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Is it OK to pay for your child’s grades?

January 9, 2013

By Chantelle K. Dockter,

MA, Licensed Professional Counselor
Associate of CCCOW,.

Question: I am wondering if it is a good idea to pay my kids when they get decent grades. I know a lot of parents who do this, and I am not sure if this is the best approach. What do you think?

Answer: Let me start by saying that I see both sides to the argument, and understand why some parents decide to pay for good grades. However, in the long run, I don’t think that paying kids for grades is a beneficial action. I always tell kids/teens and their parents that kids have two main “jobs”. One is to be the very best student that they can be, and the other is to be a productive member of their household. By working hard at these two jobs, kids become well-rounded, develop a solid work ethic, and begin to understand the idea of priorities. The accomplishment of these two jobs should be a basic understanding between a child or teen and his/her parents from the start.

There is nothing wrong with rewarding children for hard work, or for exceeding expectations. In fact, I encourage that. The problem I see is that we are too quick to turn to financial rewards, and therefore establish an extrinsic motivation, rather than attempting to establish an intrinsic motivation for the student. Extrinsic refers to the external motivating factor, such as money, while intrinsic refers to an internal motivating factor, such as the feeling of pride that comes from doing your best on a project and earning a good grade. If we do not ever become internally motivated, we will only seek to do our best when there is something from the outside that is enticing to us, or when someone is there to dole out some type of reward. As most of us adults have figured out, that is not always the case in the real world! There are many times where you do your best because it is the right thing to do, and feels good on the inside, and yet it may never get rewarded or even noticed by anyone else. Of course children are not going to be entirely internally motivated, however there has to be a way for them to learn this so that they are set up to succeed.

So how do you assist your child in building a foundation of internal motivation? Verbal praise and positive feedback does a lot to instill that sense of pride that accompanies a job well done. Be specific about what your child has done well, and point out when they are working hard, or putting in long hours getting something done. Speak well of them and their accomplishments to others, especially when they are around to hear it. Focus on the importance of developing character and having a reputation of working hard at whatever you do when you talk with them. Ask them how they feel when they get graded, and if they feel the grade accurately reflects the amount of work or energy they put into the assignment. The earlier you start this, the more natural it is for both child and parent and the more it sticks.

It is also okay to occasionally reward hard work in other ways, such as earning a special outing or extra privileges when the grades remain where they should be. However, these rewards should not be expected or relied on as a given. You learn over time what your child’s potential is and they should be meeting that potential on a consistent basis, even without the promise or “bait” of a reward. That may be A’s for one student, and B’s for another, so you adjust according to what the learning capabilities are for each particular child.

In general we are dealing with a huge sense of entitlement in children and teens today, where they feel they are owed for whatever they do. This mentality is dangerous both for the individual as well as the family and community at large. We can do our part as parents to put a little more thought behind verbal and non-verbal rewards and reinforcement rather than just breaking out our wallets.

Chantelle K. Dockter, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor
Associate of CCCOW

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