Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bribery vs Rewards

We've been crazy-busy this summer, so I haven't had a lot of blogging time available, and since none of our summer activities are really homeschool related, I haven't had much to write about anyway.
So instead, I'm going to try to write a couple of "general parenting" posts about topics I seem to have frequent discussions about....this way, I won't have to keep repeating myself, and I can just refer people here ;)
Topic number one, bribery versus rewards. People use these terms interchangeably, but they are NOT the same at all.

Scenario #1
Mom walks into the grocery store with her three year old, who immediately drops to the ground and starts screaming. She's prepared, though! She reaches into her purse and pulls out a lollipop for him! He gets up, stops screaming, and sticks the candy in his mouth.

Scenario #2
Mom walks into the grocery store with her three year old, who immediately drops to the ground and starts screaming. She bends down, reminds him of the rules of the grocery store, and that children who follow all the rules can get a lollipop from the cashier at the check out, and then reminds him of the rules again. He whines and sniffles a little more, but gradually manages to pull himself together and they can continue shopping.

One of these is bribery, the other is a reward. Can you spot the differences?

Scenario #1 is bribery. The "prize" is given BEFORE the desired behavior occurs, as a way to coerce the child into good behavior. In the short term, yes, it seems like it works, and quickly! And there are situations in every mom's life where she has resorted to bribery, and sometimes it's necessary or even helpful. For example, I've been known to hand out lollipops or stickers or small toys to children who are about to have blood helps distract them from the blood draw, and sometimes that helps. But, we're not doing blood draws every week.
The major problem with bribery is that it's actually inadvertently rewarding a behavior you want to see LESS of, which invariably means that you will actually see MORE of it. What message is Mom #1 sending her child? Basically, if you scream in the store, I will give you candy. So, what does the little cherub learn to do? Well, if there are people around, Mom wants me to be quiet, so she will give me ANYTHING I WANT if I scream and embarrass her in public! Yay! Even if she took the time to explain the rules again, he's not listening...he HAS his candy!

Scenario #2 is a reward. Rewards work long term. It takes longer, but is ultimately more effective, because the child has to actually *do* something in order to get what they want. Therefore, gradually, eventually, they figure out that screaming leads to nothing, and good behavior leads to something they want.

The other benefit to rewards is that it's easier to *stop* giving rewards for good behavior than it is to stop bribing your child to be good. When your child has learned appropriate behavior in the grocery store, for example, you stop getting a treat at the end of every trip, and save them for exceptionally good behavior. You fade out the actual candy and move on to just praising them for how well they did and how proud of them you are. Eventually, they don't need any specific praise for that specific behavior, and it just becomes habit.
On the other hand, if your child starts expecting their lollipop the minute they walk into the store, how do you get rid of that? What happens when you forget it, or you're at the store to buy more lollipops because you used the last one on the last trip? Or it's the wrong COLOR? Well, then you either have to leave, or drag a screaming kid through the store with you. You're pretty much stuck, because they've learned to reward YOU for the behavior of giving them candy. They're rewarding you with their good behavior. And you've done so well for them, since rewards are more likely to become lasting behavior.