“Billy, if you behave yourself in the store, you can pick out one toy.”

How many times have you heard a parent saying something like this? If you’re a parent yourself, odds are you’ve probably struck a similar deal with your kids—probably more than once. Bribing children for good behavior is a common parenting ploy. Whether a kid is actively throwing a temper tantrum or you dread one is on the horizon, what’s the harm of offering a little incentive to get the behavior you want?

No matter how well-intentioned, however, bribing a child can produce some negative consequences.

Bribing teaches children that the only value in good behavior is the reward they will receive for it. This fails to teach responsibility and respect. Additionally, the more you bribe a child, the more that child will expect to be bribed in the future. Where does it end? Before you know it, you could end up having to bribe your kid just to get out of bed and go to school.

What about rewards? Rewards differ from bribing because they occur after a kid does something right. Instead of bargaining for good behavior with the promise of a reward, parents present a reward after good behavior has been demonstrated unprompted. The jury is out on whether rewarding children is a good idea. Some think rewards offer positive reinforcement. Others believe that rewards, like bribes, teach children to value the material compensation they get for doing the right thing rather than recognizing the intrinsic value of a job well done.  The ultimate goal is to teach your children to do what’s right even when they receive nothing in return.

So, other than bribes and rewards, what’s a parent to do?

Teaching your child the value in good behavior starts with positive feedback. Praising a child is often the best reward a parent can give because children crave approval. Try to “catch” your child doing something right like being kind to a sibling or cleaning up after himself, and let him know that good behavior did not go unnoticed.

Make sure your kid knows why a behavior is good or bad. Explain the value in respecting others, eating vegetables, paying attention in school and other expected behaviors. Describe both short-term and long-term consequences of bad behavior.

Additionally, it’s important that parents model good behavior for their children. If you raise your voice when you get frustrated, that teaches your child to do the same. Demonstrating patience, active listening, empathy and respect towards others (including your child) will help spark the same qualities in your child.

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