Should You Pay Your Child for Good Grades?

Many parents wonder whether paying a child for good grades is really effective.
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In a perfect world, a child would be motivated to achieve all As on his report card solely because he loves to learn and strives for excellence. This type of child is few and far between, however, so some parents wonder if it might be beneficial to offer a financial incentive for good grades. The amount of cash might differ, whether it’s $5 for an A on a test or $50 for a stellar report card, but the takeaway is the same—if you’ve earned top marks on your studies, you’ve also earned a reward for it.

Some people, however, don’t think paying a child for good grades isn’t a good idea. They argue that a financial incentive could dampen a child’s excitement for education. But when parents sees a bright student struggling to achieve, or a child refusing to go to school because he’s failing, parents should weigh the pros and cons to determine the best option for their family.

Pros of Paying Kids for Good Grades

For advocates of paying children for good grades, the thought process (or one of them, at least) is this: As an adult, you’re paid to work and, often, earn bonuses when you go above and beyond. In childhood, school is your job—therefore, shouldn’t you earn those same bonuses? This strategy teaches children that you’ll be rewarded when you go the extra mile.

Rewarding your child for good grades may boost his drive to succeed. Once your child experiences a little success, intrinsic motivation can kick in.

This is particularly applicable to a child who has become frustrated with learning. Consider it a jumpstart to better grades—once he feels the joy of a good report card, the desire to do better might follow.

Cons of Paying Kids for Good Grades

There is some research that indicates paying kids for good grades may backfire.

Initial research done in 2000 by Edward L. Deci, known as the Self-Determination Theory (SDT), found that students who were paid for doing an activity then showed a decrease in motivation in completing said activity.

In layman’s terms: Paying your kid won’t make him work harder; in fact, it could do the opposite. Plus, the bigger concern is that it could dull the child’s enjoyment of learning when they’re simply completing the work to get the cash.

Questions to Ask Yourself

If you’re still weighing your options, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the purpose? If your goal is to jumpstart your children’s motivation, then a one-time cash reward for a good grade might be worthwhile. But once your student has proven that he can make those grades regularly, will he expect the cash each time?
  • Does money have value to your child? Because children don’t “need” money to survive, a cash reward for good grades won’t necessarily be meaningful. If you offer him the choice of $5 for getting an A on a test or playing the XBox all weekend, he might think the video games are worth more. A way to combat this? Start early in teaching your child the value of a dollar.
  • What about other children? Students have different learning abilities, so while your older child might struggle to get a B--even when working to her highest potential--the younger one might breeze on by with an A on every test. Who deserves the money more?
  • What other ways could you motivate your child? An alternative to paying your child is to reward your child’s effort. For example, let your child use electronics after he’s finished his homework, or use a token economy system to reward good study habits. There are many free and low cost rewards that you can use as an alternative to money.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what is likely to work best for your child and your family. Consider the pros and cons and decide what steps you want to take to help your child reach his full academic potential.

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