Inspiring Good Behavior (Without Resorting To Bribery)

You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. I always felt it was a strange expression (because really, can you catch any flies with vinegar?). Then one day I got it. We all prefer sweetness over bitterness, and in our relationships we prefer to be around someone who builds us up and makes us feel good about ourselves, rather than someone who criticizes us or makes us feel bad. Criticism or punishment makes us feel misunderstood, unappreciated, and may even make us want to totally avoid that person if possible. We surely don’t feel inspired to make them proud of us or to impress them.

So how does this translate into parenting?

Building up our children draws them closer to us and inspires them to want to make us proud. Tearing them down (even with a look) makes them feel like we don’t understand or appreciate them. When your child makes a mistake, yelling at them, taking something away, or personally attacking them “You are always so clumsy!” builds up a wall between you. You are also affecting their confidence and how they view themselves as a person; they will feel like they have to be a people pleaser to deserve love, and may always believe they are the negative things you called them in the heat of your anger that you didn’t really even mean.

If you don’t harp on mistakes and accidents that aren’t intentional, and instead focus on the great things they do, their talents and their efforts, they will be inspired to continue to do more and better. It’s called positive reinforcement, and studies show that rewarding good behavior is much more effective than negative reinforcement (punishing bad behavior). This doesn’t include seriously bad behavior that is intentional, like biting, stealing, or anything else that should be addressed right away, but rather things that are part of who they are, such as asking a lot of questions or talking incessantly, not being able to color within the lines (and not caring to try harder), or refusing to eat anything green. These are your child’s personality quirks or habits that are relatively harmless, and we all have faults (you aren’t perfect either) so there is no good that comes from harping on your child’s flaws or inadequacies or making them feel bad about it.

Instead of bribing your child with treats to stop bad behavior or to do what you’d like you to do, focus on what they are good at and what they do right. You don’t want to raise a child who only exerts an effort or does things correctly if they get rewarded. However, praising them afterwards for making the right choices, giving them gifts for trying their best, and other forms of positive reinforcement are a great way to bring out the best in them. You shouldn’t do this for every little thing (because in life, they won’t get a prize every time they do something right) but building them up and encouraging them in their talents and positive actions is a great way to put them on the right track. It builds up their confidence, instills a sense of pride in themselves for a job well done, and even increases their desire to keep making you proud in the future (because it’s just so great to see mom and dad so please with them).

16 Responses to Inspiring Good Behavior (Without Resorting To Bribery)
  1. Emily
    September 6, 2011 | 7:30 am

    ITA. In my 13 yrs of teaching, bribery never really worked, and if I eve got any results they were very short-lived.

  2. Janice (5 Minutes for Mom)
    September 10, 2011 | 6:52 pm

    I so agree! While I still use reward systems sometimes, I find catching the good behavior is the best way! 🙂

  3. Jane
    September 15, 2011 | 5:56 am

    Reward systems work only on some issues.

  4. Lowell
    October 15, 2011 | 2:06 pm

    Positive reinforcement is always the best way to go with better results int he long run. Thanks for the post.

  5. Debbye
    November 1, 2011 | 12:04 am

    Thank you for the reminders. It gets more challenging as my eldest gets older. Inspiring behaviors seems so natural and so simple with my younger child, but now I do struggle to find ways to help my pre-teen. 🙂

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