Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bribing or Rewarding?

“Parenthood” (NBC- Tuesdays at 10PM) is an excellent show. Good actors and good and unpredictable scripts that present believable stories that make it easy to identify with the characters and their lives.

One of the families just adopted a boy and they are having a hard time making him do his homework and household chores. The mother goes to her sister, who has three kids, one of them with Asperger’s Syndrome, and asked her “How do you do it?”
“We bribe them. As much as they called it rewarding, we bribe them. A piece of candy for taking out the trash, two pieces for doing homework, and so on.”
She goes home, tries it with her adopted son, and, oh surprise, it works.  

Is she bribing, or motivating her child to perform a non-preferred activity? Are they bribing me when they pay me for doing my job? Do parents bribe their kids when they tell them “First eat your food and then you can have dessert”?  Do teachers bribe students when they tell them they have to finish their work before they go to recess? Or give them points towards a pizza party? Do you bribe your plumber when you pay him to fix that annoying leak?
According to Wikipedia, bribe is “Something (usually money) given in exchange for influence or as an inducement to dishonesty.”
Does working, doing homework, helping with house chores or learning at school fall under that definition?

Allow me be very clear, NO. I think it’s time to understand that we engage in behaviors because they work, we get something. And when we ask children to do something they don’t want to do, we need to motivate them, so they want to do it. Plain and simple.

So when our character offers candy to her child she is motivating him, not bribing him. By the way, it doesn’t have to be candy. Moreover, I don’t recommend using always candy, because then you have to deal with the sugar rush and the side effects of unhealthy food.  Good rewards can be preferred activities, such as playing computer or video games. Allowance is another option. Points to earn a special treat or a day at Disneyland are always very effective if your child is old enough to understand delayed rewards. I have a client that earns pieces of a puzzle that shows the McDonald’s logo. Once he completes the puzzle, parents take him to McDonalds on Sundays after church. Raffle numbers, lotteries type systems, playing favorite games, are more examples. And candy on moderation if your child is healthy is OK. After all, they are kids.
You don’t bribe when you motivate your kids to do something in their benefit. Do you bribe your mechanic when you pay him to fix your card, or the dentist to take care of your teeth?

So, three words: Motivation, Motivation, Motivation. Let’s get out there and motivate our kids instead of forcing them, or hoping they will comply.

 And if it doesn’t work, try bribing them.

 Daniel Adatto, BCBA


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