Motivating kids: Do sweety bribes work?

Rugby may be cancelled, but there’s something else we can do.. ?

Motivating kids to get outdoors

 Motivating kids: Do sweety bribes work?Rugby is cancelled. There’s snow on the pitch and none of the coaches can get their cars off the drive. The world outside has a three inch layer of slush sitting on top like vaguely dirty icing on a cake. I want to stay at home.

“I think we should bike over to Arnside today.”

“Don’t be stupid.”

“I mean it.”

“So do I. I want to stay at home.”

But Stuart is in determined mood…

“It’ll be fine. We’ll have some breakfast first. There’ll be no traffic on the roads.”

“That’s because motorists have been told not to go outdoors. BECAUSE OF THE SNOW.”

“It’s melting.”

“The slush then.”

“We need to do a training ride. Our C2C bike ride is only a week away and we need to know we can do it if the weather turns bad.”

“We can’t do it in bad weather. I want to stay at home.”

A row ensues. By the end I am reluctantly persuaded it would be stupid to set out on a winter coast to coast tour of Britain without a training ride to see exactly what we can tackle, particularly since Cameron is touring on his own bike for the first time. So now all we have to do is tell the kids we’re not staying at home. It doesn’t go down well. Particularly with Cameron. On a scale of one to ten he’s says he’s about four.

“What would it take to push it up to an eight or a nine?” Stuart asks.

“Sweets,” say Cameron and I at the same time.

“Good man. Let’s go then.” I say.

 Motivating kids: Do sweety bribes work?

Of course we’ve used sweets to motivate but is it a good idea?

“Sweets are a bribe,” Stuart says firmly.

“Yes!” chirp me and my son.

What’s best? A fire within or a bribe at the end?

“The motivation has to come from within,” says Stuart. I sigh. He’s been reading again and I predict a mini lecture. “External motivation extinguishes internal motivation,” he begins. “When kids are internally motivated to do something, like tidy up their room, they do it because they want to.”

As if that would ever happen I say under my breath, but his soliloquy continues. “If you promise them sweets for doing it, you then get into a vicious cycle of tooth decay. And you’ll have to give them sweets every time you want them to tidy up. Then when the sweets stop they won’t do it any more. You’ll squash their love of tidying.”

The parent from outer space pauses for dramatic effect, then waffles on.

“So if you give them sweets today they’ll be motivated to get sweets rather than enjoy the cycle. And you’ll be extinguishing the very thing you want.”

I think to myself that cycling is not the very thing I want. I want to stay at home.

 Motivating kids: Do sweety bribes work?

Do you need the motivation within? Or do bribes suffice?

“And what happens when the sweets run out?” he asks.

“When I’m in charge, we never run out of bribes,” I reply.

“That’s right,” says Cameron. “Never.”

Once we’re out the sweets seem irrelevant

We go cycling. The slush is slushy but not icy. The roads are car free. It’s not as bad as it was in my head and fills us with some hope for next week. Our water bottles freeze solid and no-one mentions sweets.

“So Cameron, on a scale of one to ten, what would you give today’s ride?” asks his dad afterwards.

Cameron thinks for a moment. “An eight I’d say.”

“Great,” says Stuart, ruffling his son’s head.

“And if you had sweets at the end?” I can’t resist asking.

“A nine, definitely a nine. Or even a nine and a half, depending on the sweets”

By the evening the weather men are predicting a deep freeze that could last for weeks. I’m definitely going shopping.

How do you get your kids motivated to get out and do stuff? We’d love to hear your comments. Click comments below and tell us what you think. 


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Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of the project, the misadventure magnet part of the partnership and a busy mum.

10 Responses to “Motivating kids: Do sweety bribes work?” Subscribe

  1. Mackaytribe February 7, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    Very thought provoking post! We have a large family … read 7 kids … and getting them all motivated to do the same activity at the same time can be a challenge! We have used bribes, but we prefer the self-motivation.

    Some of ours are now (as teenagers) becoming more self-motivated which is encouraging! With the littler ones when they see us excited about an activity it is contageous!

  2. Suburban Cowgirl February 7, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    If the bribe gets the kid to do something unpleasant, they may discover it is actually fun and rewarding on its own, and the bribe may not be necessary the next time. Our kids are not our slaves. Forcing them to do something that WE will be “internally” rewarded for but THEY hate is not exactly “fair.” If a bribe of a special treat makes it seem fair enough to gain their willing cooperation, why make a big fuss about demanding obedience? And you can also bribe kids with something that won’t rot their teeth — an outing of THEIR choice (to a fun park, perhaps), getting to stay up late, buying a DVD they want.

    Don’t parents everywhere bribe their kids to eat their broccoli by promising dessert if they do (or denying the dessert if they don’t)? Don’t think of it as a bribe; think of it as an offer to compensate them for performance in currency the child understands.

    • Stuart (Family Adventure Project) February 7, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

      Great points. I like the idea of it being less a bribe and more part of a package of rewards, so everyone feels they gain something from the experience, whether intrinsic satisfaction or extrinsic reward of something they value!

  3. Judith February 7, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

    I love the choice of music for the video :-)

    Good luck for the C2C, I hope the sun shines on you,

    Judith x

  4. Liz Riding October 16, 2012 at 11:44 am #

    Hilarious!! On cold, yucky days I use the motivation of hot chocolate when we get home. Not sure about the boys (3 small and a husband) but it works for me.


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