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Bribes and Threats: Why you Should Avoid Them & Replacement Strategies

Updated: Feb 7, 2021

Many parents get stuck in the constant cycle of bribing or threatening to get their child to do something. Threats and bribes often put parents in a position where they have to keep "upping-their-game" and constantly having to think of something new to give their child if they do something good, or take away if they don’t listen. Threatening and taking away things from your child only creates more stress and tends to cause guilt for many parents.

Below are the reasons why bribery and threats are not effective, and some strategies on what to replace them with to support your child’s development.

Here is what bribes and threats do:

1) Bribes and threats may work in the short-term, but not in the long term.

Do you find that once the reward is given, there is always something else that you have to bribe about shortly after? Research constantly shows that bribery backfires, and doesn’t create long-term effects.

2) Bribes and threats affect a child’s internal motivation.

Children should do things because they want to do it and it makes them feel good. Not because somebody is bribing them to do so to get that end reward or treat.

Avoid external rewards so that your child feels internal motivation to choose good behaviour on their own.

3) Learning does not happen for a child when they are bribed or threatened

Children are often left confused when bribed or threatened. They need to learn that their actions affect others, because empathy is a learned skill. When we resort to a threat right away, we are not teaching empathy. A child who is not shown empathy may grow into an adult that has a hard time showing empathy towards others.

When we empathize with children, it helps them feel heard and understood. Even if their request or frustrations seem irrational, it always helps to acknowledge your child’s feelings by putting their feelings into words for them and helping them work through the issue at hand.

In the end, we want children to think for themselves, think about others and make the right choices. Children should know to communicate their wants and needs and how to work out disagreements. Don't be fooled, children sense when they are being tricked or manipulated to do something with a threat or bribe.

4) Threats cause children to become even more frustrated.

When we threaten children, we are showing that we are not on their side and that we are against them. Children need to feel supported through their behaviour, as they are simply learning about the world around them and how to handle their own emotions. Threats can cause more power struggles between a parent and a child.

So what can you do?

Here are a few strategies you can use to help your child feel understood, as if you are on their side, as opposed to working against them. These strategies are meant to replace bribes and threats, and positively support your child’s development.

1) Acknowledge your child’s feelings, state the boundaries, and offer age-appropriate choices whenever possible.

This might sound like:

I understand that you want to keep watching TV (acknowledge), hitting is not ok (telling them the type of behaviour that is not acceptable), it is time to go to bed (stating the boundary).”

Where possible, offer age-appropriate choices: “Which pajamas would you like to wear to bed?” Giving a choice allows the age-appropriate power that toddlers crave!

2) Put yourself in their shoes.

Is your child hungry? Too tired after play? Overwhelmed? Have you been inconsistent in your boundaries, causing your child to feel confused and not know what to expect? Children thrive when boundaries are consistent and they know exactly what to expect. It leaves them feeling secure in their environment.

Try to understand the reasoning behind the behaviour. The key is to come up with a solution that helps to gain your child’s cooperation, not redirect them to an external reward in order to get them to do something. This teaches them that if they do something good, they will always get something in return, and that is simply not how life works unfortunately.

3) Ask yourself “What do I want my child to learn from this situation?”

Do you want them to learn that if they scream, they will get the snack that they want? Do you want them to learn that if they clean up their toys, they will no longer trip on them? Do you want them to learn that their actions affect others? It can be helpful to use those unwanted behaviours as opportunities to teach.

4) Use language that invites cooperation.

You can try to use positive language that invites cooperation by saying something like:

“Let’s work together. Let’s use a timer to see how long it takes us to clean up. Would you like to put the blocks away first or the books? Here, you can start the timer”.

Working together to create cooperation leads to overall connection and trust with your child and it makes them feel capable.

I hope the information in this blog post has given you some value at the very least. If you are looking for one-on-one support with behaviour management and to learn all of the tips and tricks, we are here to help! Our 3 main goals with each of our behaviour consultations are to:

1) Eliminate power struggles

2) Raise happy, healthy, and well-rested children

3) Reduce overall tension in your home

You can click here for the most common topics we address with parents and contact us to book your free 15- minute chat with the owner of Little You Consulting.

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