Getting your child to do what you want can be an exhausting task. Whether you’re trying to get them to do something in their best interest or yours, having a kid who listens to you can greatly reduce the stress in your life. But how can you deal with situations where what your child wants and what you want are two different things? Giving them small rewards for doing what you want could be the answer.
Bribery may have a bad connotation but we’re not talking about doing anything unlawful here. Providing an incentive is probably a better way to think about this and since it’s usually not too difficult to find something that a child wants, incentivizing them with something small can be very easy.
A study done by Dr. John List of the University of Chicago found that providing a small incentive to children got them to choose the healthier of two snack options 80% of the time in comparison to only 20% of the time when no incentive was offered. The study also found that educating the children on the benefits of healthy eating just prior to the experiment had little to no impact on their decision making once they were faced with a choice between a cookie and a fruit bowl. When small incentives like pens or stickers were given to those who chose the fruit bowl however, suddenly the vast majority of kids wanted to eat healthy.
Obviously you don’t want to have to take your child to Disneyland every time they agree to go to bed on time, but something as small as a single Smartie can go a long way when you’re trying to get them to brush their teeth or finish their vegetables.
This may sound like you’d be opening Pandora ’s Box where you will end up having to bribe your child to do every little thing throughout the day once they catch on to your incentivising trick. But once a habit has been established, your child will likely forget how it ever began. Think about it; do you still need to be bribed or threatened to brush your teeth? Of course not, because having clean teeth is just something you’re used to now.
If you combine the small incentive with a brief explanation of why it’s important for them to do whatever it is you’re getting them to do, eventually they will realize the inherent value of things like teeth brushing, healthy eating, or having a clean room, and bribery can slowly be removed from the equation.
This technique likely won’t work for everyone, especially those kids who already tend to get most things that they want anyways. Offering up a single Smartie as an incentive to the child who receives a full box of chocolates every morning for breakfast probably won’t be very effective, so other aspects of parenting will need to be at work as well.
It may not work for every situation and you probably won’t get your child into med school with this technique, but combined with responsible parenting it should be able to make your life just a bit easier.