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11 Times It's Perfectly Okay to Bribe Your Kids

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The word bribe tends to have a negative connotation; it suggests that you’re trying to get someone to do something they wouldn’t otherwise want to do. But it doesn’t have to mean this.

As a parent, I say it’s time to embrace the power of bribing. Hey, if you’re not a fan of the word, think of it as a “smart and strategic negotiation tactic” instead. Yeah, that sounds much better! Here are 11 great reasons to bribe (er, negotiate with) your kids.

1. When it’s good for their physical health.

Many of us have to bribe ourselves to exercise. There’s no shame in this; not everyone has that natural drive to workout on a regular basis. It’s OK to bribe yourself to exercise — and it’s perfectly fine to do this with your kids, too. Of course, you don’t have to make it stressful or make it about body image, but little rewards for things like after-dinner walks can get the whole family moving together in a positive way.

2. When it’s good for their mental health.

Sometimes you notice your child bummed about something, yet it’s hard to get them out of their rut. This is another time when bribing might be the answer. Sometimes the smallest thing can really make a big difference in their overall mood and getting them over a tough time. Offer a little incentive — a visit to a museum or mall; renting a special movie — to get them thinking about and doing something else.

3. When it’s good for your own mental health.

Are you extra stressed because of work or your personal life? If you need a mental break, go ahead and bribe your kids with a movie rental or trip to the library. Your first instinct might be to feel guilty, but you need me time, too. These mental health breaks are necessary — and healthy.

4. When it’s for the good of the family.

Are your kids fighting? Can you not get through a single game night or family activity because of disagreements? Instead of letting your nights be ruined, try bribery. It might be just the thing you need to get through the game and show everyone how enjoyable it can be to spend time together… even if they have to be persuaded to try it.

5. When it helps their grades.

This is a controversial one, but I have no problem bribing my kids to get good grades. Sure they could do it on their own without any monetary encouragement. But school isn’t easy, and getting good grades doesn’t come naturally to everyone. I think it helps kids set good habits and goals, too, which is why it’s an area where I don’t mind rewarding my kids.

6. When it benefits the pets.

They promised to help walk the dog, pick up after it, and play with it, didn’t they? They should absolutely be doing these things daily (without any bribing), but we all know the truth of how well that works out sometimes. Go ahead and resort to the power of negotiation for the good of you pet’s quality of life.

7. When it makes your life easier in some way.

If it makes your life easier in some way — big or small — then it’s worth it. You’ll want to be careful not to offer too much too soon, because kids can come to expect rewards for even the simplest of tasks. But don’t be afraid to come up with a fair pay scale or reward chart for tasks that you want or need done. It’ll be worth it in the end.

8. When it gets them outside.

We’re all spending too much time on screens, and it’s starting to affect our lives in very serious and negative ways. Yet, it can be had to pull yourself (and your kids) away. As a way to fight this, try limiting screen time each day. Then when they run out of minutes, bribe them to go outside to earn more time. It might seem odd to reward outside time with screen time, but if it helps get them into the fresh air, it might be worth it.

9. When you’re in a stressful situation.

If you’re in a more formal or sensitive setting like a wedding, funeral, or another event, then it’s totally fine to bribe your kids. Promise them ice cream or another special treat if they make it through without any incidents. I will often tell my kids they’re having a contest on who can be the best. I’ll even offer to score them! Hey, if it works, I’ll try it.

10. When you have something serious going on.

Do you have an incredibly important phone call to make? Do you need to finish up a crucial deadline for work? You don’t want to be pulling this cad out very often because it’ll lose its value, but when you really do have something stressful to take care of, go ahead and pull out the big options.

11. When it encourages them to take risks.

Bribing is perfectly acceptable when it pushes and encourages in a good way. Parents have been doing this for decades, through potty training kids, teaching them to ride bikes, trying new foods, and more. Don’t be afraid to encourage risks through rewards, because it teaches children positive associations at the end.

If you do bribe your kids, make sure the reward is appropriate. In many cases, these are things they should be doing anyway, so you don’t want them to take advantage of you. If it ever starts to feel like that, just take the rewards away for a bit, and then add them back in once they start to appreciate them. May you be oh-so-successful!

Stacy Tornio is the author of The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book and the mom of two adventurous kids. Together, they like planning vacations centered around the national parks.

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