Is it OK to bribe your children?


Because I totally do. I hold my hands up in the air and bow my head in shame.
I am a chocoholic and I have an insatiable sweet tooth.
And I fear I am passing my affliction on to my children.

Recently I gave up refined sugar (no choc, no sweets, no cake, no biscuits – I was such fun to live with!) for Lent and boy was it an eyeopener.
I felt lethargic, I felt heavy headed. I totally did not feel myself.
But after a couple of weeks I started to feel great. Energetic, less moody, less fuzzy headed.

At the end of the 40-day trial, I ate a KitKat. After being off the crap for 3 weeks I felt like a chocolate monster had broken into my house, grabbed me by the hair and spun me around for a couple of minutes, then forced cotton wool into any available space in my head and proceeded to jump up and down on it for an hour.

If chocolate and ‘sweet’ stuff makes me feel that bad, I absolutely don’t want that for my children.

We have a Friday is treat day in this house and they’re pretty good about it on the whole but they are force fed rubbish whenever they visit grandma/nana/someone has a birthday at school/nursery.

They do eat really healthily. They actually request veggies for dinner and will snack on fruit and drink water.
But they do eat some rubbish too.

So, with all this in mind, I have made a bargain with Dan: If he gives up all treats for a week – 7 days – I will give him £1.
(It will actually be 2 weeks as Friday is treat day so he’ll miss this one and have to wait for the next one, but sshhh don’t tell).

His face lit up like I’d told him Santa is moving in to the house next door and we shook on it (he’s going through a money phase at the moment. If he asks to count the jar of coppers that props open the door one more time . . .)

Anyway, the point is I feel I’m going about this entirely the wrong way and I’m looking for pointers. What do you do to limit the crap?

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40 Responses to Is it OK to bribe your children?

  1. The wife of bold says:

    Bribe them all the way, and don't sweat the small stuff it sounds like you have it sorted. If they will request veggies and eat fruit and water for snack then i think your doing fine. My younger three are great at eating all their veg and fruit but my eldest is a real fussy eater and has a sweet tooth – and refuses to eat any veg other than broccoli.

  2. SandyCalico says:

    It's so tricky. My toddler's grandma couldn't wait to give him 'proper' biscuits and chocolate, she can't understand why he likes rice cakes! We only let him have the occasional treat at her house.Our whole lives are made up of bribes, e.g. If I walk up the hill without stopping this week I'll have that last Magnum when I get in!!Sounds like you're doing a great job 🙂

  3. kim-kiddycat says:

    Bribes are there to be utilized – whats the point otherwise of having them….Bribe away without the guilt, we are all going to do it anyway so why not enjoy it!kim –

  4. Mrs OMG Pregnant says:

    I dont have kids (yet – but it wont be long!) but it sounds to me you're doing a fine job … if they are snacking on fruit and requesting water and veg then that surely is an achievement! Being force fed crap from others is a mare, but what can you do? I think the risk is to make food an issue, whatever type of food it is, I think that causes problems. If that makes sense…

  5. TMWW says:

    I think you are doing fine hon. I have "bribed" my children on more than one occasion and the outcome was always good. After doing without it for a certain amount of time, they will lose the "taste" for it and when offered will ultimately turn it down. I had to wean my kids off Kool-Aid for awhile. They were turning into monsters from all of that sugar. When I did allow them to have it again, I cut the recommended sugar to add to it by more than half. Instead of the two cups for a gallon, they only get 3/4 cup of sugar. They have adusted to the taste and I am slowly and gradually adding more water drinking into their daily thirst quenchers. My kids would NEVER drink water before. They would rather die than drink plain water. Now they are asking for water instead of something else, which is great! I'll have them completely and totally weened off the Kool-Aid in no time.

  6. Metropolitan Mum says:

    Tara, thanks for the idea. I have to make a note somewhere to copy your educational wisdom once the time has come :-)Little L is not yet old enough to be bribed in style, but I guess Gina Ford would go mental if she knew I sometimes nurse my little darling to sleep, if the situation requires it. Isn't that bribing as well? Sometimes reasoning gets you nowhere. If I think about it, not even with grown ups. You (like in you and me) need an additional insentive to give up the crap. The scales pointing South and better health is not enough. It's looking great, fitting into that dress or looking fab on vacation. If someone would offer you 100 pounds a week for each pound lost, wouldn't you go for it and think of it as a great idea? So ultimately you are doing your son a big favour.

  7. Potty Mummy says:

    Bribes work, I couldn't live without them, and it really sounds as if your kids view sweets etc the right way but I just wonder; if you take them off the menu completely won't they then become a comfort treat when they are old enough to get their hands on them? I only say this because I was brought up in a more or less sweet-free house and now, the moment I want to reward myself, or conversely am feeling down, angry, out of sorts, am celebrating, you name it, what do I want to reach for? It's not piece of fruit, that's for sure. So I'm trying the 'everything in moderation' approach with my boys. It's not working of course. They're just as addicted to sugar as I am.Must be genetic.

  8. It's a difficult one. My daughter (nearly 6) loves chocolate and probably eats too much of it. I warn her it can cause tooth decay but I haven't mentioned anything about fat and don't want to. I just try to keep an eye on it and if she's really had to much I flatly refuse to let her have any more. I keep it out of reach as well. When she gets older I'll talk to her more about healthy eating. I wouldn't worry about it too much. I certainly don't!

  9. Tara says:

    @ Mrs OMG Pregnant: Honestly, i remember thinking how giving birth and bringing a newborn home was stressful, but it never ever stops!You're doing the right thing by learning from all our mistakes! You'll be a fabulous mother.@ TMWW: Thanks so much for the vote of confidence. I like the idea of watering down their Kool-Aid getting them to adusted to the taste. Very smart. @ The wife of bold: Broccoli's good! Or trees as my 3 year old calls them. Mummy can we have trees and seaweed (sliced green beans) for tea. People in the supermarket must think I'm nuts!@ Metropolitan Mum: "Sometimes reasoning gets you nowhere" – I do actually really try to explain to them that treats are fine and it's ok to have them but there are consequences and as long as they know about them and can make that decision as they are growing up then I'll be happy. Dan asked how a dentist puts a filling in your tooth recently and nearly flipped when I told him. Especially the injection part. Put him off the revolting sweet lolly someone had put in his school book bag that day. Of course the next time there was a grotty jelly sweet thing in his bag he'd totally forgotten about it! @ SandyCalico: What is it with grandmas? "You can have this giant chocolate bar that's actually bigger than you, and let's not tell mummy and daddy."Grrr!@ kim-kiddycat: "Bribe away without the guilt" – I'm doing my best. I'll be broke by the end of the month though if I keep giving away money like this.@ Potty Mummy: You are absolutely right. Wise wise words that I really need to be told. I'm a rewarder too. Bad day? Bar (I know I know) of Green & Blacks. Fed up? Malteesers with a cup of tea. Angry with the world? Vat of chocolate big enough to dunk myself in. . .@ rosiescribble: I honestly wonder how they manage to eat so much. Why do they never ever feel sick? Do we not gain that gag reflex until our teens?But you're absolutely right about the 'fat' thing. I try to tell my two about how it's bad for your teeth and bad for your health and you want to be fit and healthy and be able to beat mummy at tig one day don't you . . .

  10. Lisa (Jonny's M says:

    I try to substitute some of the sweets with fruits like grapes and strawberries. Sometimes it works…sometimes it doesn't and mommy ends up eating the chocolate. Oh dear.

  11. Single Parent Dad says:

    My policy is he can have crap as long as he has consumed enough balanced stuff, and that his teeth are brushed.

  12. Littlemummy says:

    I'm with SPD it all depends on what else has been consumed.

  13. New Mummy says:

    I think bribing is a great idea! I almost had a fight with a woman at the BBQ we were at yesterday because I didn't want my 7 month old to have birthday cake!!! I want to keep her off sweets, cakes etc for aslong as I can

  14. Turf Dad says:

    We have a very sophisticated bribing system in place at our house.We make coupons with prizes on them. These are prizes we as parents can live with. Examples- 1.Buy something from the ice cream man 2. Stay up 30 minutes past bedtime 3. A friend can sleep over 4. Go to the library with mom and pick out a book.In Dan's case, he would get to pull a coupon out of a hat after he completed his end of the bargan. (There are 10 coupons in our hat.)He wouldn't know what he was getting until he opened the envelope with the coupon in it. We like to pretty up the envelope so it seems like they are opening a present.Then he would get to hold on the coupon and redeem it whenever he wants. We let Alissa save them, and if she wants, she can turn in 10 unused coupons for a bigger prize.We are usually targeting bad behaviors when we use this approach. Maybe arguing with her brother or interupting her parents.We never take coupons away and there is no punishment for not getting a coupon, other than not getting a coupon.It has been very fun and effective for us.

  15. Expat mum says:

    To Potty's point – I was brought up virtually without sweets and have no sweet tooth whatsoever. (I don't think it has an influence either way.) It would never occur to me to treat or comfort myself with sweet stuff. Cheese perhaps.

  16. vered says:

    Bribe is a great tool. Seriously. I use it too. "they are force fed rubbish whenever they visit grandma/nana/someone has a birthday at school/nursery." EXACTLY and it drives me crazy.

  17. A Lawyer Mom's says:

    Tara, it's all in how you frame the issue. Is it "bribing" or is it "behavior modification through better nutrition"?I always save your blog for last because, for some reason, after I leave a comment, my computer starts opening about a thousand windows of your blog page. Weird.But here's my tip for getting rid of sugar guilt: 1 pckg. carob chips8 tablespoons of peanut butter (give or take)1/2 cup roasted wheat germMelt the carob chips, stir in the peanut butter and wheat germ. Fill muffin tin ('til the muffin round is about as thick as a Reese's peanut butter cup). Chill concoction in fridge until firm. Serve your homemade Reese's PB cups and watch your children devour them.There may be calories in this recipe, but you'll find NO guilt.

  18. Meredith @ thinkthin says:

    You're not bribing – you're incentivising. 😀 Now doesn't that sound much better? As always it's about balance balance balance. Teaching kids about nutrition without making them obsessive about food is important. Sounds like you're doing exactly the right things.

  19. Liz@Violet Posy says:

    I 'incentivise'…ok bribe. But it works, DD is a stubborn little lovely and shouting sorry reasoning doesn't always work so we've gone that direction. It seems to work well and everyone's happy 🙂 Don't feel bad – your doing it for the right reasons, you want your children to be healthy xx

  20. Vodka Mom says:

    whoever said bribery doesn't work has never worked with children. Bribe away………..

  21. Writer Dad says:

    Bribes work for me, sometimes on a daily basis.

  22. Perfectly Happy Mum says:

    I am a firm believer that if you withdraw all the sweet and naughty completely, the minute they are able to have it, they do it in excess. It is all about developing taste for the "forbidden fruit" kind of story. My kids are still really young so I don't tend to buy anything "naughty" but lets face it, they will be exposed to chocolate and crisps at some point in time. Like Potty mummy, I grew up in a house where sweets and fizzy drinks were non existent, and as a result I do not think of buying any of this ever. I actually often miss the sweet aisle, not on purpose, just because I don't feel the need to go in. On the opposite my sister spend a huge amount of time at her friend's house when she was growing up, and this friend had cupboard full of sweets and biscuits. I don't know if it is a result of this but she is the same and when you get to her house there is always something sweet somewhere. Now is it because of that? I am not sure…As for bribery, I actually don't bribe that much… yet!I can feel it coming… slowly creeping in! I caught myself saying "you see this chocolate button? Do you want it? Well you will if you STOP RUNNING AWAY WHEN I CALL YOU AND ESPECIALLY IN THIS CARPARK!!!" It worked, so I am afraid to say that I might have to revert to bribery in extreme cases…

  23. Tara says:

    @ Lisa (Jonny's Mommy): Mummy's always eating chocolate in this house so nothing new there! I'm sure my two think it's one of the essential food groups. @ Single Parent Dad/Little Mummy: And that's a mighty find policy. Trouble is with my son, he can pack away an awful lot of food and then still want a bar of Dairy Milk to follow. He's a strip of nothing too – good job he never stops… @ New Mummy: Forcefed birthday cake? I'm wondering if that happened in my past to make me surch a sweet thingsaholic! My son probably didn't have much sweet stuff until he hit 5 and the party season kicked in – then the crap they dish out is unavoidable!@ Turf Dad: I think that is a brilliant idea and I'm pinching it and telling the hubby that I thought it up myself and aren't I a really clever mummy? Cheers. @ Expat mum: Cheese! My mum's big downfall. And red wine, but she claims that has no calorific value!@ vered: My biggest bugbear are the treats they come home with from school. They just get put in their bookbag and I have no control over when it's eaten. Unless of course I go to the school and tell them not to give my son any of the treats handed out and how popular will that make me!

  24. Tracy says:

    I bribe my kids, too, but instead of presenting it as payment for not having sweets, I give them (the older ones) money and give them the choice of either buying sweets/junk with it, some crappy toy now or saving it for something good down the road.The thing is, I have to live with them making the "wrong" choice a few times, but gradually they come around to realizing that 5 minutes of happiness from a candy, or 1 hour of happiness from a crappy dollar toy would be better put off to get something of real value down the line.I think you're doing a great job!

  25. Maternal Tales says:

    Firstly is is soooo not wrong to bribe your children – it is a necessity…Secondly – I sometimes wonder why my children are jumping off the walls and then I look down and see the chocolate wrappers strewn about the place and put two and two together. Have been meaning to do something about it, but I am a bit of a chocoholic myself and can't quite do it yet!!! And thirdly, there's an award for you over at mine x

  26. Patricia says:

    I had to use a great deal of bribery to get my youngest child to focus and complete her tasks – she does not know how to save anything and still needs bribery at 23…but we got her through college and focused her skills into a competent package…It will be nearly impossible to teach her about satisfaction that comes from within…a lesion in long term memory teaches us a great deal about money and moral lessons…I highly recommend reading the pediatrician Dr. Kessler – The End of Overeating…it is about conditioning our children – it is very scary stuff…in a short easy to read book…short…vital book…just ask yourself will my child have type II diabetes by the time he is 18 instead of 65…? It is the most honest book I have every read…

  27. Reasons to be Cheerf says:

    I'm not a good one to comment. But I never let that stop me! Mainly cos I think mine eat a bit too much sweet stuff on the whole. Trouble is they always want forbidden fruit so making too much of it tends to back fire I think- so I usually just try and make sure it's balanced with lots of good stuff and they do plenty of exercise to burn it off.

  28. PippaD says:

    Hello! I left an award for you over at mine…

  29. I tend to limit sweeets (though no am worried about Potty's comment) but also bribe with other things, like magazines from the shop.It's a hard one because why should we have to bribe. Shouldn't they just be obedient like quiet Edwardian children?

  30. Kool Aid says:

    Tara: Sometimes I feel guilty for bribing them, too, but other times the "talk" of making good choices just doesn't fly. I say go for it.Turf Dad: I love, love, love that coupon idea! Hope you don't mind me stealing it.

  31. Really Rachel says:

    I'm soooo glad to read your post and all these comments. I too was wondering if it is ok to bribe (sorry – incentivise!) my children. It does seem to work well and now I feel so much better about it!

  32. Jo Beaufoix says:

    Mine have two sweetie days a week where they get to choose something. They do have occasional stuff inbetween but as long as they eat the good stuff too I don't mind too much. I'm a complete chocoholic too and have suffered for it so I don't want this for my two either. It's hard to find the right balance sometimes but worth it. And bribery is so allowed.

  33. clareybabble says:

    I don't have set treat days but I believe moderation is key. The other day I bought strawberries and cream and my 3 year old thought that was the best treat ever! Teaching him that fruit is a treat (which it is sometimes as fruit can be so expensive!) was the best thing I ever did, although he has inherited my sweet tooth and can't resist a bit of chocolate or cake 😉

  34. Sparx says:

    I have to admit, I am using chocolate to bribe my two year old to poo on the toilet. He was so cute; he would try to get chocolate for having a wee and then laugh when I said no because he was just trying it on.

  35. Adrenalynn says:

    Oh, don't even get me started on aunts, uncles, grandparents and great-grandparents stuffing the kids with sweets. Especially when the kids would rather eat fruit if they were offered. Family's a curse sometimes.And the bribing sounds super effective. I'll remember that for when mine get old enough to understand money 😛

  36. iota says:

    I'm on a no-refined-sugar diet for health reasons for a few weeks, and like you, it's been a complete eye-opener, in terms of what I used to think was acceptable and what I now think of as acceptable.My kids eat fairly healthily, or so I thought, but the trouble is, the norm is so very low, (especially for us over here in middle America), that what I used to think of as "fairly healthy", I now realise just isn't good enough. But I don't want to give them huge anxiety over food, and I don't want to make it difficult for them to be among other kids (teachers regularly give out sweets here, there are treats for any child's birthday in the classroom, Christmas and Hallowe'en are obscene, drinking coke is the norm, I could go on and on). I don't know what the answer is. I don't think bribery is ideal, but I don't know what else to do. I suppose I'm where you are. It might help you to know that my oldest is 12, and is now concerned to be a healthy eater for himself. So with him, it is less a question of finding a way to motivate him, and more a question of helping him understand what healthy eating is, and helping him overcome his naturally sweet tooth and dislike of fruit and veg. (With the younger two, we're still at the how-to-motivate stage.)

  37. Who knows Tara whether bribing is right or wrong. I certainly do it. And since my child has been at school she eats a huge amount of rubbish. I need to reign it in. But as one parent said to me, when I was complaining that my littlest daughter could survive on a diet of sausages and mini cheddars alone if she was given the choice (luckily she isn't), the parent replied, we buy the food therefore we decide what they eat. So, if we don't but any 'treats' for them to eat, they don't have them. But then, that means no treats for mummy too, how could you possibly eat a choccie bar in front of the kids. Then it becomes something forbidden – like the forbidden fruit. Soooo, basically, I have no idea. We have a treat cupboard and my kids eat far too much chocolate. I think I should just stop buying it.

  38. iota says:

    Sorry to come back to this, but I've been doing a lot of reading recently around the whole diet issue. My sense is that we're at the beginning of what will become a tidal wave of a movement to change our diets in a big way. Most westerners die of diet/lifestyle related diseases. Isn't that appalling? (heart disease, cancer, diabetes) My guess is that future generations will look back on what we give our children to eat with the same kind of horror as we would feel, thinking about how our grandparents encouraged our parents to take up smoking, as a nice social thing to do. Each generation of parents does its best, within its own circumstances, and I know many of us are trying hard to swim against the tide. But I think we will fare badly in the judgement of posterity.The knowledge is there. It is simply a matter of how long it takes for public opinion to catch on, and I suspect that will be driven by the medical profession and the media.Just a thought.

  39. chrisandharvey says:

    tara – stop sweating over this. like everyone else has said – it's a balance, which you have gotten bang on. asking for vegetables? asking for water? perfect. my lad and i are veggie, so eat pretty well – and if he has the occasional sweetie urge, i don't mind. as i know that he's eaten well and healthily the rest of the time. i take a week-long view over the food, not a '5 a day'. mind you, i wish he liked peppers and tomatoes whole (instead of blended!).bribery – everyone responds to it. like you and yours, cash is now the way to unlock my lad's heart. mercenary little sod. mind you, works both ways. i cleaned and tidied his playroom this weekend whilst he was at a party (2 bloody hours!) and he was so happy he tried to pay me £3. so i took it (ha! not really. i'm not that cheap).

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