Rewards, Incentives and Bribing Children

bribing children

I thought about maybe waiting a few more days before I pat myself (and my little girl!) on the back for this, so there’s a good chance I’m getting prematurely excited about this BUT – LAST NIGHT MY THREE YEAR OLD WENT ALL NIGHT WITHOUT BREASTFEEDING! YAY!

(For anyone who is going – “um… why is that a big deal…?” maybe read “Weaning My Toddler – And Failing” to catch you up, but, long story short, she has been VERY resistant to weaning, so this is actually really exciting for me.

SO – what helped us get through the night booby-free?

This glorious sticker chart.

bribing children

It doesn’t look like much, but CHECK OUT THAT STICKER! That sticker meant she went ALL night without ANY breast milk.

I’m so over the moon proud of her. She still woke – a lot – she still asked and fished around in her sleep for a feed, but when I gently reminded her she needs 3 stickers to get a brand new Peppa Pig helmet, she quickly snuggled back in and went to sleep.

And this is how I felt about it :

(Just don’t tell her she actually needs a new helmet so I was buying it for her anyway – shhhhhhhh)

That said – I am wary about implementing reward charts.

I can see so many ways this can end badly. She may not be able to repeat last nights success and become upset. She may just go 3 nights without feeding and then when there’s “nothing in it for her” resume feeding at night – meaning I will either have to create a new reward chart and reward her again, or accept that it didn’t make a lasting difference. Who knows what will happen tonight, tomorrow, or next week – but I’m still going to celebrate this success!

Ideally this would have been self motivated. Ideally she would have self weaned. Ideally Ischmeally! We’re here now and she hasn’t made even the slightest move towards weaning herself. And the biggest is there’s no reason for her to try. She LIKES breastfeeding and it’s easy for her to feed to sleep and she wants to continue – so why shouldn’t she? 

Previously attempts to withhold feeding have resulted in tears. SO. many. tears.

I’m actually shocked that she didn’t cry at all last night, even with the promise of stickers and a Peppa Pig helmet I thought she would change her mind in the middle of the night and cry for it.

But even with this success I do still have some reservations about bribing children to behave in a certain way. I’m not going to say do it or not do it. I’m in no way an expert at parenting and I’m absolutely not an expert on YOUR children, I can only share my thoughts based on what has (and hasn’t) worked for me and MY children.

Is it realistic and achievable?

There is no point trying to bribe a child to do something they can’t actually do. That will just lead to frustration all round. I know she CAN sleep all night without feeding, as she goes to her grandmas house and obviously there’s no booby-milk there! 

Is it measurable?

She either has – or she hasn’t – fed. It’s not a vague goal. I’m going to dob in my partner for this one, but I do groan silently when he offers our kids a reward if they are “good”. What does “good” mean? How can the kids be good if there isn’t a clear outline about what that entails? Because what they think is “being good” is likely very different to what we think is it.

Incentives VS Rewards 

One thing I do prefer over a reward is more of an incentive, or a natural outcome. For example telling the children that we can go to the park once the house is clean – we are going to the park, and the house will be cleaned, it’s just how long they take will determine how soon we get there and how long we’ll have to play.

We did try this with feeding, our daughter desperately wanted to sleep in a (low) bunk bed – but I can’t sleep in there with her, so she could sleep in the bunk bed, if she could sleep in there by herself (with no feeding through the night) and in the end she decided she’d rather sleep with me than in the bunk. So, we did TRY that approach first.

So, this is where we’re up to. Hopefully I’ll have more good news with the night weaning progress to report in a few days!

Do you use rewards/incentives/bribes with your children? How do you implement it and is it successful long term?

Rachel Stewart

Rachel is the founder of Parenting Central. She is raising two children, boy and girl, with her partner. Rachel is obsessed prams, car seats, carriers and all things baby. She has worked in the baby industry for several years, for both suppliers and also in a retail setting and has developed a passion for connecting parents with the right products to make their lives easier. When Rachel isn't playing with prams she's enjoys crocheting, drinking coffee (sometimes wine) and spending a little too much time on Facebook.


Related Articles