Whole Parenting Family

Parenting Hack: the bribery point system that works

Before I had kids, I thought bribing your child to do something was akin to derelict parenting. In fact, I thought it was derelict parenting. I thought children should be treated like mini-adults, such that once they hit about 4 years old, they would understand the causal relationship between action & consequence and sorry, pal, you blew it, try again, would work.

Bribing them with baseball cards, ice cream, trips to the train store, opportunities to get out of bed earlier and go to bed later, I mean, who would do such things?


I used to say, Don’t do this or that or you won’t get this or that. And then I’d have to make good on my threats. And it always felt like a threat. I do bribes with glee, but threats–I end up feeling like a curmudgeon. And then have to constantly dole out a unique or (worse) oft-repeated punishment when they inevitably do not listen and obey.

But beyond just saying it aloud (which goes in one adorable ear and out the awful one), I’ve finally landed on a tried & true method of pure incentivizing that actually works and has durability. It has lasted over a month.

The subjective and indiscriminate point system.

Here’s how it works: They start out at zero. The five year old has to hit 15 before the promised action//gift//treat. The three year old has to hit 10. And anything and everything can give and taketh away points.

You hit your sister. You just lost three points.


If you want to not lose another point, please stop crying about it and instead go give her her dolly back.

Okay, Mama.

I am not joking. This has actually worked. For over a month.

the kids

The baby isn’t into it yet.

the dad

As you can see, my very squirrelly post-church dressed older kids not only need it but want it and will probably die without some kind of behavioral measuring system that does not involve the mama screaming at the top of her lungs and everyone sobbing.

So now you’re wondering if you too can implement this system. I promise you can. Pick one item that is most desired by your child. In my son’s case: baseball cards. In my daughter’s stickers. Maybe you already have a chart set up! Do it again! Five is probably the magical age that gets it in our household. Not sure I could’ve done this even last year.

In the case of inflicting mortal wounds on their sibling? Their points tank to zero. In the case of doing above-and-beyond chores like emptying all the trash cans (and trailing along behind him while he does it to tell him how to do it)? Points can increase. Being affectionate to your siblings does not garner you points, but does enhance your good-will standing with mama which may or may not make her more inclined to give you a point.

It’s all verbal, but maybe for some families, the kids might be more incentivized by a sticker chart or the like. I would probably start that and then forget to do it and then get behind and then give up!

A highlight from this endeavor has been hearing my son tell my daughter You don’t want to lose your points so let’s do this together so we can get all the points and to hear her response Yes! Yes! I want all the points. I want mine and yours.

Good luck and happy pointing? Tell me what bribes have worked for you.


  1. Susanna on August 25, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    We have been doing this exact thing with a sticker chart. They get stickers for buckling themselves and their sisters, helping with house chores, dressing little sisters, setting table, and lately for the picky eaters, whoever finishes first. It is brilliant! We also take stickers away! Our prizes have been play dough refills and headbands.

  2. Celia on August 25, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    We have a bean jar. Same idea. I sort of feel like I am awarding points for the House Cup a la Harry Potter. Sometimes the point values are a little arbitrary. 😉

  3. Kate on August 25, 2015 at 7:27 pm

    I love this idea. I’ve been struggling in the whole same-old-consequences place, but I couldn’t manage anything intricate. Two questions: what if they start losing points before they’ve gained any?? (mornings aren’t our best time) And the three year old gets it?? I feel like my four year old would just kinda look at me funny…

    • Natural Mama Nell on August 26, 2015 at 7:17 am

      I fake it a lot and stack the deck. So you could jump start with five points and then build from there–with one-chance warnings. My daughter would NOT get it but for watching her older brother so J might still be too young at 4 because I don’t think I could have done this with my son last year. Keep hanging in there?

  4. Erin @ Humble Handmaid on August 26, 2015 at 5:35 am

    Oh girl…I need to try this!