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Bribes, Threats and Other Methods that Don’t Work

By Dr. Don and Debbi Dunlap
Pastoral Counselor
What parent of a misbehaving child hasn’t resorted at some point to bribes and threats?

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In Article #14 of a 20-part series on Child Discipline Dr. Dunlap describes a scene he witnessed in a department store. A mother is unable to get her young son to obey even though she threatens, bribes and tries to shame him into good behavior. Dr. Dunlap points out the futility of such disciplinary approaches, and discusses the important difference between children saying they are “sorry” for disobedience, and actually admitting that they were wrong.

A few months ago, my ten-year old daughter and I were shopping together for her birthday present in a local department store. Nearby, in the same aisle, we witnessed a loud battle of the wills taking place. A harried mother was begging her young child, about four years of age, to behave. First she asked him rather gently if he wanted to settle down. Of course, given the choice, the boy loudly responded, “No!”


Next she threatened him, “If you don’t behave I’m going to take you to the car and leave you there until I’m finished shopping.” Obviously, he knew that wasn’t going to happen. Then she bribed him, “Ok, if you’ll be good, I’ll buy you some ice-cream when we leave here.” “I don’t want ice-cream,” he protested. “I want a Hot Wheels Super Racer!”


My daughter and I were waiting to see who would win the battle of the wills.

At that point, the scene was too intriguing to abandon. Both my daughter and I wanted to know who was going to win. We might have guessed. She finally resorted to a dramatic appeal to his emotions by asking him,

Aren’t you embarrassed behaving like this if front of those nice people? Do you want them to think you’re a bad boy?

“I don’t care, I don’t care!” he wailed, turning on an impressive waterfall of tears.


Thereupon, the boy slugged his mother in the arm to punctuate his point. The seemingly helpless mother jerked him up and angrily stormed out of the store.

My young daughter commented, “Wow Dad, she sure doesn’t know anything about biblical discipline, does she?” My heart went out to the young mother because I knew that she could easily have solved her overwhelming problem if she understood the scriptural truths regarding child rearing.

3.      Will my reproof appeal to my child’s conscience, rather than his or her emotions?


We read in 2 Corinthians 4:2,

By setting forth the truth plainly, we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

We should not try to make children feel ashamed or emotionally embarrassed. Instead, we must seek to make them aware of the fact that their disobedience displeases God. We ask them to state the disobedient behavior in their own words. We ask if their behavior was right or wrong, according to God’s Word. Then we ask them to state what must take place—what God commands parents to do—when they disobey.

4.      Is the child sorry for disobeying or is the child merely dreading the consequences of his or her disobedience?


When children disobey, there is a significant difference between admitting that they are wrong and simply being sorry that they were caught. We must ask God for the grace and wisdom to guide children to genuine repentance for their sins.

After we have satisfactorily answered these questions, we are ready to proceed in applying the rod of reproof to the disobedient child.


Dr. Don Dunlap, a pioneer in the placement of Pastoral Counselors in the offices of Christian physicians, has conducted over twenty thousand appointments during his ministerial career. His counseling practice includes adults, children and families in crisis. Dr. Dunlap is committed to facilitating a network of telephone counselors. His goal is to provide help for the many people unable to meet face to face with a competent Bible-based counselor. For a complete library of Dr. Dunlap’s articles, indexed by topic, go to Family Counseling Ministries. You may also make an appointment for personal telephone counseling by clicking on Family Counseling Ministries. Family Counseling Ministries is a ministry Partner.

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