What Is Wednesday: Rewards or Bribes?

Timothy McAdooby Timothy McAdoo

As any parent knows, the distinction between a reward and a bribe is both critical and hard to define. I may know it when I hear it, but if I hear myself offer a bribe, it’s already too late!

Rewards for KidsSound familiar? Rewards for Kids!, a multi-award-winning book by psychologist and child-development expert Virginia Shiller can help. Dr. Shiller’s book includes “how-to” instructions and 21 sample reward plans for parents. These address problems like bedtime procrastination, sleep disturbances, difficulties maintaining a schedule (e.g., to be ready for school on time), procrastination or avoidance of chores and homework, “establishing hassle-free hygiene,” and more. See more about the reward plans and charts in the table of contents.

So, what’s the distinction between a reward and a bribe? Timing, according to Dr. Shiller: She recommends rewarding 1–2-year-olds for good behavior immediately (or as soon as possible). Luckily, “smiles, clapping, cheers, and wacky antics are all it takes to thrill a toddler” (Shiller, n.d., para. 5). For kids 3 and older, rather than offering them a treat to get them to stop what they’re doing (a bribe), she says “offer rewards for good behavior before your child has a chance to misbehave” (Shiller, n.d., para. 11).


Shiller, V. (n.d.). The right way to bribe your child. Retrieved from http://www.parenting.com/article/the-right-way-to-bribe-your-child

Shiller, V. M. (2003). Rewards for kids! Ready-to-use charts & activities for positive parenting. http://www.apa.org/pubs/books/4441005.aspx

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