Explore. Imagine. Love.

Purposeful parenting amid a world of sugar, screens and schedules.

Bribery…a Useful Tool?


shopping with small children

We’ve all seen…or been…the parents in the store with the screaming kid.  I’ve definitely been in that situation many times, some much worse than others.  Before you had kids, do you remember thinking negatively about the parents or the kids in those scenarios?  I think it’s probably pretty common for people who have not yet been parents themselves to observe screaming children in the store and make some sort of  judgement about the situation.  It seems pretty natural to watch all the parents around you and think to yourself how you would handle that same situation if you were the parent.  Parenting is hard!  Rarely is there one right answer to any given situation.  Now parents, once you had your own kids, were you able to follow through with all those decisions you made based on what you learned while observing other parenting styles?  😉  Probably not all of them.  My husband and I talked a lot about parenting before we became parents…perhaps more than most couples do because we met while running summer camps.  We were site directors at summer camps for the first three summers that we knew each other.  So not only did we talk about what we would do, we practiced it…as much as a summer camp counselor can.  But even with all that talk and practice, there are things we ended up changing our minds about, problems we didn’t foresee, or stressful situations that affect our parenting choices and keep us from following through on decisions we had made.


I had just written this post and wanted to take the picture above with the shopping cart for this blog. As we were doing that Big Sis started screaming because she wanted to walk. And Little Sis started screaming because Big Sis was screaming. How perfect, right? So we snapped some pictures to use in the post. 😉

One thing that we have not discussed much, and one thing that I didn’t think I would ever do, is bribe my kids to be good in stores. But I did it the other day and it was GREAT!  😉  Let me tell you how this happened…

It was my husband’s birthday and I decided that morning that I was going to throw him a surprise party.  In order to get everything that I needed to get (not only for his birthday, but in general because we were almost completely out of food in our house) I was going to need to take both children with me to three stores in one morning.  AND get home at a reasonable time to prepare for the party.  I had my doubts.

When we walked into our first of three stores, Big Sis immediately asked if she could have candy.  Usually I would shut this question down as quickly as possible.  Instead I told her that we have three stores to go to and that I was going to need her help to get it all done.  I was going to need her to help me with Little Sis, to be a good example, not to cry or whine or ask to have things.  I told her I was going to need her to say “ok mommy” and listen right away if I asked her to do something, even if it was hard and it wasn’t something she wanted to do.  And then I told her that at the end of the third store, if she had helped me with all of these things, she could pick a reward…which I knew would be m&m’s.

Big Sis was really excited.  So excited that she started to ask about it (“is it time to get candy NOW?”)…so we talked about how she should not ask about it until we were buying stuff at the third store.  Three stores.  And which store are we in now? The first store.  Once she understood, she talked about which store we were in and what we needed to get at that store rather than talking about wanting to get candy.

The whole rest of the time was amazing.  There were a few times that Little Sis was difficult…typical almost 2 year old behavior.  But with Big Sis cooperating and encouraging Little Sis to stay calm so they could get m&m’s, we avoided situations that could have been a lot worse.  The time that it made the most difference was when we got to a store that had two kinds of fun cart options and Big Sis wanted one and Little Sis wanted the other.  They were both asking nicely and I decided to go with what Little Sis wanted because that was easier.  Big Sis was very disappointed and I tried to talk it out with her but I could tell a meltdown was coming fast so I reminded her of the m&m’s.  (This was definitely the point where I felt like it was more like bribery than just a reward!)  It worked really fast.  She calmed down, and we had a fantastic time in the store.  They both started to get hungry and crabby so I grabbed the pb&j sandwich I had thought to pack and they took turns taking bites.  I was pretty thrilled with my own preparedness.  We didn’t waste time and money eating out…we multi tasked lunch and shopping.

We had left the house a little before 10am to go shopping and were home by 1pm.  Just in time for Little Sis to take a nap and for me to start on the cake. Not only did we manage to do everything incredibly quickly, but we were ALL happy when we got home!

There are always things about anybody’s parenting decisions that another parent wouldn’t choose to do themselves.  But we have to pick our battles and do the best we can.  For me, on this day, I needed to accomplish what I needed to accomplish quickly and with as little stress as possible.  Do I want Big Sis to learn that she only has to cooperate when there is a reward?  No.  Do I want her to learn that she always gets candy when we shop?  No.  Do I want her to learn to associate sugar with a job well done?  No.  So I will not always do it this way.  But that’s what’s beautiful about children getting older…you can change things up and talk about things with them in a way that they actually understand!

As I thought about how well this went and how I’d like to have the same result without the same bribe…er…reward…I’ve decided that a sticker chart might be a good idea to try.  We could keep it where they can see it in the van and add stickers for really great behavior while we’re out.  Or we can use an app so it’s super portable.  (I think we’ll try the app first because we recently got a new tablet and it’s fun to use it. hehe)  Then there can be a reward (a present, a treat, a fun activity…) for a certain number of stickers.  I am a big fan of stickers charts.  It is how I earned a kitten when I was a kid.  And it’s how we encouraged Big Sis to make the transition from diapers to undies during the night.

What are some things you do while you’re out to encourage positive attitudes and discourage the whining?  It sure does make a difference in how the day goes!

Thanks for reading 🙂


Author: Explore Imagine Love


2 thoughts on “Bribery…a Useful Tool?

  1. Heh, yes, when I’m facing a particularly challenging day and need to go grocery shopping I’ll preempt the asking by saying that if he’s good in the store then he will get to pick a treat. We don’t always do it… the worst part is that the follow through really has to happen. We have actually not gotten a treat once or twice… and that was actually pretty effective in its own way.

    • Yes, the follow through and disappointment that can result from their poor decisions/behavior can be really difficult. 😦 Good point. And if they lost the reward (like m&m’s) early in the shopping trip, that could make the rest of the experience really challenging. I think the sticker system would help in that case because it allows them to start fresh and get a sticker at each store…working toward a larger goal of many stickers and a prize reached after multiple trips.

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