Difference Between Reinforcement and Bribes
Reinforcing a desired behavior can often be misunderstood as bribing a child. Bribing is described as offering a reward before a behavior occurs. An example of this would be when a child asks for candy at the supermarket and his mother says “no, it will spoil your dinner”. If the child complains and then the mother replies, “Alright you can have the candy, but do you promise to eat your dinner later?” this would be considered a bribe.
In order for a reward to be considered reinforcement it needs to occur after the behavior does, thereby reinforcing that behavior. An example of this would be when a child helps their younger sibling put toys away and the mom says, “You helped your brother clean up the yard. Thank you! That was very helpful.” In this instance, the reinforcement followed the behavior instead of rewarding it before it happens.
The problem with bribing is that the reward and behavior will happen too far apart, causing the child to miss the association between what they did correctly with receiving reinforcement. Another more serious downfall is that the child may be rewarded for something they have no intention of doing or refuse to do later on. This can actually increase the likelihood of future problem behavior and defiance.