As an enlightened mom, I know that bribing a child to behave is as foolish as washing a kid's mouth out with soap. It's just that when I'm in the supermarket with my whining 3-year-old son, Julian, a pack of chocolate-chip cookies in exchange for some stress-free shopping doesn't seem like such a bad trade-off. And when my 7-year-old daughter, Charlotte, throws one of her "I hate my hair and I'm never going to school again" fits, I've been known to promise her an ice-cream sundae later just to get her out the door now.
I'm far from alone in doling out rewards. Lots of parents buy off their kids -- including my best friend, Jackie. "I can't believe what I give them for the sake of a little peace and quiet," she says, raising her voice to be heard over her bickering 3-year-old twin daughters in the background. She interrupts our conversation to say, "Hold on a sec. Girls, if you stop fighting and find your shoes, we'll have time to stop for doughnuts."
Bribes may seem harmless, but they aren't. "Bribery teaches children to expect rewards for basic behaviors," says David Gruder, Ph.D., a family therapist and author of The New IQ: How Integrity Intelligence Serves You, Your Relationships, and Our World.