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Treat vs Bribe: 10 Essential Truths You Need To Know

A lot can be said about words and their meanings. While often much can be left open to interpretation, on the most part, normally words have clear definitions. However, the problem generally arises when two words, or rather, two actions, are profoundly similar, yet one can have very different and adverse effects.

Now that I have gotten being cryptic out of my system, if the title didn't give it away, what I am referring is the popular practice of rewarding one's child for good and positive behavior. This practice, as common as it is, is often frowned upon by so-called professionals, and I think that is mostly due to the fact the use of rewards by parents, often is administered in the forms of bribes. This usually can have negative implications, in contrast to treating, which is, at heart, designed to encourage and reaffirm positive actions.

A treat, by definition is:

  • (treat someone to) provide someone with (food, drink, or entertainment) at one's own expense: the old man had treated him to a drink or two.
  • give someone (something) as a favor: he treated her to one of his smiles.

A bribe, by definition is:

  • persuade (someone) to act in one's favor, typically illegally or dishonestly, by a gift of money or other inducement: an undercover agent bribed the judge into giving a lenient sentence | you weren't willing to be good to your sister without being bribed with a lollipop | he has no money to bribe with.

As I think, it's very clear from the definitions (which, for the record, I did not make up), that one seemingly is a great positive, while the other, is downright deplorable.

It is very easy for parents to recall times when they have treated their children to something for a job well done, but when asked, how honest would you be about instances when it might have been more like bribing your child?

Before you get too hard on yourself, I will tell that it is a very blurry line between the two, and while not necessarily the best practice, bribing a child can often be a very tempting option (one I know I am guilty of on more than one occasion). So in order to have to some fun with this, I have decided to provide you with 10 scenarios, 5 of which are instances of treating your child, in a positive, reaffirming way; and 5 are examples of bribing your child, which can have a negative impact if not immediately, then in the not so distance future.

“In The Blue Trunks, We Have Treating Your Child!”

10 To Reward

Your little one has been having a hard time at school. Their teacher has spoken to you, and it seems that they get easily distracted and are not completing their work in class. You speak with your child, and come up with a plan to try to focus their attention a little more, and possibly allude (but not necessarily, at first), that there might be something in it for them. Trip to the water park, ice-cream, whatever it is; this is an example of a treat, as it is rewarding your child for positive behavior. Good job!

9 To Help Them

Like many children, yours wets the bed. It’s normal, not ideal, but it happens. While there is little you can really do while they are sleeping, subconsciously, having something to look forward to for making it through a dry night might work in your in favor.

This is by no means an indication to reward your child every morning they wake up without wetting the bed, but if the problem is persistent, it might make sense to start small, and extend the period from 1 night reward, to 1 week reward, and so forth. It is also prudent to remember that rewards and treats should be in proportion to what you rewarding, so there is no need to gift wrap, sugary cereal might just do the trick.

8 As A Thank You

You have a young teen and a young child. They typically do not get along (I know, not hard to imagine). However, you and your partner have to leave for a few hours, and the babysitter canceled. What do you do? Well, you decide to give the teen a chance to watch over their sibling. As nervous as this makes you, when you arrive back home, everything is exactly as you want it, and everybody happy, safe and in bed.

Aside from being a little surprised, you might want to pay your teen the wages that you would have given to the sitter; which is a good way to start learning about money. And for the well-behaved child, an extension on their bedtime to watch a movie, or a rousing game of mini-putt as a family could be in order.

7 For Working Hard

Your child’s grades are suffering, more specifically their math mark. They are willing and ready to take on the extra work, even a tutor, in order to bring their mark up by the end of the school. You tell them, that if they do that, then they can go to the summer camp that they have been talking about all year long.

You see a child try, and study, and put in the hours and their mark reflects their effort. In this instance, a reward is certainly in order, and as long they did, in fact, put their best effort forward, even if they didn't reach their mark, a little something can go a long way.

6 For Being Honest

You are downstairs folding laundry, and you hear a big crash upstairs. Shaking your head as you ascend the steps to investigate, you are met with two guilty looking children and a broken vase. You ask them who did it, they both said neither. You send them both to their rooms and tell them not to come out until they tell the truth.

And wouldn't you know it they do! On their own none the less. While it is still not good practice to lie to your parents, it isn’t easy for anybody to come forward and admit wrongdoing after the fact. It is a good practice for everybody to get into, and thus, I think should be encouraged and treated accordingly.

“In The Red Trunks, We Have Bribing Your Child!”

5 To Calm A Tantrum

Like many parents, you take your young child with you grocery shopping. As you make your way up and down each aisle methodically, as is your typical fashion, you start down the cookie/candy/chip aisle. As soon as your child realizes that they are surrounded by what they can only imagine as being heaven, they begin to get vocal about wanting everything and everything.

Quickly, it seems to be turning into a tantrum the louder they get. Just to quiet them and not embarrass yourself further, you grab some cookies and toss them in the buggy, thus calming your child. This is a bad practice, for it reaffirms a positive outcome to negative behavior. Also, ‘rewarding’ your child in general with food (or rather often) can have long term, negative effects such as obesity and diabetes just to name a few.

4 To Keep Peace

It's the summer, so the kids are home with you. One is 4, the other, 7. Needless to say, they are your new accessories pretty much everywhere you go, but unfortunately, whenever you get them in the back seat of the car together, all hell breaks loose. In order to keep the peace, you get in the habit of stopping at the toy store or candy shop either before or after.

Now, this is bad because you're not only rewarding your children for doing something that they should already be doing (getting along), you to a large part(and don’t lie) are doing it for yourself, because nobody likes to hear kids fighting. Sure, every once in awhile is fine, but know your limits; your kids will thank you down the road, and so will your bank account.

3 To Get Help

While different in every house, usually, most children sooner or later will begin to do chores. The benefits of this include responsibility, learning consequence, and how to be a team player. However, doing chores is simply part of being part of a household and a family and thus is something I think is intrinsic and should not be rewarded, but rather instilled.

If your kids think that they will be getting a reward for doing the things they should be doing anyways, then they will certainly have a rude awakening in their older years.

2 As A Bargaining Tool

It's time to go to Grandma’s house, and your child is less than thrilled. Wanting to save yourself the time and energy arguing or reasoning with, you tell them that on the way home, you will stop at the mall, and they can pick up those shoes they wanted. Hate to say it, but that's a bribe. Not sure? Re-read the definition provided earlier.

1 In Order To Get Cooperation

Families have traditions. Some religious, some personal, some downright peculiar. However, these are important to a family unit, and should be important to every member of said family. An example of this would be attending church for a religious holiday, or following a fast over a period of time. It is important that you teach your children the value of tradition rather than teaching them the valuables they gain from them. 

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