Should I reward my child for good grades?

July 28,2017

More and more parents are willing to financially reward their children for positive results in the classroom. But is this a smart move? Or will your efforts prove counterproductive, serving instead to harm your child’s future?

“Con” arguments

Many “con” arguments revolve around the fact that kids should want to learn. Good results offer their own reward, breeding self-respect and confidence in students. Students become driven to do better for themselves and for their own futures.

Contradictorily, parents offering rewards sends the message that the reason to do well in school is to enrich the wallet, not the mind. Being rewarded robs children of the ability to cultivate a life-long love of learning and a sense of responsibility when it comes to their own studies.

In addition, many children become addicted to rewards and will not work without them. Being offered reward in return for something they are expected to do breeds a sense of entitlement. So, when the reward is removed, without that intrinsic motivation to act on their own accord, the drive to excel may disappear as well.

This debate over rewarding children with money for good grades produces a lot of negative arguments. However, are there instances where giving rewards work?

Rewards can work…if you do it well

The fact is that children do respond well and will continue their good behaviour when their actions are met with positive reinforcements from their parents. However, the way a parent presents the reward and how often rewards are given can make a difference. The trick might be to combine the giving of monetary rewards with reminders as well as the use of other strategies or incentives. With the right planning and follow-through from parents, reward systems can help children do better.

So how can you implement reward systems properly?

1. Give surprise rewards instead of bribes

A boy is throwing a tantrum at the departmental store. His mother offers him some candy so that he will stop yelling. In this scenario, the candy is a bribe, not a reward, because it is given before the desired behaviour has occurred. The candy was not used to teach the child how to wait independently. In fact, the child has probably internalised that he can use tantrums to get what he wants.

In the realm of academics, this would be equivalent to saying “If you do well, I will buy you a present.” When rewards are positioned this way, there may be short-term success such as improved grades. However, their joy of learning is killed, and the intrinsic motivation to work for their own good may disappear.

Comparatively, surprising your child with a reward after he brings home a good result on an exam may be a better way of offering reward.

2. Encourage self-evaluation and self-assessment

Get your child to evaluate themselves and their skills, and tap on their internal self-satisfaction that comes with doing well. You can do this by saying, “Did it feel good to do that?”, “I’m happy you achieved this grade. You look pleased with yourself too!” Doing this will encourage your child to think about their own actions and decisions, and see the good behaviour and good grades as worthy end-goals to work towards every time, even if monetary incentives were not present.

Ultimately, this is what you want to breed within your children: an intrinsic sense of motivation. Your child will soon realise that good behaviour and results are their own rewards and become more inspired to love learning.

3. Link your reward to larger responsibilities

Often preached as a downside to using monetary rewards is that children get addicted to rewards and will not be motivated to do well on their own accord. Parents that merely throw monetary rewards at their children are bound to weaken their children’s self-discipline. By positioning good grades as mere work, instead of activities that pleasure can be derived from upon doing well, children’s interest in studying diminishes.

However, if studying can be linked to developing a sense of ownership and pride, the child will feel intrinsically motivated to keep at it.

How can parents link studying to developing a sense of ownership and pride, then? One way is to use other types of rewards. Instead of monetary rewards, you could allow your child to choose where the next family weekend trip should be or decide which restaurant the family should dine at next. The child gets a sense of satisfaction from being allowed to make decisions in line with his preferences but also takes up another responsibility on behalf of the family. In addition, children are raised to see value in social rewards, such as quality time with the family.

4. Don’t rely on monetary rewards only

Don’t rely on monetary prizes only; be sure to continue giving your child pats on the back, hugs, and praise – these all act to reinforce good behaviour. Small non-monetary rewards work just as well in motivating children to do well. Children recognise that you appreciate the efforts they put in at school.