We all know that bribing our children is a huge no-no, but do you really understand what it looks like? It’s nice to be able to motivate our children to obey, but there’s a big distinction between rewarding a child and bribing them.

So what’s the difference between a bribe and a reward? Bribes are mentioned before the child obeys. Rewards are mentioned (and given) after the child obeys.

It looks like this:

Bribe: “If you obey mommy in the grocery store, I’ll buy you a special treat.”

Reward: “Thank you for obeying mommy in the grocery store! Here is your special treat for doing so.”

Often, bribes and rewards are turned on their heads and become threats.

Threat: “If you don’t obey mommy in the grocery store, I won’t buy you a treat.”

Of the three, only rewards are appropriate.

What’s wrong with bribes and threats?
They give the child an external motivation to obey. We want our children to obey out of respect for our authority, not because they will get something out of the deal.

“Such verbal statements establish a false and improper motivation for obedience, thus devaluing obedience. Some parents train their children to obey for a bribe, rather than out of obedience to them. Their children respond because there is something in it for them. Children should be rewarded for their obedience, but should not be obedient just to gain a reward. That distinction is important. What happens when a reward is no longer a substantial motivator?” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 124).

Bribes affect morality
Beyond our daily attempts for obedience, bribes undermine our parenting in far-reaching ways:

“Children of bribing parents demonstrate several character and behavior patterns. They develop self-oriented tendencies and learn to manipulate others. Because they seek to be rewarded, they limit their ability to serve others unless they receive gratification,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 125).

So feel free to reward your children after they have demonstrated obedient behavior, but be mindful of any bribes or threats that may be present in your parenting.


  1. […] Be prepared ahead of time. Maureen has written before how to stay consistent and recommends having rules for being out in public. Whether it is an immediate consequence now or later, know ahead of time how you will respond. Ideas could include: hand folding (we use this a lot! Even my 2 yo is learning), loss of privilege to talk, time out away from others or in car, no special treats. Note: I would not recommend buying treats often on trips so that you end up bribing or threatening. […]

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