How to Hand Out Hard Rewards In Parenting

Now we are entering the real world where humans encourage action through gifts, favors, privileges, money and bribes. Hard rewards are particularly useful for the older child, adults and Olympic officials.

Some experts get their underwear in a knot debating the difference between rewards and bribes. A reward consolidates a good behavior, coming almost as a bonus after the event. A bribe is arranged beforehand and if there is no performance there is no payout. We all prefer to use rewards rather than bribes, but sometimes the difference is academic. If what you are doing works, just call it a reward and we’ll all be happy.

Choosing the right hard reward

This author might be motivated by money, a meal or some exotic, coronary-clogging ice cream. But I wouldn’t move a muscle for the latest Spice Girl CD or a front-row seat at a boxing match. All humans are motivated by different means, and as parents we must find the magic motivator for our child.

Hard Rewards  Parenting

When I set up a behavior programme with parents, we first list the rewards that are likely to grab their child’s interest. If we don’t tailor our programme to that one child, what follows will always fall flat.

The most effective rewards for eight- to twelve-year-olds are

  • time
  • privileges
  • little gifts
  • food
  • money.


We often forget that time is one of our most valuable possessions and is also one of our most appreciated rewards. Your son has stuck at his homework and done it well: ‘Would you like me to help fix your bike?’; ‘Fancy going for a splash down in the pool?’; ‘Would you like me to run you over to Steve’s house?’


These are great motivators for the six- to eighteen-year-old. When things have gone well, they are allowed some extra bit of the action. This may be time on the telephone, more television, a later bedtime, access to the computer, being excused from doing a usual chore, choosing dinner, having a friend to stay, picking where you go out for a meal.


It may come as a disappointment to the animal admirers, but sea lions don’t do tricks because they like to impress humans. They perform because each action is rewarded with a mouthful of raw fish. Purists dislike the idea of bribing children with stuff that rots teeth, but this technique has been popular since it was first invented by grandmothers. People may object, but if food works for all other animal trainers, it must be worth a try with children.

Of course, we can reward with the healthiest of health foods, but children tend to value these less than foods high in sugar, preservatives, additives, colors and flavors, especially if they come with the latest in movie merchandise.

Food is mostly a motivator with the under eights, but it can focus interest at any age. I for one can always be bought by the offer of a good meal. With your children, don’t go over the top but if some mouth-watering snack tunes in the obedience antennae, it can’t be all that bad.


This may be the root of all evil, but it sure grabs the attention of some children. Youngsters are created in two sorts: the emerging entrepreneurs who are heavily into the cash economy and the philanthropists who function on some higher plane.

Money becomes of increasing interest after the age of eight years, and if your child is a money lover, you may use the filthy stuff to reward compliance.

By ten years a small sum can be given for each completed task or you may add a productivity bonus to their pocket money. With the bonus, you give the base salary and this can be doubled in reward for extra effort without complaint. For a more immediate reward, a silver coin can be put in a jar to register completion.

There is one major drawback when you reward with money: it leaves you open to extortion. A task that was worth twenty pence this week may be worth thirty pence the next, and soon there is out-of-control inflation. So a productivity bonus should be capped at an appropriate level. Small cash payments can be varied and mixed with other rewards to prevent them becoming a God-given right.

Filed Under: Family & Relationships


About the Author: Roberta Southworth is a psychiatrist by profession. She likes to help out people by writing informative tips on how people can to solve their family and relationship issues. She is currently staying in Ireland. She has 5 years of couple counseling experience.

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