I pay my 5.5-year-old $1 if she sleeps in her own bed and take $1 in rent when she sleeps in our bed.

I've also taken to offering her $1 to pick up her 2.5-year-old brother's Lego messes.

Good or bad? When should I stop?

  • 13
    hm, wonder why someone downvoted. Good question! +1 Mar 29, 2011 at 21:58
  • 1
    Change the rewards to some attention, a hug some laughing playing when they get up and drop the money.
    – Barfieldmv
    Mar 30, 2011 at 6:58
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    Seems to me like the reverse of punishment :) Mar 31, 2011 at 21:51
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    Is there any reason the 2.5 year old can't pick up his own Lego messes?
    – user808
    May 10, 2011 at 12:38
  • 4
    good question but like many I avoid the bribery for things the kids should be doing anyway, I think it sets a bad example
    – MichaelF
    May 17, 2011 at 16:36

16 Answers 16


Bribery is a bad thing

The problem with bribing them to do things is that it establishes pattern of rewarding good behaviour with money/treats/snacks. As soon as the child is old enough to realize it, they'll refuse to do anything unless it is rewarded somehow. This situation is incredibly hard to break, so it's best not to get there in the first place.

Good behaviour should be established as the norm. Yes, all children have difficult days and that is what the naughty-step, no-dessert, removal-of-privileges, bedtime-with-no-stories scale of disincentives is for. When they've had a day of good behaviour, then that's the time to reward them with a small reward to enforce that a whole day of good behaviour gets results. The small reward is: they get to choose what's for breakfast/lunch/dinner, which DVD to watch, where to go at the weekend, etc. Nothing monetary nor snack/treat/toy.

The big rewards - trip to the theme park/play center/farm/toyshop - should be kept back for major achievements such as being fully potty-trained, dry at night, first write their name, etc. Now, these rewards aren't offered up-front - they are given as a result of the exceptional behaviour. We use a chart which fills up with stickers to track the steps leading up to a big event (e.g. each dry night of 7) and explain to the children that when they reach the end of the chart, we'll do something nice such as go feed the ducks at the pond, which is different to a normal day. We find that they take to this and are suitably surprised when we 'upgrade' them to a trip to the play centre, etc.


So our children are now 9 and 6 and we still use the chart. They get several stickers/ticks each day for good effort, good results, exceptional behaviour (good behaviour is the expected norm now), doing something without us asking/nagging, etc. They've responded really well to this - on an average day, they get between 3 and 5 stickers/ticks for good effort on homework, good music practice, tidying their room before we asked, when a parent comments on their kind/good behaviour to others, etc.

They also fully understand that we don't disclose what might happen when they complete their chart. Indeed, one time, we just tied some rope to the apple tree to make a swing but this was such fun that they told all their friends.

We scale the chart for their age - 7 x age in years; we have higher expectations of the 9 year old and he has more responsibilities than his younger sister at this stage.

We have also removed stickers/ticks for when they've done something bad/poor behaviour that needed reinforcing - e.g. getting under mummy's feet causing her to miss the train three days in a row, telling grandma the wrong medicine to give to the 6 year old (she didn't, phew!). We are very clear on the consequences of the bad behaviour and we remove stickers/ticks from the top of the chart so they can see the impact.

Every parent thinks highly of their child but we've had feedback from other parents, teachers, scout leaders, camp organisers, etc., that our children understand how their behaviour can influence outcomes and that they make good choices based on this knowledge.

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    +1: pay for special achievements, don't pay for what must be a norm.
    – 9000
    Mar 30, 2011 at 0:44
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    "Bribery is a bad thing" -- but, it is how the world operates. So, I have to agree it's a bad thing to teach children, but am a bit torn over the reality that the world pretty much works that way. :)
    – DA01
    Oct 24, 2011 at 14:28
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    @DA01, there might be a confusion of definitions, though this might also have cultural aspect to it. Giving someone money for doing what is the norm is bribery (e.g. paying for not getting beaten up, or giving money to be treated fairly), whereas giving money for doing what is more than the norm is called trade (e.g. asking someone to wash your car in exchange for some cash). I can't remember ever having bribed someone, or being offered a bribe. I, like everyone else, have however traded quite a bit.
    – Koert
    Oct 27, 2011 at 19:49
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    @Koert - gving money for what is the norm is usually called "salary". Giving extra for extra achievements is "bonus".
    – user3143
    Nov 11, 2011 at 14:35
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    I'm surprised no one challenges ""Bribery is a bad thing". At least provide some sort of reference data or research for this. The current answer just appears to retell the age old assumptions.
    – gesell
    Mar 30, 2014 at 21:55

Punishment, threats, bribes, and rewards are two, err, four sides of the same coin.

Our grandparents knew what to do. When a child misbehaved, you beat them. When a child made a mistake, you beat them. If you want a child to remember something important, you beat them. If you were too nice to a child, gave them praise, or gave too many gifts, you would "spoil" the child.

Our parents' generation decided to make a change. Instead of putting children down, we should lift them up. Praise, bribes, and rewards would help them focus on positive behavior, on being good people, and seeing themselves in a positive light.

Today, we are starting to realize that rewards and bribes have the same problems as punishments and threats. The problems include:

  • you only get the desired behavior when you are around

  • you are signing up to punish/threat/bribe/reward from now on, whenever you want your child to do something

  • the appearance of behaving correctly is held higher than the act of doing so

  • you assume, and demonstrate, that you don't trust the child to follow their own intrinsic motivation. They will learn that the only way to get someone to do do something is by "making it worth their while."

This last one is the most troubling. Would you steal your buddy's wallet if you could get away with it? Do you need the threat of punishment (external or internal) to stop yourself? Or do you refrain because you care about your friend and want to be good to them?

I'd rather show my children that I trust them and believe in their ability to empathize with the needs of others.

The hardest part is figuring out how to do this. We have lots of examples and encouragement to work through punishment, threats, bribes and rewards. Systems of control and domination are built deeply in to our language and are hard to overcome*. Where do we go for guidance on how to act otherwise? It's hard to find.

*do you see how natural that sounds? Do you see how "hard to overcome" assumes the need for control and domination of self and speech?

  • An interesting perspective here. Much to think on and no easy answers.
    – Data Monk
    Nov 6, 2011 at 7:00
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    Have you encountered the Mechams. Their website is schooleffectivelyathome.com and although they are specialists in home education, this is basically their philosophy too and they have answers for some of the questions you raise in your Answer. Even if you aren't homeschooling you might like to check them out. Jul 10, 2012 at 3:24

Transactions don't have to use real money. An alternative to real money is to use some sort of tokens (this is often called the "token system") - poker chips work well for this (they have denominations, are colourful, cheap, and look roughly like coins), but you can use anything really.

Advantages over real money are that you control the price of rewards, and what rewards are possible.

Rather than having real money to spend on things, you can spend tokens on things that money can't buy: an extra story at bedtime, a walk to the park, and so on. Young kids are happy with these rewards, and they don't really cost you anything (the extra story or walk is probably as enjoyable for you as the kid). Things that really cost money generally require a lot of tokens.

A good practice for the tokens may be to only give tokens for chores or behavior that helps the household, not personal tasks or behavior such as cleaning their own room or sleeping in their own bed. The tokens should never have a cash value. They should only be for extra privileges (sleeping in parents bed) other non-tangibles.

As the sleeping-in-own-bed issue is resolved, the number of tokens gained can be reduced (or the cost of rewards can be increased) until the token doesn't really gain anything. (In real life, prices do increase, so this doesn't teach false financial lessons). This makes it easier to wean the kid off rewards for each behaviour.

Alternatively, something that I do is to require increasingly good behaviour for the same number of tokens. For example, when toilet training if there were no accidents for one day, that was one token. Once that was achieved, no accidents for two days in a row gained one token; then three days in a row, and so forth.

(I used the Fibonacci sequence: 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21... so that fairly quickly so many days are required that it's just normal behaviour and no-one remembers about the reward, plus we get to learn about interesting sequences of numbers).

  • +another just for fibonacci :)
    – geocoin
    May 26, 2011 at 16:28
  • Can't wait until your kid(s) start explaining Fibonacci numbers to their friends in kindergarten! Jul 29, 2011 at 16:03
  • Using tokens as a substitute for money is still bribery but the value is determined when the "child cashes in their chips". I'm not sure poker chips are a good thing to introduce to children, either - gambling is an adult activity. Sep 20, 2013 at 13:30
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    @JBRWilkinson Any reward by this measure, include those that you suggested, are bribery.
    – gesell
    Mar 30, 2014 at 21:58

Bribery (incentives, payment for performance, rewards for obedience) destroys intrinsic motivation in children (and adults). It can gain temporary cooperation, but it fails in the long run as your child will ultimately expect some incentive to do anything. To become dependent on external motivations is an awful psychological result that you certainly do not want for your child.

I recommend:

These authors have summarized a lot of scientific studies in human and child psychology and basically annihilate the pervasive modern parenting paradigm of rewards and praise (and/or the withholding of the same). That kind of parenting is called "behaviourism" and is based on studies of rats, dogs and chimps. According to the science, behavioural parenting can get you some level of obedience (mostly in the short term), but it has a lot of potential for damaging your relationship with your child and your child's character.

Although it is much easier to follow some variation of reward/punishment parenting strategy to try to obtain obedience from your children (and I fall back into it all the time, even knowing how crappy it is), the best way to parent is to treat your kid like a person. Use reasoning, talk it out, work it out, brainstorm together, work together. Even with a 2-year-old (OK, things do break down when she starts screaming and punching...) This teaches the child how to handle conflict. When you do resort to rewards or punishments, realize that it is not good parenting, apologize for it, and try to do better next time.


Disclaimer: I'm a future parent myself; but my wife is a part-time nanny for 4 different families (like 7 or 8 kids total), and I hear about this all the time.

She tends to bribe the kids with privileges (it wouldn't make sense to give them money, you know, since it is her job). Lately, she says the kids have begun turning it around on her and are now trying to bribe her. Everything is turning into a negotiation:

Wife: "Eat 5 more bites of veggies and you can go play"

4 y/o: "Okay, but only if you'll let me play X"

And of course there is the very knowledgeable Dave Ramsey...he says: (source)

  1. Start paying them a commission for chores they do around the house.
  2. Do not give them an allowance.
  3. Send them off to work.

I've always loved the idea that a child should work for their money...but the flip side is the possible conditioning of them to only do things for money...or to start bribing and negotiating with you.

  • Oh yes, Syd has started to figure out she can bargain for things and negotiate. I don't think it's unhealthy (yet).
    – Cade Roux
    Mar 29, 2011 at 22:04
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    Syboogu raises a good point. Be very careful about how you bribe your child or it will backfire big time (in my experience). Mar 29, 2011 at 22:19
  • I'd like to see what that child will behave when its a grown up. I seriously don't know if its good not not.
    – DerMike
    Mar 30, 2011 at 8:08
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    Negotiation is an important life skill... I personally am a truly awful negotiator and as a result i'm always getting stiffed in life. early fostering of this should perhaps be promoted, unfortunately it means more negotiating work from us. fortunately my wife is a better negotiator than me
    – geocoin
    May 26, 2011 at 16:25
  • @DerMike You can check out how Dave ramsey's kids turned out - Rachel Cruze is a public figure, and the generosity of his son (who is not a public figure) has been expounded upon many times. How many 16 year olds will have earned $15,000 towards a first car, then turn around and give $10,000 of it to a disaster relief effort, and on top of that go in person to work in said disaster relief effort?
    – pojo-guy
    Jun 1, 2018 at 11:35

It sounds like you have set clear, realistic expectations up front, which would mean you're dealing with rewards and penalties and not bribery. However, if you're bribing her in the middle of an argument, she can easily perceive that as rewarding her bad behavior which encourages her to start the argument again night after night.

Rewarding good behavior is generally the most effective approach. It doesn't even have to be money. Exuberant praise actually works better than tangible rewards with my daughter. Make it clear exactly what the praise is for and why it's such a big deal. This is so powerful because it makes her feel good about herself to know she accomplished something great. Bonus self-esteem boost! The hard part for me is remembering to give the praise on a consistent basis.

If using tangible rewards, it might be difficult to stop as she'll certainly notice the lack of coin in her palm. If the dollar is the only reason she's sleeping in her own bed, not having the dollar is going to be a big problem. If she's in her own bed because she's proud to be a big girl, she's not going to miss the money. Keep up with the money for a while, and introduce lots of praise. I'd even talk about how well she's doing throughout the day. Just as when you introduced the reward, setting expectations up front is going to be very helpful when phasing it out. Make it clear that you're very proud of her for sleeping in her own bed. Explain that she's a big girl now, and it's one of the things that big girls do, so soon she won't be getting paid for it.

You may find that you don't even need any penalty. I haven't found them very effective, anyway (my daughter would gladly pay a dollar to get out of something she doesn't want to do). If your daughter responds well to penalties, then it's another great tool to use. The best part: phasing out penalties is probably not going to be a problem!


David Murdoch brings up a good point about the kids starting to flip it around to make everything a negotiation. I can't cite a source on the exact technique we've adopted to avoid this (probably because the wife is the one to read most of the books on these topics), but I can share the general idea:

Don't make the bribery a regular thing. And don't ever offer a bribe for good behavior once the bad behavior has already begun - then you are rewarding not just the good behavior but the entire bad behavior / good behavior cycle. An example of an acceptable bribe:

Your child has been on good behavior all day, but it is getting late, they are getting exhausted and you have one more errand to run. In that case, offering a small bribe (let them choose a toy under X amount for instance) as long as they are good in the store is a good way to encourage and reward good behavior.

Bribes don't need to be much of anything, really - you'd be amazed at the lengths a boy will go to to keep that $0.97 Hot Wheels car they picked out.

  • 1
    I have also found that letting the child pick the toy before you do the rest of your shopping helps. He has a physical reminder and if he starts to act up in the store you can take the toy. He always response better if he already has the toy "it is his".
    – Kim
    Mar 30, 2011 at 1:09

I have struggled with this question, too, and have tried to balance the immediate effectiveness of "bribing" my children with the long-term lessons they're learning from my own behavior.

Currently, what seems to work best for me, is to identify real, tangible costs that are associated with whatever behavior I'm trying to guide. For instance, our boys (8 and 11) spend way too much time playing video games on their computers. I don't want them to learn there's anything wrong with playing video games, but I want them to get used to maintaining a balance of varied activities, so I felt that making arbitrary restrictions on the amount of time would be the wrong approach.

So, we assigned a rental price to the PC of $5/hour. They get paid minimum wage ($7.25/hour) for the work they do around the house, so now they get to decide how much time they spend on the computer, but there are tangible constraints to keep them in balance.

We've been doing this for about a year now, and it seems to be working well enough.


Hear this amusing podcast from Planet Money:

Joshua Gans, an economist from Australia who wrote a book called Parentonomics, "tried to create a toilet-training economy for his young children. He rewarded them with candy for sitting on the toilet — and the older ones got candy if they helped the younger ones."

However, the kids quickly learned how to manipulate the system:

But, like tiny Wall-Street bankers, the kids figured out how to work the system for maximum advantage.

His daughter managed to go to the bathroom every 20 minutes, all day long. For a while, she got a treat every time.

She also wrung everything she could out of her brother:

I realized that if I helped my brother go to the toilet, I would get rewarded, too. And I realized that the more that goes in, the more comes out. So I was just feeding my brother buckets and buckets of water.

  • For the last 4 months I've been telling Evan he could get Legos when he went #2 on the the potty. He finally did on Saturday. Then he went again and again, just to get more Legos - completely at will and whenever he wanted to open a new minifig. The rule is now revised, to a Lego for a whole day with no accidents.
    – Cade Roux
    Aug 29, 2011 at 14:14
  • Can you please add a short summary of the podcast, especially about the outcome? I can't vote for this without more information. Sep 2, 2011 at 5:40
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    Basically, the schemes devised by the economist father backfired because the kid learned how to manipulate them. I added a couple of examples to the answer.
    – Itamar
    Sep 2, 2011 at 12:08

I agree with other people that bribery is bad, but you have to know when it's bribery and when it isn't. Picking up the Lego mess isn't a bribe, because its not her mess. You're paying her to perform a service. It's an even exchange of labor for compensation. This can be a good opportunity to teach a child about money and finances if played right. If she had made the Lego mess, I wouldn't offer to pay her. The thing with this particular situation is that you may be missing an opportunity to teach your younger child about picking up his own mess.

Things that are rules, you don't want to negotiate on with bribes. You want to clearly establish that you're the boss and that you don't have to pay your child to follow the rules.

  • +1 for not negotiating rules, and for the idea of performing services. May 18, 2011 at 9:50

I say good.

Many children grow up taking money for granted, and associating money with effort is a good lesson to teach when your kids are young. I would add that you should also take the opportunity to help your daughter put a portion of her money aside to save, and maybe a portion to give to charity.


In my opinion it varies with age. We provide punishment and reward, and money comes into that along with treats. Here's what we have done with our three:

They all get pocket money of £1 per week from granny as standard

If my eldest two help me wash the car they get an extra pound. If they are really naughty they may get no pocket money in a particular week. Granny keeps the money, but every time she visits the kids get to decide whether they want to spend the savings so far, or keep them. When they want a new toy, or to go quad biking - they pay out of their own savings. They rapidly learn the value of money.

In addition to the monetary side of things, we use treats:

If they are naughty they might get sent to bed with no dinner - If they are good they might get dessert.

When little, toilet training success was rewarded with a treat at each milestone

When they get a very good school report they get to choose a new book as a gift

I think rewards are extremely valuable, and including monetary rewards helps them prepare for later life


It's important to distinguish between Intrinsic (natural) consequences and extrinsic (artificial) reward/punishment. And it's important to understand why they aren't complying. Imagine if you said "OK fly!" and they didn't so you said "here's a bunch of candy, OK? Now ...Fly!". It's often more productive to figure out why they aren't complying and address that root cause, rather than trying to "motivate" them.

Extrinsic Rewards/Punishments are often viewed as coercive. And resisted In the real world if they are late for the bus, there's a consequence: they miss it and must walk to school. If they study really hard, are organized and take good notes, they'll get better grades. If they practice for the speech they have to give, they'll do better. Those are natural consequences. An emotionally adjusted person won't "fight" this or complain about it. They realize "you can't argue with gravity".

But... if you try to coerce them with punishments and rewards, a typical person will see this as a battle. They see that you're trying to coerce them. And they will often resist. Or (worse) become more interested in the extrinsic reward/punishment as it extinguishes the internal motivation. So, now instead of practicing soccer for the natural consequence (getting better, winning, etc.) they do it for the $10 you offered them. And pretty soon they're more interested in the $10 than the soccer practice.

The solution is not easy: you have to find the natural consequences of their actions and merely highlight them. And you may often find it easier to facilitate rather than coerce. For example, if you're trying to get them to go potty the first time rather than trying to bribe them (although I think it would be OK to bribe that first time) instead find out what the issue is. I mean, do they really like the feel of pooping their pants? They may need to sit on the potty for 30 minutes before having success. That's boring. They don't like it. So address that issue and facilitate the potty training by finding something fun for them to do (my wife had our kids listen to books on tape). The beauty here is that this is a natural reward: you're not "bribing them" you're addressing the fact that sit'n on the pot is boring.

For more on this I highly recommend Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn.


I took a roll of pennies and spray painted them gold so they couldn't get mixed up/mistaken for normal money. These were "pirate coins" or "treasure". I used them to reward extra good behavior and routine tasks that they needed some motivation for (1 penny for doing a good job brushing teeth, 1 penny for sorting laundry, etc.).

There were several benefits from doing rewards this way. First is that since there was no intrinsic value to them, I could decide what they were worth. My children would ask me "how many gold pennies would this cost?" If it was something I wanted them to "buy" (healthy food that they liked at the supermarket, the right to choose where we went to dinner on our night out, chapter books, etc.) I set the price fairly low, and if it was something I didn't want them to have (candy, comic books, etc.) the price was high. That way they always knew they could get something if they absolutely wanted it but I stacked the deck in the favor of the healthy choices.

A secondary benefit: no more "mommy mommy buy me this please mommy..." when we are at the store. I just ask them if they have enough gold pennies to buy what they want. If they do and they are willing to pay, they get what they want. No arguments. And no credit. If they want something and don't have enough to earn it, give them a task and say "as soon as you have enough earned I'll bring you back here and we'll buy it." Inevitably by the time they have enough, they've decided they want something else instead.

Interestingly, my son and my daughter have developed extremely different spending patterns according to their personalities. Money burns a hole in my son's pocket. If he has any money at all he spends it on the first impulse item he sees and wants. This has carried over into his early teen years, unfortunately. I think it is a product of his early life in an extremely poor rural Chinese orphanage (he was 4-1/2 when we adopted him).

My daughter is a hoarder. She once saved 200 pennies (averaging a little over 1 per day) and decided she wanted to spend it on a vacation to Disneyland for the whole family. Eventually her hoard got so large I was spray painting nickels, dimes and quarters, but it was a great way to encourage her to learn about money. Her habits were also due to her early childhood (she was a "good" child according to the orphanage -> translate -> she didn't cry so we could leave her in her crib by herself and she taught herself not to want anything).

I suppose I could have used real money but I think that would have been a very bad idea in my son's case. Offered the choice between ten dollars worth of fruit (which he loves) and a candy bar (which he loves even more) I could never predict which way he'd fall. If he'd had a dollar and been given the choice between $1 worth of fruit and $1 worth of candy he'd have gone for the candy every time.

  • +1 Very reasonable. " She once saved 200 pennies (at 1 per day) and decided she wanted to spend it on a vacation to Disneyland for the whole family." Wow! Did you do it? How was she with the result? May 14, 2015 at 19:25
  • Absolutely :) She asked me how many pennies it would cost to go to Disneyland and (thinking that it was a sufficiently out-of-reach sum) I said 200. After that she never spent a single penny until she had reached her goal. So we all went to Disneyland that summer. It turned out what she really wanted to do was visit Grandma and Grandpa in Pasadena, but she thought she'd throw Disneyland in there so everyone would have fun ;) May 15, 2015 at 17:01

In "How to Behave so Your Children Will too" they say "never give away ice cream". By that they mean use treats and fun things as a way to remind yourself to focus on their good behaviour. I try to consider the value proposition of my children doing things that they don't want to do and what they get out of it. David Murdoch mentioned that his wife's charges are demanding things from her in return for doing stuff. I want to encourage this kind of negotiation. Sometimes I ask my kids (boys, 7&9) what will make this worth their while. Their answers often surprise me: more time in the park, a bike ride, a friend over, pizza for dinner. This ties in nicely with Tony Meyer's token system. We used paper paint sample cards and wrote reminders on them.

As for sleeping with parents, we enjoy morning cuddles with our children. We got to this point by putting limits on when this would happen. First, they must knock on the door. Entering without being invited = no. There was an alarm clock before they could tell time. After it rang, they could join us. Sometimes we would come to their bed for a bit if they needed reassurance. Back rubs and a teddy would help ("It's important to stay in bed so teddy doesn't get lonely"). Very important to know why they are coming into your bed so you can deal with the cause if it is nightmares. Bribery with money is not recommended.


I personally prefer rewards over money payment. Especially, I don't like the idea of paying the children for chores they do around the house. We all live in it together, and all have responsibilities within the house. And they have their part to do with it. To reach this goal, you have to teach them by experience and let them get used to it.

We established a system with our 2 eldest sons (ages 8 and 5) that each day one of them is "on duty". This means that he needs to do some very simple chores around the house, like pick up the toys and things like that. He can get his brother to help, but it's his responsibility. By doing it every other day, they don't feel that "they have to do these things all the time", and they do it quite happily. Of course, we encourage them with praise on their good work, and teach them how to do it correctly as we go. It got to a point that we could drop the whole "on duty" thing altogether, as they have grown used to doing these things.

On other things, where we had problems, like taking a shower, we took a slightly different reward approach. My second son would always fight and not want to take a shower. We established a reward system (after a few trails) for both of them so that the big one will not feel left out. It went like this: When we call them to the shower, if they come promptly and get into the shower without a fight, each gets a point. They collect points, and at the end of the week we check, if they got full points, they get a reward. The rewards is a "note" (like a coupon) and each week it is different. It could be an extra 1/2 hour of TV or computer time, a snack, an extra story at bedtime, etc. The idea is that they could use the coupon at any time they want. This worked really well, and after about 3 months we were able to drop the system gradually, as all shower issues have ceased.

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