Financial Incentives for Kids: Are they a Reward? Or Bribe?

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When our children were younger and made bad choices, punishing them (aka teaching them a lesson) was easy. “Go to time out”, “no play date”, or “clear the table by yourself” worked pretty good back then. As they’ve grown older, this model has not worked so well. Exacting consequences on them as punishment (to teach them a lesson) has not always created the intended result. As they’ve grown into more mature and complex individuals, there are many other emotional forces at work. Stress from schoolwork, budding “teenybopper” romances, puberty and body image changes…  Keeping up with these changes and staying aware is daunting for parents!

When one of our children started making bad decisions about school, our immediate reaction was to exact consequences as we have in the past; taking away things that were important. The hope was that he’d say to himself “Well, I really want allowance back and I want to be able to see my friends on the weekend so I’d better clean up my act!” That didn’t happen. Instead, he felt more negatively toward life and school (and us!). He sunk deeper into a funk and the bad choices continued. The old “formula” didn’t work.

So I started thinking of an alternative: more carrot and less stick! I spoke with Courtney about treating him more like an adult; rewarding him with a “paycheck” for showing up to school on time every day, doing a good job and even (like many grown-ups) getting a bonus for going above and beyond. The vision was to really teach him about this grown-up life equation: good choices + effort = good consequences. If you don’t get to work on time and do your job well, you’ll lose your job and have problems. Real life.

Trying a new parenting technique in a multi-kid family is always dicey. Inevitably there will be complaints of unfair treatment, or favoritism… Or, the kid’s fav term “Babying”. But the reality is that each child is different, and what works for one does not necessarily work for another. I know this is true from my childhood where my mom could just look at me and I’d be scared into submission. Whereas my sister would just smirk back, and get a smack on the tush. Even now, in our 40’s and 50’s, we talk about it and laugh… (tho’ she seems to harbor a wee bit of resentment!)

As parents, our goal is to teach all our kids, to the best of our abilities, to be healthy and independent adults. It is not to punish them into submission. If offering a simple reward model to one of our kids works for them, and helps them through a tough patch, it’s worth taking a chance.

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