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July 2000  -  Volume 3  -  Issue 5

Bribes vs. Incentives
by Cindy Schweich Handler
PARENTS magazine ,March 1998

Because they promise a treat in return for cooperation, bribes actually encourage bad behavior. After all, kids see that when they act up, they can get a reward just for stopping. Incentives, on the other hand, encourage good behavior because they mark real achievement. For instance:

Your waiter has just taken your order, and already your 2-year-old is running around the table.

The bribe: You promise to buy her a coloring book after dinner if only she’ll stop and sit still.

The incentive: Before you go out to dinner, you tell her that you’re bringing a coloring book along, and for every page she fills in while you wait, she’ll get a sticker

You’re at the grocery store, and your 3-year-old starts whining that her wants to go home.

The bribe: You blurt out, "If you promise to behave while we shop, I’ll buy you a candy bar at the checkout counter."

The incentive: At the first whimper, you say, "I’ve brought some of your favorite snack with us, and every time we get to the end of an aisle without any whining, you can have some."

Your 6-year-old refuses to clean up his room before guests come, even though he picked up after himself very well the last time.

The bribe: You tell him, "If you put everything away nicely, you can stay up late to watch basketball on TV."

The incentive: You make a game out of it, giving him points every time he shoots a laundry "basket" with his dirty clothes.

Your 8-year-old son’s book report is due in a week and all he’s been reading are comic books.

The bribe: You offer to buy him his favorite comics if he’ll just get to work on that report.

The incentive: You agree on a time for the two of you to sit down together and read, and after every completed chapter he can read a few pages of his comic book.

1998 Gruner + Jahr USA Publishing. Excerpt reprinted from PARENTS magazine by permission.

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