Should You Pay Your Children For Good Grades?

by Emily Guy Birken · 16 comments

When my sister and I were in elementary school, our mother devised a system where she would pay us $1 for every A, $0.50 per B, nothing for a C, and we owed her money for a D or an F. Report card day was exciting for both of us, as we generally collected a cool $7 or more. However, our mother’s system didn’t motivate us to get good grades. We wanted them anyway. The money was a very nice perk, however,

Parents, teachers and child psychology experts are divided on whether or not paying for academic performance is a good idea. On the one hand, some school districts that have instituted payment for book-reading have seen improvement of reading comprehension. On the other hand, students who are paid for good standardized test scores do about as well as they would have without the financial incentive. So what’s the right way to handle the grade/money connection in your house? Here are some things to think about as you decide if you will be paying Junior and Sis for good grades this school year:

How Are Your Kids Motivated?

One of the biggest concerns about paying for grades is that people feel children shouldn’t be given incentives for what they should be doing anyway. Children will do well in school if doing well is its own reward. Outside motivation will sometimes spur a student to do the bare minimum to get the reward. And for some students, it doesn’t matter what the exterior motivation is—nothing will get them to do what they don’t want to do.

However, if your child is reward-motivated, it might not be a bad idea to tie rewards to something that he otherwise wouldn’t want to do. It is important to remember that rewards for grades don’t necessarily have to be money. This is particularly true if your child has other sources of money (even an allowance). So if your child loves horses, for example, perhaps you could tell her she’ll get a day at horse farm if she brings her Social Studies grade up from a D to an A.

What Are Your Kids’ Strengths?

Another issue with money as a grade motivator is when you have more than one child and they have very different abilities. Rewarding a natural student with money while your child with learning disabilities gets nothing is a recipe for resentment and hatred of school. Putting payment on a “sliding scale” depending on what your child can accomplish (say, paying for C’s from the kid who struggles but not for the academic achiever) can work if your children understand why you are treating them differently. But that is another situation that could easily cause jealousy and resentment, so think carefully before you act.

What Lesson Do You Want to Teach?

For proponents of money-for-grades, it makes sense to pay children for what is essentially their job. If we want them to be prepared for the world after schooling, then we should let them see that you are compensated for doing a good job—and receive nothing for a poor one. And how many people would do every aspect of their job—even ones they love—if they weren’t paid for it?

However, likening school to a job can backfire. For one thing, schools can’t really fire students, nor do they have many of the other consequences available to employers for under performing employees. So providing the positive motivation and few of the negative ones gives students a false sense of what work will be like.

For my family, it’s unlikely that I will pay my son for good grades. I hope to instill in him a love of learning—although I know that’s not always easy. If I need to motivate him with other rewards, I’d like to let him work hard to earn a privilege, rather than money.

Btw, there's a pretty nifty tool that motivates your kids to do chores. It's called MyJobChart.com. With a free account, they can earn points for finishing jobs you assign them, good towards free merchandise. Give it a try. It's completely free!

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

KM August 12, 2011 at 6:59 am

I agree with you about not using money as a reward for learning, but rather instilling the privilege aspect in kids. I wouldn’t pay my kids for good grades, but I would take away fun opportunities for bad ones and replace them with educational ones. For example, if my son fails biology, I could take him to a nature and science museum and try to teach him about the animals or whatever he was struggling with. I think just flat out punishing kids doesn’t accomplish much, but going through the process with them shows them you are on their side instead of against them and might help motivate. Thanks for the article! Really made me think.

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Ivan August 18, 2011 at 10:16 am

I agree with your views on punishment, KM. Raised by a Marine, I was punished (a lot) and I don’t think it made me a better person nor did it encourage me to do better.

I also like your approach of showing another, less academic side to the subject your child isn’t doing so well with. Oftentimes doing something relevant that’s also fun goes far in helping kids to understand the subject and thus improve their learning.

What I’d add however is the need for positive reinforcement. Yes, kids should and will get good grades regardless of the reward but it comes from a deeper acceptance of why they need to do well and the more attributes we can give to doing well in school, the more likely kids will continue to do so throughout their academic career.

—Ivan

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alysa@impulsesave.com August 12, 2011 at 7:51 am

You have some great points in this article (especially including the point of a sliding scale). But I very much agree – it’s important for kids to come to love learning itself. This can be a tough task, but it sometimes help with things like do-it-yourself electronic kits (for those into science), museum visits (science and art museums are wonderful), or even just regular trips to the library!

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Dirac August 12, 2011 at 9:40 am

I must respectfully disagree. Many kids are simply stupid when it comes to priorities. It is very difficult to see that some average grades in middle school will block them from honors classes in high school which will then impact college.

I was paid for my grades…well grade. It was an A or nothing. Anything below a B was punished. I wanted a Commodore 64 so I busted my butt and earned all A grades. I went on through high school and earned mostly A grades with a sprinkling of Bs. Then when I arrived at university, I had earned enough AP credit to start as a sophomore. I was also offered a research assistant position in a rather prestigious lab.

I have since moved on to earn a graduate degree, a nice job, family and I still take classes because I have learned to love learning over time. I did not like it when I was a child but thanks to my parents, I still studied even when I did not see the big picture. Now that the picture is clear, I am very thankful to them.

I do not understand the hostility towards doing this act. I firmly believe that kids between the ages of 10 and 17 lack the ability to reason that you do as an adult. To hold them to your own intellectual standard is really not fair to the child. Now, this is not to say all kids need this incentive…some are just more motivated. I needed a computer as my motivation. I would suggest trying EVERYTHING to make sure your child earns a high mark. It is not worth them earning a C just so you, as the parent, can prove a point. There are no do-overs and C is a GPA killer.

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KM August 12, 2011 at 12:00 pm

My problem with paying for grades is that I actually disagree with the educational system in this country. Too many teachers and professors only care about giving out grades and not whether or not the student learns. If a student doesn’t do great the first time, but learns from it and studies more, no one cares – he still gets a bad grade. Like you said, there are no do-overs, and I think that’s a pitfall in the system. I would rather reward learning and progress instead of a grade. What I do agree with though is that whatever your process, do it early because things like AP classes are definitely going to pay off later.

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indio August 12, 2011 at 10:52 am

I’m not sure how I would handle this when my kids are in high school, but right now I don’t pay for grades. However, they do earn “treats.” If they work hard and move up a level in swimming class, I give them a treat. When they get to a proficient level, I’m not going to send them to classes any more. So in the long run, it saves me money if they work hard, listen well and follow instructions now. For schoolwork, if they aren’t understanding a concept, I will work with them daily until they get it, but I won’t reward for finally learning it. I want them to learn the consequences of their actions so if they don’t want to spend the time learning, then they will be the ones impacted by that decision.

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yinnmed August 18, 2011 at 9:02 pm

I agree with you,there. we are trying to save moneey here. there are other ways to motivate children.

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20 and Engaged August 13, 2011 at 7:29 am

My parents paid my siblings and I for our good grades. $20 for As, $10 for Bs, $2 for Cs. Any Ds or fails eliminated any money. It helped us stay motivated, but we enjoy learning anyways.

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Roxy August 14, 2011 at 1:38 pm

I was paid only for A’s. As an unmotivated student, it was exactly what I needed. Now that I’m a doctor and have job security in this dismal economic climate… you better believe I’m thankful.

I agree with ALL of Dirac’s comments above.

I am paying my kids and they are not getting paid for anything less than an A.

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ReadyForZero August 15, 2011 at 9:50 pm

I was definitely incentivized with $$ for getting good grades as a kid. I was already a pretty good student, but the extra incentive definitely provided me with that oomph I needed at times. I think a combination of techniques should be used to motivate your children but the best thing that my parents probably did for me was to actually be present and involved in my schooling.

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Amy Saves August 16, 2011 at 2:36 pm

I don’t pay my child for getting good grades. It’s like you said, likening school to work can backfire. If children are so used to getting paid for doing things they should be doing, then what’s the point? How will they learn the value of doing things?

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Bernard August 22, 2011 at 5:40 am

I’m not sure if I agree with paying your kid for good grades. As said above, it may equate to a “job”. What happens when the grades drop?…do you fire them? =)

I think the premise behind paying your kid for good grades it to entice them to bring home that A everyday. But we all know, money can motivate only so much.

I think that teaching your kid to always do the best they can, regardless of what grade he/she gets, is best. It teaches them that the goal isn’t where the growth is, it is in the journey.

If a person, child or adult, always strives to do well but doesn’t get the result they wanted, they’re going to learn more about themselves rather than if they hit that goal. They can learn from their mistakes, change, and move on.

As a parent, whose son just started school, I try to show him that I do my best so he can follow.

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CreditShout August 25, 2011 at 11:55 am

This is such a tough subject. I’m in the education field and I’ve read about some schools that will pay students for good grades, and it works! But you want children to learn because they enjoy learning, not just for money. But since many adults work only for the purpose of making money, it’s hard to deny the same reward to children…it’s a really tough call.

I think the best thing you can do, as a parent of educator, is to be passionate about learning with your children so they don’t see it as a job or chore that they should be paid for. The knowledge is the real reward! Just work hard with your children and teach them that they need to do their best.

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Renee September 29, 2011 at 6:32 pm

My parents did not even look at my report card.

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Melissa May 17, 2012 at 10:02 am

I am a mother of 2, 14 year old son, and 11 year old daughter.

My husband did arrange a “deal” with my kids that they would be paid for A’s only. While the incentive is great, I do not believe that it helps my children to achieve the grades.

My daughter bought an ipod touch with her “incentive” money last year.

Just last month my husband gave her $40 for getting straight A’s on her report card, and you wouldn’t believe what she bought…books.

My son is not motivated at all by the money incentive, as the grades do not come as easily for him.

I do not agree with punishment for bad grades unless the child is doing absolutely nothing to improve them. If they are giving it their all, but still not producing the grades, then there should be an alternative to helping them succeed.

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emy santos November 21, 2012 at 9:35 am

They should do this to every state and every school specially with kids that have C and B more. I do agree with this program where you get paid $30 every day for each assignment.

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