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The difference between bribes and rewards

A lollipop can be used as either a bribe or reward depending on when it is given.
A lollipop can be used as either a bribe or reward depending on when it is given.
Photo by Steven Greenberg via Flickr

While there is some controversy over whether rewards should be used as a form of discipline, it is definitely a good idea to know how to use the terms bribe and reward accurately. If you cannot accurately define a word, it becomes quite difficult to adequately refute its use.

Merriam-Webster defines a bribe as “something valuable (such as money) that is given in order to get someone to do something.“

A reward, on the other hand, is defined as “to give money or another kind of payment to (someone or something) for something good that has been done.”

So what does that mean for you? A bribe is giving your child something before they complete the desired behavior. For example, you could offer them a sucker in exchange for appropriate behavior at the grocery store.

A reward, on the other hand, is an offering given to encourage a behavior to repeat after that behavior has already occurred. This is a form of positive reinforcement. For example, you could give your child a sucker after they behave well in the store. In some cases, you may tell your child what the reward will be in advance, while in others you will simply surprise the child with the reward.

Some parents find it is easier to understand rewards versus bribes if they can consider how it relates to them. Some companies provide an annual bonus based on performance. This is a reward for good behavior, where the behavior is performing well at your job.

A bribe, on the other hand, may be given to a politician in an attempt to get them to vote a certain way. It is given whether or not the desired behavior occurs, but the hope is that the receiver will do what you want after you have bribed them.

In summary, bribes happen before the desired behavior and rewards happen after the desired behavior (though informing the receiver of the potential for the reward may precede the desired behavior).

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