Bribing as a Parenting Tool (aka: Sanity Saver)



I believe in bribing as an effective parenting tool. Yep, I said it. You may be more comfortable with the word “incentive” and that’s fine. Same approach. Same effect.

I sometimes bribe my kids. Well, really just my 3-year-old. My 1-year-old isn’t quite in the phase of fiercely exerting his independence, thrusting me into toddler negotiations and carefully considered compromises. But his day is coming. Just as it should with a growing, exploring, expressive little one.

When it does come, I’m at ease knowing I’ve already settled into what I am comfortable with in terms of parenting and what parenting tools do and don’t fit in our family. Bribing, among MANY others, is one of them. Bribing certainly isn’t the only parenting tool in my wheelhouse. Before you freak out, please know that I also enthusiastically believe in flexibility, compromises, positive praise, setting limits, and offering lots of age-appropriate choices. In fact, these things often come LONG BEFORE bribing makes its appearance, but when it is needed, I am okay with it.

And really, how is bribing any different than what we experience in adulthood? We may not have another person holding a carrot in front of us, but we certainly self-select our own carrots on a regular basis. We bribe ourselves with rewards such as a ‘cheat day’ when dieting, a small gift or pampering when we achieve a goal we set, a glass of wine for getting through a hard day. These are versions of self bribes or incentives that make things more enjoyable, more endurable, and help us get through the things we don’t want to tackle on the “To Do Lists” of everyday life.

When using bribing as a parenting tool, here’s what I’m comfortable with in our family….

*Using a bribe/incentive when nothing else has worked

*When I need my child to do something that I wouldn’t want to do either (ex: getting a shot)

*When it can be incorporated into a teaching opportunity

*When my patience is just gone

*Bribes are not always food (or sweets) related

*Bribes do not necessarily have to cost anything

*Withholding love or affection is NEVER used in bribing

Using a carefully-thought out bribe is easy. It just takes a little creativity and planning ahead. Thinking about what makes your kiddo tick is also important. So is taking care to not over-use bribes!

For example, I keep a stash of ’emergency’ Smarties candies in my car for when my daughter does not want to leave the park and refuses to get in the car. Again, this would come AFTER I’ve exercised other tools, such as giving her a 5-minute heads-up that we will be leaving soon. This was especially handy when I was in the final weeks of pregnancy with baby #2 and low on energy.

There are also easily accessible rewards for good behavior when on-the-go. A few offerings to check out….

*Our neighborhood library offers a free sticker to kids who clean up toys before leaving.

*Our neighborhood Kings Soopers offers a free cookie to kids. The floral department also gives free balloons. (I especially like to use this one as a bribe for being helpful while we grocery shop. Getting a balloon on our way out the door has helped my daughter be a patient & happy little shopper!)

* Trader Joe’s offers free apples for kids.

* Whole foods offers free bananas and has toddler-sized shopping carts.

* Our pediatrician has free stickers for patients.

How do you feel about bribing your kids? What other parenting tools do you use when nothing else has worked?

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Kelly is a Denver NATIVE stay-at-home entrepreneurial mom to two little ones. She is a self described foodie and loves dining out, hosting dinner parties with great food and wine, and indulging in ice cream! Kelly balances her love of everything culinary with her gym habit, and enjoys her “me time” working on her fitness! This active mama never leaves home without baby wipes, and though you are likely to catch her in a local park, it won’t be one with lots of sand! When she’s not relishing sleepy cuddles and slobbery kisses, spending time with her husband, or pursuing her successful career as a Beautycounter consultant, Kelly can be found connecting with other moms within the world of mommy groups.


    • It certainly forces you to get creative. And think through what you’re comfortable with! Good luck when the time comes for your little 🙂


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