The Art of Parental Bribery and Threats


As I was in the middle of surviving, yes surviving, three weeks of winter break with my husband deployed and no family visits planned, I noticed a new pattern developing in my parenting style.

I started to master the art of parental threats.

As a family counselor, I would not advise threats and bribes as a sole parenting tool. If used as an honest cause and effect tool, threats can be a positive parenting method.

However, as an exhausted mom, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, positive method or not.

I have used threats and bribes to get my kids to do things I knew would be good for them and to not do things I knew would be bad for them. I remember being at Disney Sea Park in Japan, and I really wanted my oldest son to go on a roller coaster. It would be the biggest and fastest one he had been on, but as an 8-year-old, he was scared. I knew he would love it once he went on it. I tried encouragement and all positive parenting tactics, but nothing was working. My husband and father were there as well trying to encourage him in different ways. I took him to the side, had a little talk with him, and then he walked up to his dad and said he was going to ride the coaster. My dad, looking for some sort of profound explanation, asked me what I said to get him to go on the ride.

My response? “I told him I’d give him 20 bucks.” Oh yes, I know all the horrible lessons that this might have taught my child, but he loved that roller coaster ride!

Although that is an example of how I used a bribe to get my child to do something I knew he would love, most of my threats are to keep them from doing something I don’t want them to do. Or to just get them to stop doing something that annoys me.

Again, I know threats and bribes, especially when they are founded on lies may not the best parenting tools. The counselor in my head is constantly correcting all my poor parental choices. I’m not putting my name in the hat for Parent of the Year any time soon.

Thankfully, I have friends who relate to my exhausted mom shenanigans, and they have helped me come up with a list of parental threats and bribes they have used. So place these in your “break glass in case of emergency” parental arsenal, and use when needed.

The Art of Parental Threats and Bribery

-I told my kids that the cameras in Walmart follow them everywhere in the store to make sure they are behaving. They behave very well in the store.

-When I leave a room, I remind my kids that although I can’t see them, God is always watching.

-On those “I’ve had enough days,” I tell them if they don’t start behaving, I will take away everything they love! It gets instant results every time.

-During my spouse’s deployment, I told my kids when I go to my spouses meetings, the CO gets direct updates on how the kids behave.

-Elf on the shelf … enough said.

-When my kids start fighting a lot, I threaten to take away all their toys. I’ve followed through a few times. I put all their toys in garbage bags and I hide them. This threat works most of the time.

-Our sitter told our 3-year-old that there was a cookie man who delivers cookies for a reward if he finished his dinner. He totally bought it. And now the cookie man brings him a breakfast cookie if he manages to stay in bed until until he’s supposed to get out of bed. 

-We tell our very independent 2-year-old that we will pick her up and carry her like a baby if she doesn’t do what she is told. Always works!

-Since my kids care a lot about what their teachers think, I tell them that parents can call their teachers or principal if they are being disrespectful at home.

-My daughter’s preschool teacher told her that ants would come and get her if she didn’t stop eating her boogers. It was a parochial school.

-I googled the absolute worst pictures of diseased teeth I could find and told my daughter that’s what her teeth would look like if she didn’t stop sucking her thumb. She may have cried.

-When our son doesn’t want to nap, we bribe him with staying up late to convince him to actually nap when we need him, too.

-When my brothers and I pushed my mom to her limits, she would pick up the phone and say “You keep it up, I’m going to call them and have them take you back.” We were their biological children and old enough to know that we came from her belly, so I don’t know if we were scared or just confused, but we straightened up quickly!

-My son loves money, so I can basically get him to do anything for five bucks.

-We threaten to take away the iPad on a daily basis.

-My kids love ice cream, it is used as the bribe of choice in our house.

-When the kids start fighting in the car, I slow down a little and tell them I will pull over and make them walk home. No matter how far we are from home. This works best when driving through the desert or mountains.

-The inadvertent threat: My mom told my little brother that if he kept being disobedient, he would have to live with the consequences. He started to cry and said, “But I don’t want to live with the Consequences, I don’t even know them!”

I’d say I have quite a few smart and funny parent friends. When we are tired of hearing ourselves say the same thing over and over, sometimes we just want quick action. Or sometimes we just want our kids to behave so we can look like good parents at the store! And who can blame a parent when ice cream or the threat of walking home a few miles gets the desired result?

What coercion tactics do you use on your child?