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Is Reinforcement the same as bribery?

I'm often asked this question and you might be wondering the same.

While bribery and reinforcement are two methods of influencing behaviour, it's important to note that bribery and reinforcement are not the same things.

Now, you might be wondering, how are they different?

Well, reinforcement is a technique used to reward desirable behaviours, while bribery typically involves providing something of value in exchange for a desired result.

If you offer something (reinforcer) to your child in exchange for desirable behaviour, or as a reward for stopping a challenging behaviour, it is considered a bribe. For example, saying "If you stop screaming, we will go eat ice cream" is an example of bribery, as you are trading the reward of ice cream for the desired behaviour of not screaming. The reward is usually given before the desired behaviour is performed and is often seen as a form of manipulation.

Reinforcement is a powerful strategy used to promote desirable behaviours. Unlike bribery, the reward is not given before the desired behaviour; rather, positive reinforcement is given after a child engages in the desired behaviour in order to increase this behaviour in the future. For instance, if you tell your child “It’s homework time, let’s work on your math homework, and then we can play for 10min”, the reward (playtime) is contingent on the desired behaviour (math homework) being completed. This encourages the child to repeat the desired behaviour in order to receive the reward.

Reinforcement and bribery are two very different strategies for influencing behaviour, and it is important to understand the difference. Bribery is an ineffective tool, as it teaches children to expect rewards in order to engage in desired behaviours. Reinforcement teaches children that they can earn rewards for desired behaviours. While both involve rewarding someone for a behaviour, it is important to understand the differences between the two in order to ensure that the behaviour you are rewarding is the one you actually want to encourage.

If you're looking for help in addressing your child's challenging behaviour, our specialists may be able to assist you. Don't hesitate to seek out expert advice and support.

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