The Power of Rewards (AKA In Which I Bribe My Kids to Behave…)

I don’t know if bribing is good or bad in the Parenting 101 handbook, but I’ve been doing a lot of it lately and I gotta say – it works 😂

Three examples:

#1. “If you don’t cry at drop off for a *month* I will buy you whatever you want!” – I blurted this out over dinner one night (one too many whiskeys), and my 4 year old’s eyes lit up like it was Xmas Eve… He’d been having trouble getting into preschool each morning (he LOVES it there but for some reason cries as soon as I’m about to leave him) and everything we’ve tried up to that point wasn’t working…

“I can get anyyyyyyything???” he says with a sly grin. “Yup, anything! Within reason!!” I start backpeddling, lol… “Okay, deal.”

And just like that it was on… Which a) surprised the crap out of me because it’s been such A THING lately and there’s no way this silly little trick was gonna work, right?, and b) I started to get nervous because all of a sudden I had promised him a big, probably expensive, prize, haha… But I knew he couldn’t ask for anything too crazy ‘cuz his imagination isn’t as developed as his older brothers’, and a few minutes later I was put to ease when he came back with, “I want a giant squishmallow.”


[A giant squishmallow – adorable, cuddly, under $40!]

Examples #2. and #3. Upon hearing this interaction and the joy emanating from little bro’s face, the two older bros wanted in on the action and promptly asked what challenge they can do too for a prize. I thought about the different areas they were currently struggling with, and came up with their respective challenges:

For older bro #1 (8 y/o): He has to go an entire month eating whatever we serve up for dinner that night – and not complain about it. We’d gotten into the bad habit of preparing him something different on nights he didn’t like what we were serving (a major fail on OUR part, of course, probably due to bad memories of our own childhoods of “if you don’t like it, starve!” LOL) and before we could get into more of the details he quickly complied, “I’m in.” And deal #2 was made.

This time, however, I was smart enough to put a cap on the prize FIRST ($50), to which he said he’d let us know later what he wanted so he can enjoy all the possibilities first… Something his old man likes to do too ;) (So far he’s considered PokΓ©mon cards, Robux credit, a music player he can have all to himself, and most recently a drone after a Target visit – the place where all dreams come true)

As for the oldest boy, 10 y/o Not-So-Baby Penny who’s perfect in almost every single way (I’m allowed to say that because I’m his dad!) the challenge tailored to him was to go a whole month *without asking any questions he already knows the answers to*, or those he can easily figure out if he thinks hard enough.

He’s currently at that stage of asking never ending questions, one after another after another – which is fine! We encourage curiosity in our house! – but many of them we’ve noticed don’t really need to be asked if he just took a few seconds to think about it first. And if he catches himself before we can answer his questions, it doesn’t count – that way he’s got some wiggle room since admittedly he’s got more opportunity to fail than his brothers who only have to overcome their bad habits *once* each day. We also put the cap at $50 for him too, though interestingly he hasn’t even so much as *hinted* to what he wants in the end so I’m super curious to what’s brewing in there!!

But we’re now into week #4 of them all, and if you can believe it – everyone’s on track to get their prizes!! A fall miracle!!

budget boys

Baby Dime hasn’t shed a single tear in three and a half weeks, much to the shock – and joy – of his teachers (they asked me what the trick was and thought it was hilarious when I told them I cheated and bribed him, lol…), Baby Nickel has eaten every single thing we’ve put on his plate so far, even if it takes him longer to finish than the rest of us, and Not-So-Baby Penny has since been learning how to answer his own questions in his head, saving everyone in the household major sanity ;)

I can’t tell you how proud of them I am. And of myself for coming up with the genius plan, hahaha…

Really goes to show how powerful rewards can be, though, both mentally and physically. All three of them had said over and over again how hard it is to overcome this stuff and that they “just can’t do it” before the challenges, yet here we are weeks later and they’re just breezing through it!! It was all in their head!! And of course ultimately I’m hoping it sticks WELL AFTER the deadline which was my ultimate motive for it all. Outside of just having some peace and quite for a little bit ;)

Here are some of the key parts I think that have made this so successful – in case you want to try it out in your household ;)

  1. Pick things that can go on to become better *habits*
  2. Pick things that are *doable* for each of them specifically (all 3 of my kids were saying “how easy” each others’ missions were, but that’s only of course because they’ve mastered ’em already! The point is to overcome their unique struggles, which will be different for each kid)
  3. Pick things that really annoy you/the entire family! lol…
  4. Put in the clause – “if you miss a day, the clock starts over”

I can’t tell you how often that last one comes up in conversation ;) It serves as a perfect back up motivator on days when you think they may slip up!

We also incorporated some general leeway for each of them too, depending on the circumstance. For example, when my 8 y/o got sick he could “pause” the mission until he was feeling better, and for the oldest boy as I mentioned he was able to “take back” his question if he catches himself before we answer it. But for the most part this “clock starting over” clause has been enough to keep them all on track so far…

It’s also important to know *what* exactly motivates them too.

Some are excited over candy, others want cash, and then there’s the rare ones who just yearn for the inherent rewards of personal satisfaction ;) Candy and money bribes did *not* work in my case (nor the personal satisfaction – they laughed in my face when I brought that up!), but turns out the “world of possibilities” under a certain amount did motivate them enough to take action. All of which not being that different for us adults.

Oh, and here’s one more silly example of the power of rewards:

book find rewardSo cash hasn’t lost its edge entirely! Lol… Different situations call for different rewards ;)

What type of challenges are you currently working on? What are the rewards you have set up for yourself?

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  1. Rita October 27, 2022 at 5:39 AM

    You are so fortunate to have three great boys. They are really rising to the occasion to get their rewards. Congratulations to all of you.

    1. J. Money October 27, 2022 at 9:41 AM

      Thank you, Rita! They sure do make life more interesting ;)

  2. FIRE Foreigner October 27, 2022 at 6:11 AM

    Challenge is trying to cook daily by myself and reward is getting myself more expensive but more delicious groceries. Haven’t eat out for about a month and feel great.

    1. J. Money October 27, 2022 at 9:43 AM

      Oh wow – LOVE that reward!! And mission really – such a good habit to get into and seems like it’s sticking! I went on a binge last year to help my wife out more with dinners but sadly it only lasted a few months… Good reminder to get back into it, thx!

  3. Tracy October 27, 2022 at 8:24 AM

    Oh we are jealous! My bribe backfired on me. There was a specific LEGO set our 9 year old wanted and since he usually chooses ones that are no longer available I snapped it up and tried to use it to motivate him to work on a specific action over the summer. Somehow I still have that unopened LEGO set staring at me because he didn’t make it one full month over the course of summer break with his challenge. I need a better bribe!

    Good on you though. We are big believers in rewards for good behavior.

    1. Kitty October 27, 2022 at 9:04 AM

      My 14 yo son thinks school is stupid. He’d rater get a job because if he’s going to “waist his time” he might as well get paid. I now pay him $2 a day to attend school. It’s pocket money I would have given him anyway…

      1. J. Money October 27, 2022 at 9:46 AM

        @Kitty: Okay wow – you son is too smart for his own good haha… Going to have to hide this comment from my own kids so they don’t get any funny ideas ;)

    2. J. Money October 27, 2022 at 9:44 AM

      @Tracy: HAH! At least you tried!! Always interesting to see what works out and what doesn’t in the end :) maybe you can give the LEGOs to someone for their birthday or something haha…

  4. Amanda October 27, 2022 at 9:49 AM

    It’s funny this hit my inbox this morning. Just last night I bribed my son to practice his trumpet. We’re starting low. Every day he has to practice at least 10 minutes – with a witness as he’s unfortunately discovered an ease with lying to get his way. If he has at least a 90% completion rate after one month, I will take him to the Science Center and pay for time on the VR simulator. We also discussed little weekly rewards like Sour Patch Kids. Fingers crossed!

    1. J. Money October 28, 2022 at 6:53 AM

      “with a witness”

  5. Financial Fives October 27, 2022 at 1:48 PM

    I think the next step for you is to come up with a Parenting Book for FIRE haha, these are funny yet impactful points and I’m sure they will grow up to be wise young adults!

    1. J. Money October 28, 2022 at 6:57 AM

      Haha, thanks :) I really am proud of them – they’re great kids. Just being picky with things!

  6. Joe October 27, 2022 at 2:33 PM

    I will try this with my daughters this week and see if it works in November.

    1. J. Money October 28, 2022 at 6:58 AM

      Excellent!! What challenge are you going for?

  7. melissa hunter November 2, 2022 at 10:42 AM

    On the fence on this one. What are you teaching your kids? That if they do things they should be doing anyway for a set period time, they get rewarded. This is not how life works. What happens when that behaviour stops? Are you going to up the bribe or just let it go? On the other side, we all reward ourselves for hitting a goal, whether it’s a nice meal, a new jacket or some other trinket, so are you bribing or rewarding?

    You don’t get rewarded at work for showing up on time for a month or paying your rent on time. You don’t get rewarded for being an adult and acting as adults should. I am not sure how you teach the intrinsic value of a job well done.

    I am happy this is working for your kids at this stage, just wondering about the consequences down the road. there is no one right way to raise kids!

    1. J. Money November 2, 2022 at 12:50 PM

      Yeah, it’s all really an experiment as there is no official “how to raise kids” handbook, lol… But considering how successful they’ve been in keeping it all up now afterwards (2 of the three have turned it into a HABIT – which is what we were going for!) I’m going to call it a success ;) Worse thing I figured they just milk us for the prize and go back to their old ways, but even then we’d get some nice reprieve! And since this was the first go at it in their 10, 8 and 4 years living on earth I figured it was worth trying it out… But if I find later it all backfired and we’ve now raised brats I’ll be the first to come back and share it as I’m def. known to be wrong some times :) Time will tell!


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