Friday, August 1, 2003

Don't bribe kids - reward them for good behavior

Family matters

By Doreen Nagle
Gannett News Service

Is there ever a time when bribing your child is OK? In the short run, the answer is an overwhelming yes, if you follow these rules.

• Rule No. 1 is to change thinking from bribery (manipulation) to reward (payoff for the right behavior).

Bribery teaches kids to placate other people, versus teaching children to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Bribery also teaches children to look for the end result of "what's in it for me?" Children who grow up being bribed rely on outside circumstances rather than on self-control and critical thinking.

Buying a screaming child a new toy to quiet her is bribery. What has this child done to earn such a privilege? Nothing. What has she learned? "If I scream loud and long enough, I get a new toy." This is what gives bribery its bad name. These kinds of actions also set up a lifelong pattern that is hard to break.

Bribery sends the wrong message about love. Bribery says that how much you love your child can be measured in how many things you buy for him.

What is a reward? If you work outside the house, you expect a paycheck for the work you do. When you potty train your child, you promise "big boy" undies with his favorite characters on them once he masters the potty. You have both earned your reward.

• Rule No. 2: Rewards are bestowed after the fact, not before. Once the room is cleaned up, reward your child with a new book. (But it is OK to announce that a material award is available once your criteria are met: for instance, a clean room).

• Rule No. 3: Not all rewards should be material. Balance material rewards with nonmaterial ones: "After you clean your room, I will read your favorite book to you."

• Rule No. 4: Give your child a choice from a menu of rewards you create: "I will read your favorite book to you or take you to the park. It's your choice." In this way you know they will work for what they want, which is a value that will carry them throughout their lifetime.

• Rule No. 5 : If your child is old enough to be verbal, think through with him the nonmaterial rewards of doing the right thing. When asked why he should practice the piano, my son realized the value by himself: as his fingers get stronger through practice, it will be easier to play songs he likes. By allowing him to come up with his own rewards, he internalized them. This reward far surpassed anything material I could have offered.

• Rule No. 6: Brainstorm about why the misbehavior doesn't work. "A dirty room means you can't find your toys."

Brainstorming equals motivation. Brainstorming with your child instills motivation more than your nagging will. With motivation comes changed behavior.

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