Parenting Bribery 101

I recently wrote about my Unexpected Mummy Skills and a comment by Lucy at This Mums Life asking about my bribery skills has inspired this post.  It has occurred to me that I am a master in bribery.  I am not bothered that I do it, I don’t feel guilty because quite frankly it gets the job done.  I have found throughout this parenting rollercoaster that a single approach to the ‘negotiation’ will not work.  There are many variables that need to be taken into account such as why is the bribe needed? What are you trying to achieve from this? Can I reasonably uphold this bribe at a future date? You wouldn’t want to promise a trip to the zoo simply in exchange for a toddler putting their shoes on…. Trust me they will rememberer from now until eternity that putting their shoes on should get them to the zoo, not a mouldy old cookie.

Now I suspect (but could be wrong) that there are two types of people reading this now… Those that eagerly await my thoughts and tips on bribery.  Welcome! I take it you are parents to toddlers, possibly at the age of 2 – 4 years old.  What I like to call the ‘Prime Manipulatable Years’ or ‘PMY’s’.  I feel your desperation for five minutes peace.  Or, perhaps  you have already been here and done it.  Please tell me the need for such frequent bribes ends soon.

There will, of course, be those feeling a little curious about the title but think offering a biscuit is a good enough bribe, or that you shouldn’t bribe your child at all!  (Do these people really exist outside of baby books?) You should bring them up to respect your authority as a parent.  Welcome also, feel free to continue reading even if you disagree with me.  Once your child hits the PMY’s feel free to refer back here, you may finally understand what I am talking about.  Perhaps you might like to ‘bookmark’ this post for future reference?  I too used to think bribing your children was for the weaker parent.  I was wrong! Oh, so very wrong.  Now if there was a Masters degree in this subject I would pass it with first class honours.

So on to the types of bribes:

The ‘Go and sit down’ bribe: Usually a simple snack, ideally healthy (I keep the unhealthy ones for more important bribes).  This won’t buy you much time but it will allow you to make that cup of coffee you so desperately want without the child hanging off your waist and risking third degree burns.  If you chose a large apple you may have enough time to drink some of said coffee before they finish their snack and resume their previous position around your leg.  How do they hold on tighter than a Greenpeace Environmentalist attached to a tree?

The ‘please put your shoes on NOW’ bribe:  This has two subsections!

  1. We are just going for a walk to get out of the house before Mummy goes certifiably crazy: Use a biscuit.  If it has chocolate in it you will get out the house, on average, three times faster.
  2. We are going out to meet friends/family: Have the treat ready (out of sight) but ensure they know they can only have it when you arrive at your destination in a timely manor.  If I’m feel particularly mean I will also promise something I was already going to provide whilst out and about, that way they think they have earned it and you get them out of the effing house!

The ‘I need five minutes peace’ bribe:  This will vary from child to child.  Pick their favourite activity or toy (other than the comforter) and hide it! Yep, hide it!  Then when you need some peace and quite bring it out.  For Pinky and Perky it is painting.  We have some cool glitter paints which are hidden in a cupboard and I went out and bought a large roll of white wallpaper liner from Homebase.  You can get loads of the stuff for about £5 or £6.  It’s much thicker than standard paper so it doesn’t t break as easily with sharp pencils or too much paint.  Granted this takes a bit if time to prepare but once they are set up and ready to paint I can get a good ten minutes of peace.  It might not be quiet as such but they aren’t saying ‘Mummy, Mummy, Mummy’  every twenty seconds.

The ‘Reeeeally late bedtime’ bribe*:  I usually use this on a Sunday, and sometimes every other day of the week depending on how fed up I am.  Pinky likes to ‘stay up late’.  She won’t go to be unless Perky is already in bed.  Easily solved… Off to bed Perky.  However, sometimes this isn’t enough so in the interest of keeping the balance I will occasionally let her think she is staying up even later than normal.  This involves doing dinner a little earlier, doing the bath a little earlier, closing all the curtains and making everything cozy.  Then when ready for bed we get into my bed and either watch a cartoon or read a book.  This may kill about 10 minutes then its bedtime.  Pinky thinks she has stayed up really late, in actual fact she is in bed half and hour earlier than normal.  Now that was easy I hear you say… well there is a little more to it.  Sometimes she is so tired that it is ok she is in bed early, mostly though it just means she spends the next two hours going in and out of her room…. So heres the real bribe (no the cartoon was only half of it).  I tell her if she is ‘good’ and goes straight to sleep and doesn’t get up then we will go to the park or soft play in the morning after breakfast.  Really the reward is up to you but for that extra half an hour of child free evening time I guarantee it’s worth it.

The ‘Eat your dinner’ bribe:  I know what you’re thinking, that one is easy, it’s pudding.  Well, not in our house it isn’t.  I once heard a Health Visitor explain to a worried mum that although it could be tempting to use the yogurt as a way to get a child to eat their dinner it can be detrimental in the long run.  She explained that using it as a treat always makes it something they will crave.  Instead, always offer the yogurt.  That way it becomes as normal as the dinner itself.  Plus children don’t have the same food hang ups as an adult does so they really won’t deliberately starve themselves.  After a couple of missed meals they will soon eat!  This little nugget of advice really stuck with me, I wasn’t even a parent when I heard it.  So this eat all your dinner bride has taken a little imagination on my part.  This is a deprivation bribe really.  ‘If you don’t eat your dinner you won’t get…’ Pick your own thing your child would respond to.  Pinky responds to no Paw Patrol, or other cartoon of choice the next day.  And believe me she knows I will stick to it.

Some days I simply ask the girls to do things for me rather than trying to bribe them.  ‘Please stop annoying your sister.’ ‘Please share your toys, she had that first anyway!’  These days I am clearly delusional with sleep deprivation!

Bribing works, accept it, embrace it and move on.

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t use bribery with their children? If so please, please, please share your secrets with us all.

*This will only work until they are able to tell the time. Use it whilst you can my friend!

Mudpie Fridays


  1. I LOVE these tips and I’m also becoming the master of bribery. It’s quite a steep learning curve, though, I’ve found and not all kids respond to the same type of bribe. My daughter for example, just doesn’t get the concept of ‘if/then’ – e.g. if you don’t put your shoes on now, then we can’t go swimming/to the park/insert as appropriate (as it’ll be too effing late, that’s why!) So biscuits definitely help here. We have to go down quite a few stairs from our flat so I tend to leave the biscuit as a bribe to get her down to the car.

    The other thing I’ve started doing recently is asking her to wash up with me. It means I can not only wash up without her round my ankles (love your Greenpeace tree hugger analogy! LOL) but I can also gain a few minutes to myself. I literally leave her for 5 minutes – checking every 30 seconds she hasn’t fallen in the sink/flooded the kitchen (luckily it’s open plan!) while I whizz around and tidy up, get bottles sterilised and poured for her baby brother, and get the bag packed ready to go out. By then she’s generally lost interest. The downside of this is that she now thinks she can do the washing up after EVERY meal. Why do they latch onto ONE thing and want to do it all the time?

    I love your ‘late-but-it’s-really-early’ bedtime bribe! Hahaha! #globalblogging

  2. I must admit I was sceptical when starting this read! But you had me at #1, my little one is still too young for bribery to be helpful in any way (much to my dismay) but I’m sure when the time comes these tips will be very useful! I guess the key is just as much consistency and consequence, so that your kid learns that it’s a trade not just a if I’m bothering mum enough I will get this/get my way etc, and as you put it ‘the right bribe for the right time’
    Any ways really well written! You had me giggling and nodding in agreement throughout 🙂 #globalblogging

    1. I’m glad you found the funny side in it. I knew some people would be sceptical from the title but wasn’t really sure what else to call it. Thank you for reading and your comment x

  3. I love these! The late bedtime is genius! Sadly my 2.5 year old has not quite embraced the concept of bribery yet – he loves the treats but can’t grasp the ‘if you do this, then you can have…’ I look forward to the day we can put some of these into action! Thanks so much for joining us again at #SharingtheBlogLove

    1. Your day will come and probably very soon. I try and persuade myself it isn’t all bad parenting as I’m teaching them consequence… Anything to help me sleep at night x

  4. I’m totally with you on the bribery…if anyone knows any other way to get a 2 and 3 year old to do what they’re asked I’d be interested to hear it. At the minute I have to threaten to take away trick or treat chocolates if the boy calls the girl an idiot (insult courtesy of 101 dalmatians not my good self) any more.

    Respect my authority as a parent…hahaha…if only!! #sharingthebloglove

  5. I always use the ‘treat that I was actually just going to give him anyway’ bribe haha. I also love that I can trick him into thinking he’s stayed up really late, it’s going to be a killer when he learns to tell time! haha xx #stayclassymama

  6. I love all of these and think I have used all of them 😂 Our main one is you can have your snack when y have got your shoes on and are sat in the car, oh and my two are out the door like a shot when you mention you can stop off at the sweetie shop. I just need to find a way to deal with the pester powers now, my 5 year old has got that one nailed, and I am week after being asked for the same thing a 100 times!! #SharingtheBlogLove. X

  7. Hahah love this. My son is 10 months old and I already started using “bribes” by giving him a healthy biscuit when we put him in the pram on a cranky day (he hates being contained, he is ALWAYS moving). I’ll have to use the favourite toy one I haven’t tried this yet. This really made me laugh and also very useful lol! Thanks for sharing with #GlobalBlogging!

  8. I love these! I always do the you can a cracker when we are in the car on the way with Alice. I can’t wait for Holly to get to the age too. It definitely makes life a bit easier and I am all for that. Thank you for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove x

  9. I am about to embark on the ‘Use the potty and you get a chocolate’ bribe. So far, it looks like he doesn’t give a hoot whether he gets a chocolate or not. I might need to attempt some other form of bribery. Totally agree though, it does work…most of the time! #globalblogging

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