Bad Mums’ Club: The Art Of Bribery


Gina Ford. Jo Frost. Heidi Murkoff. These people all have their own theories on how to best deal with your baby or child. They have pearls of wisdom about sleep training, controlled crying, routines, feeding on demand, behavioural issues and more. (Whether you choose to follow their advice is another matter altogether…) Strangely, though, none of them advocate my favourite method of parenting: bribery.

I am an unashamed fan of bribing my daughter. I use anything and everything I can – ice cream, use of the iPad, going swimming at the weekend, extra bedtime stories and the general vague promise of ‘doing something really fun tomorrow’. Basically, if it’s something she loves, it’s used to bribe her. And now that she is approaching four, I find myself turning to this method more and more, and in different ways…

Bribing her to behave

Take the other day, for example. She asked for an ice cream at the zoo. “If you’re a REALLY good girl all afternoon at the zoo, you can have an ice cream before we leave.” This was followed by gentle reminders every time she started to whine about her legs being tired/her arms being cold/her face paint rubbing off. “Remember, you need to be good if you want your ice cream….” In the end, she traded in her ice cream for a go on the bouncy castle (those fickle pre-schoolers!) but the bribery was still there. And she behaved… for the most part.

Bribing her to come somewhere boring with me

Last week, we were at the tail-end of a five hour car journey home from Wales. I’d dropped Mr P off in central London to meet friends for a drink (Partner Point: earned) and stopped off at Sainsbury’s to pick up some dinner for me and the small. Except she wouldn’t get out of the car. “No! I want to stay in the car and listen to Frozen!” she whined, not quite understanding that a three-year-old can’t just hang out in a car on her own. “Look, I’d love to leave you here, but it’s not really the done thing,” I joked. But despite my pleading, she point-blank refused to come. Until I used bribery. “Ooh I think they sell glitter in this shop,” I said brightly. “Shall we have a look and then when we get home, we can make glitter pictures?” (Clearly the LAST thing I want to be doing after a long journey home from Wales). But it worked, and she came with me into the shop. Win.

Bribing her to eat well

I can’t be the only parent of a three-year-old who just wants to eat sausages all day long? But that would clearly be mad (although in a real moment of weakness, whilst on holiday in Butlins recently, I did allow her to have sausages for breakfast, lunch AND tea. Don’t. I know. Annabel Karmel would have a fit). So I often bribe her to eat in a balanced way. “If you eat lots of your fish pie and peas, you can have some ice cream afterwards,” I’ll say. Sometimes we get desperate. “Right, for every mouthful of broccoli you have, you can have a chocolate raisin.”

Parenting experts say using bribery is a REALLY BAD THING TO DO. “Never use bribes or threats,” says the advice on the Supernanny website. “Instead, let your kids know the negative consequences of their actions, such as dirty clothes on the floor means no pretty party dress to wear to their friend’s birthday.” They quote a Dr Howard Sloane, educational psychologist and author of The Good Kid Book, who says, “The issue most ‘experts’ don’t explain is the difference between threats and appropriate consequences. Saying in advance, ‘If you clean your room you can watch telly,’ stresses that sometimes by not cleaning your room someone will later offer a bribe to clean it. Waiting until they clean their room and then offering it is much, much better.”

I can see Dr Sloane’s point but is it really such a bad tactic to use with your kids? As grown ups, we are often motivated by reward – we might work hard because our boss has hinted there’s a possible promotion on the cards. So is it really the worst thing to teach a kid?

Well apparently, there’s a slight knack in bribing a child in ‘a good way’. You promise them the treat when they’re behaving well, rather than when they’re having a tantrum/refusing to leave the house/shouting at you. Virginia Shiller, clinical psychologist and co-author of Rewards For Kids! Ready-to-Use Charts & Activities for Positive Parenting says, “Offer rewards for good behaviour before your child has a chance to misbehave. That way, you can feel fully in charge of the terms – both what you’re offering and what you’ll give it for – instead of making promises (sometimes outrageous ones!) out of mortification and desperation just to stop a public tantrum.”

Since I’m not quite ready to give up on bribery just yet, I’m going to take this advice and see where it leads us. Do you bribe your kids, or are you in utter shock, reading this because it’s the last thing you’d do?

  • This post is part of the Bad Mums’ Club – a series of posts by different bloggers on our ‘failings’ as mums. Of course, we know we’re not really bad parents, but sometimes it’s good for the soul to confess a little and share the not-so-perfect side of parenting. If you’re a blogger and have a post like this, link it up below and I’ll come read your post. If you’re not a blogger, you can access all of this month’s Bad Mums’ Club posts below and have a nice little read. Don’t forget to visit Morgana’s, Aimee’s and Katie’s blogs to read their Bad Mums’ Club posts!

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  1. July 7, 2014 / 7:22 am

    I’m a teacher of big kids and we do try and focus lots on ‘positive praise’. We realised that at our school all the dead naughty kids got treats when they behaved so the good kids missed out. So now we positive praise them too! Makes them even better behaved. I bribe my kids ALL THE TIME mainly to smile for photos. Oh and to go to bed. Mmmm and to tidy up. I call it a ‘sticker chart’ but we all know it’s choccys for being good xxx

    • Alison Perry
      July 7, 2014 / 10:04 am

      I use this tactic too – I’m always saying “WELL DONE!” when she does things well or shows kindness, or even just stops and listens to me. So important to get that correlation in their heads between action and praise and the feeling it gives them.

  2. July 7, 2014 / 7:36 am

    At 28 my husband often has to bribe me to do things – usually going shopping on a Saturday with 3 children in tow. All for the lure of not doing the washing up or him going to the shop for milk we’ve run out of! My kids have no hope if I’m still doing it now!!

    • Alison Perry
      July 7, 2014 / 10:02 am

      This made me laugh! You have him well trained 😉

  3. July 7, 2014 / 9:36 am

    bribery…well, don’t we all do it every now and then. Telling her about glitter in the shop to make her come along is not bribery in my book, that’s distracting her and making her realise it’s not all boring and bad and grown up in the supermarket. The tricky thing is that kids are really clever and I see many parents who have entangled themselves in the bribery web and the kids are in charge, refusing to do anything without a reward, it has become the norm. When I was pregnant my mum said the thing to do is to set strict rules from the start. From when our babies were half a year old and woke up at silly o clock in the morning, we would keep our voices down, lights off, just a quick cuddle and a whispered ‘it’s not time to wake up yet darling’ before we put them back in bed. We still do that, our days do not start before 6:45-7am, we will send them back to bed before that. Same with telly: no telly watching during the week, only for a really special treat or if they have been very busy, are extremely tired and can’t be motivated for anything else. Instead of bribery in a zoo, shopping centre or anywhere else we try to make it fun and entertaining for them, so we invent little games or stories, point out things and tell them why we like it and then it’s their turn to show something, let them make drawings in a little book of stuff they like, we skip together or race eachother to the end of the lion pit. And do that ice cream anyway, cause it’s a day out and that’s part of the fun. They know they DON’T have to start whining endlessly in order to get that treat as a bribe. In a supermarket or green grocer I let them do the trolley or wheely basket and let them get the milk on their own. They also like choosing the fruit and veg and talk about what we are going to cook, which things are good for you. it gives me a good idea what they feel like eating and it often surprises me it’s not just pizza and bolognese. We don’t do a reward system either, instead we do talk to them that it’s normal and nice to behave nicely, be polite and help out. Or we have a little chat with them how we think they should have done it, or could have done it, or make it more fun for themselves. And that it’s normal that they sometimes have to do something even if they don’t feel like it. I give examples like: do you think mama really feels like doing the dishes every day, or that it’s fun to clean the loo? Trust me, it doesn’t always work, but it’s a good start I think, it’s quite easy to maintain these sort of rules, cause they are really basic…and they are nice kids (most of the time).

    • Alison Perry
      July 7, 2014 / 10:01 am

      Ha ha – we do all of that stuff too. I guess it just goes to show all kids are different and how your kids respond to all of that fun stuff is different to how others will react. Luckily, my 3yo hasn’t ever behaved badly because she knows she’ll be bribed. Will she start doing that? Who knows! I’ll let you know….and then you can give me advice on how to get out of the vicious circle! 🙂

  4. July 7, 2014 / 10:21 am

    I have a two and a half year old and life feels like a sequence of bribery and negotiations sometimes. We go for positive praise too, of course, but you can’t always positively praise a toddler into the car! You are SO not alone.

  5. July 7, 2014 / 10:37 am

    Hahaha, thanks for the Monday morning laugh Alison :). Bribery all the way! ours is usually (ALWAYS) chocolate, oops. I think the real ‘art of bribery’ for me, is to delude myself into thinking that actually this is really ‘cool parent’ behaviour, my child thinks I’m uber cool (aka a walk over). oh well, C’est la vie!! Now, where’d i put that chocolate……

  6. July 7, 2014 / 11:40 am

    Bribery is my main *ahem only* means of aiding co-operation. I only find it works if the reward is visible and provided immediately – star charts are completely pointless here.
    Sometimes i think it helps to just try and see things from their point of view – i.e i would actually like to just east sausages all day too 😉 x

  7. July 7, 2014 / 12:00 pm

    If I didn’t bribe my girls we’d get nothing done….lol

  8. July 7, 2014 / 12:42 pm

    HA! I use bribery a lot. I often look down on myself, shake my head and say “what have you become?”

    But then there are times when we’re out for dinner, when I have bribed H with the pad and sausages and juice, and he sits there like an angel. When I look across the restaurant and see an Apocalypse Now style show across the restaurant. Toddlers on floors. Parents staring into the walls wishing they could disappear. People evil-ing me across the room.

    And I think – well bribery isn’t so bad really is it?


  9. July 7, 2014 / 1:20 pm

    If it wasn’t for bribery my son wouldn’t ever let me wash his hair, wouldn’t eat anything and wouldn’t ever go to bed. I’d also need to spend my days drinking gin under a table! Sometimes the promise of chocolate makes the world a better place for everyone 😉 x

  10. July 7, 2014 / 5:09 pm

    My boys have been raised on bribery. It has got more expensive tho. It cost me an xbox game this weekend.

  11. July 7, 2014 / 5:37 pm

    Love this and even though I was a gina ford parent with my first we have resorted to bribery most of the time now. I love this and we can relate to all of this. So right. Great post hunny!!!

  12. July 7, 2014 / 7:10 pm

    I used to be a parenting support worker (I know!) and we cleverly re-named bribery – ‘rewarding’ as you’re doing it after after or while they are being good not just giving them something they want to try and make them behave. So in my book you can ‘bribe’ away 😉

  13. July 7, 2014 / 9:46 pm

    I try not to do it, but I think everyone resorts to this at least once in my parenting life. I know I’m guilty of this now and again!

  14. July 7, 2014 / 10:59 pm

    All I can say is, thank God for Christmas! I think my four (nearly five) year old would still be sucking a dummy 24/7 without that big man in a red suit. 😉 #badmumsclub

  15. July 8, 2014 / 9:41 am

    Bribery is an essential tool in my mum bag! Sometimes it’s the only way to get some peace. Haha. 🙂 #badmumsclub

  16. July 8, 2014 / 12:47 pm

    It’s not REALLY bribery, it’s survival. Total necessity.

  17. The art of bribery ey, sadly we are in this club too, seem to doing a good job of it too! Oops should I say that. I really do try not to do it as often but he gets me when i’m tired and I give in! #UpAllHours

  18. July 17, 2014 / 1:17 pm

    I love a bit of bribery! It makes for a win / win situation really doesn’t it!

  19. August 27, 2014 / 3:20 pm

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