Will Bribing Spoil Your Baby?

By Beth Weinhouse

Shared by Jeremy and Lauren
Conventional wisdom has it that bribing is a bad parenting tactic. Maybe so, but I've yet to find a parent who hasn't resorted to it.

When children are babies, I'm not even sure you can call it bribing, since babies can't really understand the concept. As for me, I preferred to call it "distracting." Baby is having a meltdown while you're trying to talk to a friend in a coffee bar? I, like most mothers, have handed my little one a small toy that makes noise and voila! Instant quiet baby.

The debate about bribing becomes more relevant as children grow. Some people say that bribing a child simply rewards bad behavior, and doesn't teach valuable lessons about self-control.

Honestly, it's all a matter of degree. I chose not to use bribes -- or, as I preferred to call them later, rewards -- for things that I believed my son should be motivated to do on his own, such as chores or grades.

But other areas were fuzzier. For instance, my son went through a phase where he refused to try on any new clothes. But I needed to know what fit him, what he'd outgrown, what needed to be returned to the store. So, shameful confession here, I instituted a reward system: trying on a shirt or a sweater got him his favorite treat. He was helpless to resist, and all clothes were tried on as soon as I requested it. And if you're wondering whether he still requires treats to try on new clothes, the answer is absolutely not!

Bribes -- or distractions or rewards -- are powerful motivators for children. And it's perfectly okay to use them in moderation. The trick is to spend those limited bribes wisely.

Beth Weinhouse is an award-winning journalist who specializes in writing about parenting issues and women's health. She's been an editor at Ladies' Home Journal and Parenting magazines, and her work has appeared in dozens of consumer magazines and websites.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.