The difference between bribes, rewards and praise

Posted on April 25th, 2015

Bribe? reward? praise? What’s the difference? And does it really matter how you motivate your tot? By Sam-Toweel Moore

Bribes, reward, praise

You know that if your child doesn’t cooperate, you can bribe him with an ice-cream or some other tempting play item.

But are you harming him or simply rewarding him for good behaviour?
Bribes and rewards do have something in common. In both cases, you give your child something in return for good behaviour. The important difference lies in what you teach him.
Bribing encourages him to act in a certain way to get what he wants, whereas a reward will teach him commitment and responsibility. It’s vital to ensure you’re installing good characteristics rather than encouraging manipulation.

Why bribes are harmful

Your child will cooperate only to obtain and indulgence and feels entitled to a treat for the most basic responsibility, like brushing his teeth. Eventually he learns just how far he can push you. For the sake of peace, you give in and your child has learnt a vice rather than a virtue.

How to avoid bribes

Encourage good behaviour by:

  • Giving your child constant, positive feedback
  • Being a good example
  • Listening to their problems or concerns

Why rewards are helpful

Society works on a reward system. You work; you get paid. Rewards, star charts and, later on, contracts are usually effective in developing maturity in your child.

An effective reward system

Explain to your child the benefit of what you’re asking him to do. Brushing teeth twice a day will keep them healthy, for example.

  • Select the reward. Your child needs to be able to identify the rewards and to choose the one most suitable. Having a list of rewards, and allowing him to negotiate with you, teaches him to reason and be independent.
  • Match the reward to the behaviour. A reward is similar to a salary. Your child needs to understand what he’ll earn from a particular behaviour.
  • Be specific. Leave no room for misunderstandings. For example, if you reward your child for keeping his room tidy, then explain exactly what this means.
  • Set times. Tell him his room needs to be cleaned just before supper time, and give him a 15-minute warning. Ring a bell when it must be done.
  • Provide a friendly reminder. Picture charts, depicting desired behaviours work well. Your child will take time to learn the new behaviour, and this prevents the need for you to nag him.
  • Set a time frame. New habits take about three weeks to learn. Explain to your child that after this time, he’ll be expected to continue the behaviour without an incentive.

Click here to download your super achievers ribbons for your tot.

Bribes - for super achievers printables

Praise that will inspire

Avoid generalisations like ‘best’ and ‘perfect’. Your child will probably realise that these are just stock phrases, and he won’t experience complete satisfaction in carrying out his tasks. Consequently, he’ll devalue your praise and may not trust your judgement.

Effective praise is:

  • Be descriptive. For example, ‘Your drawing is very colourful. You spent a lot of time drawing these lines. It makes me feel happy.’
  • Focus on qualities and process. Ultimately it’s important to teach your child that it isn’t about who wins, but how the game is played. If he focuses exclusively on the trophy and doesn’t win, he might suffer emotionally and not learn the value of the process involved. This could also hamper his maturity, and may lead to self-pity and confusion when he becomes an adult. Such values have to be ingrained early.
  • Praise him for the steps he takes to achieve his goals and the characteristics you want him to develop. For example, say, ‘I see that you practise catching your tennis ball every Tuesday night. It takes a lot of patience. Well done, son.’

What motivates your child?

Children are mostly motivated by things they enjoy or want. Your child holds your positive view of him in high regard. But if you provide him with rewards regardless of his behaviour, he’ll lose the incentive to work at new skills. Motivate him with sincere words of praise and acknowledgement, and concrete rewards that he can earn daily. Set bigger rewards for the future to teach perseverance.

Click here to download your free behaviour reward chart.