Why I Bribe My Children (and Don’t Feel Bad About It)


bribeBribe my kids? Yeah, I never thought I’d do it, either. But, in the hustle and bustle world in which I live, there is a lot that needs to be done every day. I have managed, I think, to fairly delegate some of the responsibilities to the other members of my household. But, there are times that I just can’t get to something (or I just don’t want to): enter the bribe. Ok, it’s not really a bribe all the time, but since it makes me feel like I am getting away with something, I call it that.

Last week, there were a pile of dishes that were my responsibility to clean up, and my refrigerator had quite a few science experiments hidden within its depths. I had a busy day ahead and the thought of tackling these things made me want to crawl back in bed. So I made the announcement, “If anyone wants to do the dishes for me or clean out the fridge for me, I will pay you.” I quickly got two takers, and when I returned from a few hours of playing taxi driver, both jobs had been completed. A calm quickly settled in my soul.

There are many times when my older children are home from college that I don’t want to get one of their siblings to or from an activity. Enter the bribe. “If you will go get so-and-so from soccer for me, I will give you gas money and you can stop and get a milkshake on your way home.” The milkshake is usually what seals the deal.

I use bribery for other things, as well. My son was recently competing in his end of season cross country meet. He hadn’t had the best year, mostly due to the fact that we had a very busy past few months and he had to miss a number of practices and meets as a result. I thought he could use some real motivation to push himself as even he admitted he hadn’t worked as hard as he had in the past. So right before the race, I offered him $1 for every five seconds he took off of his best time for the season. I thought I might be out five dollars, but, wouldn’t you know, he took my offer and ran with it, literally, and less than twenty minutes later, I was out $18 and he was only about fifteen seconds off his best time ever.

One of my children has been struggling horribly in school the past few years. Learning just doesn’t come easy for her, and she gets frustrated when things seem too hard. While getting her some after school tutoring helped, she needed something else to really push her up that long hill that was the upcoming school year. Over the summer, we made a wild agreement that for every trimester she made all A’s, I would pay for 1/3 of an expensive electronic device she wants more than anything in the world. I thought that there was no way this could happen, but was willing to do whatever it took to help her find her motivation to succeed. To my complete delight, she is currently making high honors and while her two lowest grades aren’t actually A’s, in some school districts they would be, so if she can keep things up, I told her with some minor modifications I would still honor my offer to her.

Now, I have never been one to “pay” my kids for good grades before. I have, on occasion, taken them out for a fun treat to celebrate a good report card, but money has never been involved. But to see a child who was previously struggling with her best academic grades being B’s, and her self-esteem was in the gutter as a result, working her backside off to get almost all A’s, it will be totally worth it.

There have been times that my bribes didn’t work. I made a similar agreement about grades with another child to get a game system he wanted, but that didn’t come to fruition. I have tried to bribe my oldest son into running an errand for me early in the morning and it just wasn’t enough to get him out of bed. My efforts to let another son have some things back that were taken away for some less than stellar behavior by keeping his room cleaned up has not come to pass. I’ve tried to bribe my children to try out new things that scare them and have been immediately shot down. But it doesn’t mean I won’t stop trying.

All of us need the proper motivation to do the hard stuff from time to time. We wouldn’t go to our jobs every day if we weren’t getting paid. We don’t always put forth our best effort if there is no ill consequence or payoff at the end. Human nature does not always allow us to do something for nothing. I believe a little bribery among family never hurt anyone – no harm, no foul, everyone wins.