2 Reasons Why Bribes And Punishments Don’t Work (Why Your Kid Keeps Driving You Crazy No Matter What You Try!)

Parenting can really test your skills and creativity, especially when it comes to getting your kids to cooperate and behave.

What are the strategies you’ve used?

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Have you:

  • Put up sticker boards with rewards and prizes?
  • Given time-outs?
  • Given the child a choice instead of simply telling her to do something?
  • Taken away privileges such as screen time?
  • Bribed her with food, TV, toys, or electronics?

How have those strategies worked for you?

Is she now cheerful about doing her chores? Is she suddenly cooperative?

Or is she still misbehaving and not motivated. Is she being defiant and bad-tempered?

Maybe some of these strategies worked for a few days. She was intrigued about getting stickers or willing to behave in order to avoid the boredom of a time-out, at first.

Then her curiosity of a reward or fear of a punishment disappeared. You found yourself nagging and yelling to get her to listen and comply using the same tactics.

It seems as if you have to constantly come up with new and creative ways to entice your child to clean up her mess, do her homework, or play nicely with her siblings.

This constant searching for strategies to get your child to cooperate is exhausting!

As your child gets older, the challenges evolve, too. What worked last year (“Go to your room!”) has no effect this year (“What are you doing in your room for so long?”).

You can’t keep up!

You just wish you knew why your child was being so stubborn and peevish and what you could do or say to finally get through to her.

Your Child’s Behavior Isn’t The Problem

What I tell parents when they ask me why their child just won’t behave is that the child’s behavior isn’t the problem.

They don’t believe me at first.

They say, of course the child’s behavior is the problem. They relay how many times they’ve gone around with their child about the messy room and homework and chores and how the child is obviously stubborn, willful or just “bad.”

Young boy hugging his mother

To get them to appreciate what’s going on with their child, I ask them to imagine if they had a job where the boss wasn’t very fun to be around.

…Or didn’t understand what their job entailed.

…Or never said anything positive to them, only criticized them.

…Or never made it a point to say “hello,” check in on them, or ask anything personal in any way.

…Or nagged all the time. Did you do it yet?

…Or whined about how hard THEIR job was.

…Or constantly screamed about how the company was going out of business because of them!

And then imagine that your boss doled out bonuses as a way to get you to do things you hated, or threatened to fire you on a daily basis if your performance wasn’t up to his or her high standards.

What kind of an employee would you be, I ask?

Would you want to do a good job? Would you do your tasks in the best possible way or would you do the bare minimum to avoid getting fired?

Chances are, if you were in that kind of demoralizing situation, you’d be posting your resume online ASAP. At the very least, you certainly wouldn’t be bounding out of bed every morning, excited to go to work to be the best performing, most upbeat employee you could be.

You’d be peevish and unmotivated, too.

If you think of it that way, you can see that you need a different perspective on how to get your child to cooperate with you, too.

2 Reasons Why Your Child Isn’t Motivated To Behave

The boss analogy may help shift your perspective about how a child’s behavior may have more to do with their relationship with you than some sort of character flaw.

Specifically, there may be two good reasons why your child is ignoring your requests or acting out. See if either one sounds like it may apply to you:

1 Your relationship with your child is acetic.

You’re having problems because the child sees you as more hostile and unsympathetic than comforting and loving. The “acid” nature of your relationship is causing your child to act out in an attempt to get your love and attention—even negative attention.

He wants to connect with you, but doesn’t know how. So he acts out.

His misguided attempt at getting your attention with misbehavior is only adding to the acidity of your relationship and making it worse.

If this is the situation, what you need to do is neutralize the acidity with softness, sweetness, and a stronger connection to the child. Instead of trying to control his behavior, you need to step back and improve the relationship you have with him FIRST.

Unless you do that, no amount of coercion or bribery will get him to want to cooperate.

2 You aren’t in tune with what your child is experiencing.

Your child isn’t motivated to cooperate because they don’t feel heard or understood.

Two boys smiling and playing

Consider for a moment: Why might your child not want to do their homework? Clean up their toys before bed? Eat the dinner you’ve made?

Perhaps she’s tired, has had a bad day at school, or isn’t hungry. Children may have good reasons why they don’t want to do something.

Maybe adults have been telling them what to do every single minute of the day and they’re feeling rebellious and fatigued.

When you’re trying to use bribes or punishments to force their behavior, they resist because it’s the only tool they have.

That doesn’t mean you have to give in to their every whim or let them misbehave every day. You don’t and you shouldn’t.

However, when your child feels understood by you, she’ll feel more at ease. She’ll see you as a compassionate leader—a Captain—instead of a dispassionate dictator or tyrant. She’ll have less reason to resist and more reason to cooperate.

When you improve your relationship with your child, your child will want to do what pleases you and gets a smile and a hug from you. She’ll want to show off her completed homework, pick up her toys, and wash her hands before dinner.

The Parenting Approach That Inspires Your Child To WANT To Please You, Without Resorting To Bribes Or Punishments

Improving your relationship isn’t just about less nagging and yelling and more “I love you’s.” (Although those don’t hurt!)

In fact, there are practical, everyday things you can do that will bring you and your child closer the more you do them—and you’ll get these tips right in your inbox when you subscribe to Flourish’s FREE parenting newsletter.

I’ve partnered with Flourish to help parents like you enjoy a better relationship with your kid and a more peaceful household overall.

When you subscribe, you’ll get access to noted parenting experts who’ve seen it all when it comes to parenting, so you’re sure to discover many insights and techniques you can use in your own family right away. You’ll learn:

  • How to strengthen your child’s bond with you by addressing and healing the attachment you have with your child
  • How to get your child to cooperate without struggle—whether it’s getting out the door, doing homework, or getting into bed
  • What to say to instill positive beliefs in your child so that he or she grows up to have healthy self-esteem
  • How to keep your cool when your child’s difficult behavior triggers you—so you don’t say things you later regret
  • How to handle the 10 most common challenges and concerns parents have after a break-up or divorce
  • The secret to raising your kids to become confident, capable adults who feel free to be their authentic selves

You’ll appreciate how practical these tools are and how good they make you feel as a parent. No more yelling, nagging, or spanking to get her to do something or stop doing something, which are all tactics that make you feel terrible afterward, anyway.

We at Flourish know you have more than enough to deal with, and we want to help make parenting life a lot less stressful and a whole lot more fun.


Susan Stiffelman

Parent Without Yelling, Power Struggles and Guilt

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