Bribing your kids may hurt more than just your wallet

By Robert Beaupre, For Money Rates

Published: Wed, Sept. 3, 2014, 2:10 p.m. MDT

 The long-term consequences of bribery may ultimately cause them more heartache.

The long-term consequences of bribery may ultimately cause them more heartache.

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Money Rates. It has been reprinted here with permission.

A study released last month indicates that U.S. children receive from parents an average of $1,360 each year in the form of allowances, rewards and incentives. The study, which was conducted by coupon brand Vouchercloud, found that 71 percent of the parents of 5- to 10-year-olds give their children money regularly.

More strikingly, 55 percent of the group who give money to their children said that they have paid their children “bribes” to get them to be good.

What’s wrong with giving children a financial incentive to behave well? Ingrid Higgins, a marriage and family therapist at Campbell Teen and Family Therapy in Campbell, California, says that paying children this way can send the wrong message about good behavior.

“I do not believe that children should have money as an incentive for good behavior,” writes Higgins in an email to MoneyRates.com. “Good behavior is expected in a household and not something you get paid for.”

Higgins’ response echoes the views of numerous child psychologists who have said that bribes are a flawed means of influencing children’s behavior. Perhaps the most often cited problem with this approach is that it can lead children to believe that money is the only worthwhile reason to behave.

A too-simple fix for behavior problems

It’s easy to see how parents could be tempted into offering their children money for behaving: It’s simple to do and it may be effective in the short term. But the lessons people take from childhood can affect how they see money — and the value of good behavior — throughout their lives. Thus parents may wish to explore options for changing behavior that won’t lead their offspring to expect money simply for being good.

Dr. Marilee Ruebsamen, a psychologist in San Jose, California, says that there are numerous ways to help children develop better behavioral habits, but the best ones depend on parents knowing their children and the rewards that matter most to them.

“It's not about paying off kids for good behavior,” writes Ruebsamen in an email to MoneyRates.com. “It's about assisting them in areas they find difficult. Sometimes it's about working with them to co-create some incentives they'd find helpful to work for in order to increase better habits.”

When it comes to alternatives to bribes, Higgins says she favors a philosophy that emerged decades ago.

“I like the techniques from Love and Logic,” Higgins says, referring to the approach developed in 1977 by Jim Fay, a former school principal, and Foster Cline, a child psychiatrist. “A short summary: Have logical consequences for misbehavior.”

According to the Love and Logic website, Children learn the best lessons when they're given a task and allowed to make their own choices (and fail) when the cost of failure is still small.

Thus it’s simple to see how bribery — in effect, incentivizing children to stop their bad behavior before consequences can materialize — runs counter to this approach.

Examining allowances

Higgins says this philosophy can extend to allowances and payments for chores as well. The Vouchercloud survey found that 77 percent of parents who give money provide their children a monthly allowance, and that 44 percent pay their children in exchange for chores. A 2013 study by MoneyRates.com also found that 87 percent of parents who pay their children an allowance expect them to earn it through chores.

“My view on money for children is that an allowance is to teach children how to manage money,” Higgins says. “I don't think it should be tied to chores. Chores are the children's contribution to a household, not something paid. However, I am OK with kids earning extra money by doing extra things.”

Higgins adds that it’s also OK to provide rewards when kids behave well – so long as the kids don’t come to expect them.

“Sometimes a parent is so happy when their kids are behaving well that they do special things,” Higgins says. “However, this is the parent’s choice and not to be expected by the child.”

While finding alternatives to bribery may prove challenging for some parents — particularly those who have used it in the past — the long-term consequences of bribery may ultimately cause them more heartache.

“Paying children for good behavior seems to create a sense of entitlement and an expectation they will always get money for good behavior,” says Higgins.

And, as most adults can attest, good behavior alone is no way to earn a dollar.

Robert Beaupre is a writer and editor for MoneyRates.com.

1. I know it. I Live it. I Love it.
Provo, UT,
Sept. 4, 2014

We all are in need of succor. We all get it. We have the responsibility to give it. We rely on the blessings we get from keeping commandments to strengthen our desire to keep them. Giving a full and honest tithing can bring financial security, even financial rewards in some cases, into people's lives.

I'm not sure about paying for good behavior, but I do believe in paying for work with an allowance and using that as a means of teaching financial responsibility. That's vital in a day when generations lack it so seriously.

I believe good behavior deserves a different reward, but it STILL deserves to be rewarded with blessings. If we don't provide blessings to those in our care or need, then we are doing a disservice to them.

2. MsStanley
Sewell/USA, NJ,
Sept. 7, 2014

Children behave well when it is expected, and when adults follow through with removing them if their behavior is poor. For example, I take my children to the library weekly. If their behavior is poor, they have one reminder of how they should behave, and if the poor behavior continues, we simply leave - without anything. I only had to do it once. The same goes for stores, parties, parks, etc... I have never had to bribe them to behave, because they understand that the reward for good behavior is to be able to participate and enjoy things. My husband and I agreed early on never to pay children for things they could not earn money for later in life. So, real chores earn money, while thing like brushing teeth or getting dressed do not. Far too many children have a weak work ethic as they grow into adults, because they have become used to earning money for nothing.

3. Dadof5sons
Montesano, WA,
Sept. 8, 2014

Out of all the years of being a parent I have never once given any of my children a cent for doing what they should already be doing, Now I have had one of my kids say but so and so's parents give them a alowance. My reply was that is their choice, do I or your mother get paid to feed you, house you, clothe you? No, we do it because 1 it is our respocability to do those things, 2 we do it out of love. We expect you to do your chores and help out in the home as well with no thought of reward. Being a member of the family should never be what is in it for me. You want money? go and mow lawns for your neighbors etc.... Raising my children that way has paid off well they have a work ethic. They know that being in a family is service not a job. Most of my children have worked and paid for their extra things they have from i-pods to missions. it has taught them how to save and how good it feels to earn something.

4. Dadof5sons
Montesano, WA,
Sept. 8, 2014

@ I know it,
Just a caveat to you. Teaching children to serve others in the family to make one another's burdens lighter should never be a here is 5 dollars for making your bed or doing the dishes... The blessings that come from that should be we worked in the garden now we get to enjoy the harvest. we keep our house clean and it invites the spirit in. when my children want the extras in life they did odd jobs to pay for those things and I taught them the law of tithing. by cashing my pay check breaking it down in front of them and showing where every dime goes. Telling them that is what is expected of them when they have a Job. No kid should ever just be given money for being a member of the family and serving their fellow family members. The blessings of that are far greater then a dollar amount and should be pointed out to them.