How I Bribe My Son to Do Well in School Without Paying for Grades

by Miranda Marquit · 10 comments

Growing up, I knew kids who were paid for their grades. An A was worth $X, and a B was worth a little less, and so on. My parents briefly flirted with the idea of paying my siblings and me for our grades but realized it didn’t really motivate us all that much.

It was unnecessary in my case since I’m internally motivated to do well. My siblings on the other hand just didn’t care about the money. They used it as an excuse to do poorly. After all, what was the point if they didn’t care about the money? In fact, only one out of the five of us was effectively motivated by money to get good grades.

Now that I have a child of my own, I’m trying to figure out how to motivate him to do well in school without turning to money.

Truth be told, my son has some of the same characteristics I do, in that he’s internally motivated (although to a lesser degree, I think) to do well just for the sake of doing well. Still, he likes to have a goal and I think he should be rewarded.

But we have a hard time using money as a motivator for everything. This is why he isn’t paid for helping out around the house and why we’re reluctant to pay for grades. We came up with a different system of motivation instead.

Rewarding Without Using Money

Our son loves to travel (it’s my fault; I take him on trips frequently). So we decided that, instead of using money to bribe him into performing well in school, we would reward him with experiences.

When he does reasonably well, we buy him some new books and take him out to dinner at a restaurant of his choosing. We are perfectly satisfied with a few Bs sprinkled amongst the As in his report card. And as long as he stays out of trouble (we emphasize his citizenship grade), we don’t care if he gets straight As or not.

He recently came to me at the beginning of middle school with a proposal: If he gets straight As, he wants to be able to go on a day trip.

We live near New York City, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia, so he figured out that straight As should be worth such a trip. We agreed with him, and so far he’s studied and applied himself really well. Now we’re planning to take him on a day trip.

Creating Better Money Values

Instead of bribing your kids with money in order to get good grades, how else can you reward them? What are some other more important characteristics they should learn instead of always using money as a motivator?

Work with your kids to come up with a plan that makes sense for the whole family and figure out how you can help them work towards their goal in a more creative way.

I hope this new strategy helps my son see the value in experiences as well as things and equates hard work with being able to have fun later – and do something he can enjoy.

Yes, in the end, a day trip to Washington, D.C. will probably cost me more money than if I just handed my son $20 for each A. However, it’s not about the money as much as it’s about helping mold values and priorities.

I hope my son will learn that value in life isn’t always about how much money you have, or earn. Sometimes it’s what you experience and who you meet along the way.

Do you pay for good grades? Why or why not? What’s another method you use to motivate your kids to do well in school?

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  • Dave Hile says:

    I have not paid my kids for grades . . . Yet but I think it is a bit hypocritical to avoid the fact that pay for performance – in school and work is happening all around and is a real motivator. What is an academic scholarship if not a significant financial reward for years of hard work. In fact, paying a few bucks for grades, if it motivates my child, may be a huge financial money saver for me in the future. There are plenty of studies to prove financial incentive in the workplace improved performance so this is not a new concept.
    I would love arguments to the contrary but as 2 of my children struggle with organization and frequently get behind, I’m considering the benefits of financial incentives

  • Steveark says:

    Our local nonprofit education foundation pays high school kids for every AP course they pass with a 3 or higher score (3, 4 or 5). And it is substantial. When my three kids graduated they each received over $2,500 with the check made out directly to them. They also pay students for higher ACT or SAT scores and even the first graders get $100 for scoring high enough on their standardized tests. I don’t think the money was much of a motivator for my brainiac kids who all went on to make A’s in college but they did enjoy the cash!

  • Christine says:

    We pay for grades, but we also charge for them too.

    High School
    A’s = 50
    B’s = 25
    C’s = $-10 (yep, owe us money)
    D’s = $-25
    F’s = $-50

    We stand to either lose a lot or make a lot. The idea behind C’s being negative is the following: In a job, if you do mediocre work, you will not be awarded a raise. Those around you will. At the same time, cost of living increases. So while those around you increase with COL, you actually lose money as you did not get a raise for that mediocre. C grades are mediocre. You did the work, you did not do your best. You floated through. Not good enough.

    Only 1 time have we paid $115, but only because our son finally decided to make the effort (JR year).

  • Jonathan says:

    It’s a very interesting debate whether or not to give money to your children to do well in their exams. This presents a problem in that in doing so in my opinion you are suggesting that your children won’t try their best.

    I never received any money for succeeding in my exams while I still did well because I had the desire to do so and didn’t want to let my parents down.

    I think it is much more personal to reward your children with an experience after completing all of their exams rather than paying them money for completing individual exams. In my opinion this shows to your child that you value spending time with them both giving them money which in the longer term makes for a healthier relationship.

  • darkwing says:

    Great article, when my son goes to school I will keep this in mind.

  • AnnieG says:

    Grades are a reward. Do a good job, get an A. There is no reason to reward a reward.

    Never paid my son – just taught him that learning & knowledge are the goal . He graduated valedictorian and got a full academic scholarship.

    • Mike says:

      Same here. First 2 were valedictorian and 3rd is a freshman. The reward of good grades was enough for them. Just my opinion.

  • Lisa says:

    I love this. When I was a kid, my dad was a pretty heavy smoker. So one day, I asked if he would quit smoking if I got good grades. He agreed and I got all As that year. He quit cold turkey shortly afterward 🙂

  • Emily says:

    My parents did pay us for grades for a while. It didn’t motivate me to do any better, and I don’t think any of my grades were different from what I’d get without the bribe, but it was a nice bonus I guess. I should have known then that money doesn’t really motivate me.

    A day trip with my parents would have been some pretty good motivation for straight As though!

  • Jake Posey says:

    Love the article. My daughter is in first grade and so she does not get grades yet. She gets pseudo-grades for listening and following directions though. She gets counted. 0-1 times is a green, 2 is a yellow and 3 is a red. If she gets a zero greens all week, she gets to chose where we go to eat out for Friday night and Sunday lunch. If she gets all all greens, but not all zeros, she gets to chose where we eat on Friday night only. If she gets a yellow, she has to write a sentence 10 times on her chalk board and if she gets a red, no more TV/Tablet the rest of the week.

    I also used to be a Big with Big Brothers. I set a monthly budget for my Little and me to spend while we were together. That budget would be pro-rated on his GPA. If he got a 3.0, we would get 75% of the budget. However, at any point in the month we could do a service project together and bump the budget to the full amount.

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