It's raining."
TJ: "It's not raining."
Staci: "Well, then I guess we'll have to agree to disagree, because I feel pretty sure it's raining, and you seem pretty sure it's not."

Staci, as I said earlier, having an argumentative child is exhausting. Trust me girl, I get it.  I have two of them!  And some days, I throw all my best parenting advice out the window and say, "Because I said so!"  

So next time TJ wants to argue, try one (or several) of these approaches, and let us know how it goes!

Official Disclaimer:
Though I think far too many children wear far too many labels, I would be remiss not to mention that their are emotional disorders that can cause oppositional behavior in a child.  Always talk with your pediatrician about concerns you have with your child.

So tell me, what do YOU do to enjoy, engage and parent your argumentative child?  I'll bet you've got some tricks up your sleeve I'd love to try too!