RewardsHeather Brown of WCCO-TV recently asked me whether it’s OK to bribe your kids to get good behavior for her “Good Question” segment.

I think it’s a good question, too, and would love your opinion! When you give your child an incentive i.e. reward to behave well, does it feel like a “bribe?” Please share your comments below!

Here’s my take on the subject of “bribes.”

First of all, I would never use the word “bribe.” I prefer to use the words positive reinforcement, incentives or rewards. As a parent, you’re trying to shape behavior. When your child gets dressed on time in the morning, you say, “Good job. Thanks for getting dressed on time.”

When your kids complete their homework, you let them watch TV or play with a friend.

When you’re potty-training your child, you give them an M&M after they use the toilet.

Are these “bribes” or are you using “positive reinforcement?”

Think back to Psychology 101.

Let’s look at the definition of positive reinforcement: “when you give a reinforcing stimulus following a behavior it makes it more likely that the behavior will occur again in the future. When a favorable outcome, event, or reward occurs after an action, that particular response or behavior will be strengthened.” (

In other words, when you see your child being good, you either praise the behavior or you give the child something that motivates the child to repeat the good behavior again.  For this to be effective reinforce the behavior as soon as possible when the child as behaved well.

It’s human nature that we respond better to incentives rather than to punishments. So, what’s the harm in that? There’s no harm, really, unless you overdo it.

I recommend that you use praise and rewards sparingly. As a rule, we want kids to feel an “intrinsic” motivation (engaging in a behavior because it is personally rewarding; essentially, performing an activity for its own sake rather than the desire for some external reward) rather than an “extrinsic” motivation (when you are motivated to perform a behavior or engage in an activity in order to earn a reward or avoid a punishment).

So when your kids complete a chore, for instance, you want them to feel like they’re contributing to the family, that they’ve completed a task successfully and can take pride in their work, rather than doing it because they get paid to do it. Or when your child gets a good grade on a test, you want them to know that it’s because of their hard work and studying practices that they earned a good grade, rather than wanting money for the grade.

I rarely recommend paying kids for behavior. The only exception I can think of is if they do extra time-consuming chores for your family such as mowing the lawn, shoveling the driveway or doing the laundry.

And the only exception I would make for rewarding with food would be when potty training. In other circumstances, you want kids to eat because they’re hungry, because food gives them energy and because it tastes good, not because it’s a reward for behaving a certain way.

Be sure to leave your thoughts below and if you’d like to watch my interview with Heather, you can see it here:

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