Your kids will be bringing report cards home soon, and you may be getting ready to hand out some cash. And if that isn’t the deal you have with your kids, you’ve probably thought about it at some point.
Should I be paying my kids for getting good grades in school?
If your parents pulled out their wallets for great grades when you were a kid, it might make sense for you do the same thing. Just a few years ago, this T. Rowe Price survey showed almost half of all responding parents used money as a motivator for improved school performance.
But you may have heard paying for grades can backfire on parents too.
Kids who are failing may give up and quit working hard if they know they won’t get the reward in the end. Or they may turn to cheating or seeking extra credit to get higher grades, even if they don’t understand the material.
Some students may even refuse to take challenging courses. Those are real possibilities if students learn to love money more than learning.
Does Learning Require a Reward?
Money, toys, dinners out, or unique experiences tied to grades are considered extrinsic motivators. Kids are motivated by the reward they’ll get, rather than by how they’ll feel inside about what they have accomplished in school.
While rewards may work in the short-term, research shows mixed results on paying students to do well. When money was involved, some kids did a better job meeting expectations for things they could control.
This included better attendance, homework completion, and class participation. But in the end, most kids didn’t score higher on standardized tests because of a payout.
If not Money, Then What?
You want to support your child and believe in their ability to learn. Remember students learn at different rates, and they excel in different areas.
Putting a reward in place to earn an “A” or achieve “high honor roll” status may be putting stress on your child for a goal they can’t meet. And it may take away the fun of learning, and attending school.
It’s much better to praise kids for their effort, work ethic, and improvement over time. You should also set realistic grade expectations based on your child’s abilities.
A $20 bill for a perfect test score may not matter to a child who wants to hear you’ve noticed how hard he’s worked on a research paper.
This is all about building intrinsic motivation. Kids know how hard they try and your recognition of their work will go far. They will see you value effort over a score. And this will encourage them to keep at it.
Determination is a characteristic that will take them far in life.
You can also surprise your child with a treat or reward for something they have accomplished. The key is they aren’t expecting anything for learning and doing well in school.
Another idea is to use the money you would have spent paying for grades to help them succeed at school instead. Do they need a tutor in one subject? Are they struggling with writing? Maybe they need a software package to help make learning easier.
Your money is better spent on helping them build skills than on paying for grades and having them spend it at the mall.
Is There Any Reason to Use Money as a Reward?
The research on financial rewards did show some students changed behaviors because of earning money. So it might make sense to use money as a short-term financial incentive to get a child to make essential changes.
An extrinsic reward can really be motivating for some kids when done right.
Choose a specific goal and time period and tie the reward to meeting the goal. You may even set up a contract for your child to sign. Once your child has done the work, reward them and reassess the situation.
Work to phase out the rewards and shift the responsibility to your child when you know they have the skills and are responsible enough to handle completing the work.
Should I Quit if I’m Paying for Grades Now?
If you are paying for grades right now, don’t go back on your agreement. But think about your plan for next year. If your kids are young, try switching to a reward relating to their effort in school, not their report card.
If your kids are older, you may try splitting the reward up and putting part of it in a savings account for when they are out of school. That way the award is still there, it is just being handed out differently.
You can teach your kids about money and talk to them about motivation, growing up, and how it is their responsibility to learn without incentives too.
One Last Point…
Maybe you’ve told your kids in the past that school is their “job” and now you regret it. Once they heard job, they reminded you they should get paid for it! If you haven’t used that saying – don’t do it!
Instead, focus on school being important because it is a place to learn. And they’ll be learners all through life. Learning will also help them get a job and earn money someday and the more they learn at school, the better!
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Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – by Carol S. Dweck
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance – by Angela Duckworth
Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why – by Paul Tough