Expert / 19 November, 2018 / Sandra Kwesell

What is The Difference Between Bribes v Rewards for Good Behaviour?

While “rewarding” and “bribing” are both techniques intended to encourage a child to change his behaviour, there are important differences between the two methods.

In all cases, giving rewards for good behaviour and acceptable choices is both a positive and effective parenting technique that has its own merit. Rewarding to achieve positive behaviour is very different than bribing to stop negative behaviour. Read on to learn more about the differences.


Developing reward systems for kids includes offering predictable rewards for good behaviour. This technique is supported by the research and science of behaviour theory that teaches us that positively reinforced behaviours tend to be repeated. The important question to ask is “what kinds of rewards do I want to use?” rather than “rewards or no rewards for my children?”

“Rewarding” your kids is part of an organised and proactive plan that is developed in advance. Be very clear that the plan you create encourages a child to behave in certain positive ways in order to earn identified rewards.


Unlike a proactive reward system for positive behaviour, bribing is generally a reactive response made by an irritated adult who is feeling agitated by a child’s uncooperative behaviour. The goal of the parent is to control the immediate behaviour in whatever way possible. This generally occurs when the supervising adult makes random and/or disorganised attempts to deal with refusals and oppositional behaviour presented by the child. It is typically an adult response to feeling a loss of control over the child that is usually accompanied by adult feelings of frustration and/or humiliation. Unlike rewards, bribes usually focus on eliminating the negative behaviour rather than encouraging positive behaviour.

Developing an Effective Reward System for Your Kids

Make a list of desired behaviours along with the rewards for those behaviours at home and share that list with your children. Celebrate the successes with each child as he earns rewards for his positive behaviour.

Here are some child reward system ideas that you can use in your home:

  1. Specific treats (i.e. a few M&Ms) that the child can have for a snack
  2. Extra time watching television
  3. Coins that the child can save for shopping once enough money is saved
  4. Outings or individual time spent with a parent
  5. Other activities that your child enjoys (i.e. playing a game, baking cookies, etc.)

Remember, rewards are meant to reinforce positive behaviours, not just reinforce the absence or elimination of negative behaviours.

The Lessons Your Child Learns

Rewards and bribes may appear similar, but actually teach very different lessons.

When parents respond to their child’s behaviour with a “bribe” then the child gets a clear message that he is in control of the situation and the parent has little or no control over that same situation. Remember, a bribe is randomly offered by the adult as a result of frustration. A bribe teaches a child that negative behaviour leads to desperate attempts on the part of the adult to regain control, which actually encourages the very behaviour that the adult is trying to eliminate.

Conversely, when parents respond to behaviour consistently and proactively then the child clearly hears the message that he is in control of his own behaviour and the adult is in control of the outcomes that follow.  

REMEMBER: No one can control another person’s behaviour. In fact, the only person who can change a behaviour is the person himself. This important sense of personal control is reinforced by the consistent responses given by the adult. When a “reward” that is intended to celebrate and encourage a child’s positive behaviour choices is planned and given as a result of parental approval there is a much greater chance that the behaviour will be reinforced and repeated.

Remain Consistent

The key is consistency. The more consistently you respond to both positive and negative behaviours, the more you will intentionally encourage the child to choose positive behaviours and successfully redirect him from choosing negative behaviours.

Resist the urge to bribe your child to cooperate because bribing does not ultimately accomplish the behaviour outcomes you are seeking. It is a “band aid” measure and just like a band aid, it will wear out.

The road to success is paved with consistency and positivity. The temporary patch that is often used on broken roads is, in fact, also temporary and usually leaves bigger areas that need even more extensive repair later. Don’t use random or temporary patches for behaviour.

Always clarify your expectations by describing the EXACT behaviour that you want the child to demonstrate, reinforce the behaviour with outcomes (either positive or negative depending on the child’s responses), and celebrate the victories while empathising with the negative outcomes the child must face as a result of his negative choices.

As stated earlier, this plan requires consistency but when used correctly, it will result in changes that you may have thought were impossible!


  1. Rewards are earned for good behaviour. Bribes are offered to eliminate bad behaviour.
  2. Rewards are an effective long-term parenting tool. Bribes are short-lived attempt to gain control.
  3. Rewards enhance your child’s self-esteem. Bribes distort your child’s perception of his own power and control.
  4. Rewards are part of an organised plan. Bribes are offered in desperation.
  5. Rewards are an effective parenting tool that leads to positive change. Bribes are temporary band aids that lose their adhesion.

Article by Sandra Kwesell, Child Development and Family Dynamics Expert, Pillars for Success

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