Paying Kids for Good Grades: It’s not about the Money (Part I)

Posted January 28, 2008 by

With all the problems we have with kids in school systems today, I’m amazed to find people arguing on the web this week about whether or not we’re misdirecting kids by paying them for good grades. I think it’s a pretty artificial controversy, because the issue is not so much what you offer as a reward, but what your goal is with the child.

Kids are slow to develop ideals, principles and concepts regarding the value of becoming a better person for the sole sake of being a better person. (By the way, I must say that this is not a concept modeled very much by adults these days.) If you’re lucky enough to have a child who understands working harder to achieve more in the sixth grade, you’re very fortunate. But most kids don’t understand that abstract concept this early.

I think every child should be expected to contribute to the family and do their job, which is go to school and perform. I also think there’s nothing wrong with rewards. It teaches goal setting and achievement. And if you want your child to start to understand how to handle money, then use money as a reward for good grades. But don’t spend too much or put yourself in debt. And you don’t need to make money the only reward. Sometimes small family celebrations are enough. In other words, “Michael did well in school this marking period. So we’re all going out for ice cream.” It can be just as effective as money.

(Check back on Wednesday for Paying Kids for Good Grades Pt. II to see how James used this system in his own family, and to hear more ideas about ways to reward your child that don’t necessarily involve money…)

Question: Do you use rewards to motivate your child? What has worked—and not worked—for you? Let us know by commenting below…


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  1. Lisa (Edit) Report

    I had thought that my son might suffer from sensory integration issues. I was sensitive to this when dealing with the “getting the shoes on to get to school on time” issue, but I found for my son he just used it to manipulate me as he could whip those socks and shoes on when he wanted to really do something that required them. I think the sensory integration issue is a very, very valid point and should not be taken lightly! In my son’s case, however, as we delved closer to the root of his problems, was more of anxiety, phobias and perfectionism. We are fortunate to have found (after many disappointing attempts) a good therapist (a social worker, actually) that really helps kids deal with these issues. I was amazed to find so many kids and their families nearly paralyzed due to the kids’ fear about going to school, sleeping in their own room, participating in extra-curricular activities, going to a restaurant or other public places, etc. I thought we were the only ones experiencing these issues (and many others) on a full-blown scale. One kid even had a great phobia about their family’s “fuzzy couch” (the feel of it) and another of potato chips! They have both fully integrated the couch and the chips back into their respective lives. Just hearing their stories enabled my son to cover himself up with a fuzzy throw he had been unable to touch before! So sometimes the feel of things can be more anxiety/phobia related, as it was in our case.

    These are only part of the spectrum of things we are dealing with, but one area improving seems to spill over into the others. I guess my point is that if one thing doesn’t work, keep trying. Eventually you’ll know what works and what doesn’t work with your child and you’ll get to the core of their issue(s). When you get there, it is miraculous how quickly things can turn around for the better! Just remember life is messy and sometimes people just don’t get what you’re going through. Your daughter knows you love her and together you’ll figure it out.

  2. Suzanne (Edit) Report

    P.S. My daughter is a teenager now and I have used the Total Transformation program with really good success. I wish I had access to it when she was younger and I highly recommend that you refer back to it often as your daughter gets older.

  3. Suzanne (Edit) Report

    I also had the same problem with my daughter when she was young. Once, after allowing an extra 1/2 hour to put shoes on before pre-school, I though we had made it only to have her explode into a sudden rage screaming, ripping her shoe off and throwing it – barely missing my head and denting the wall behind me (she was a very strong kid!). That night, as good fortune would have it, I saw a woman on 20-20 whose daughter had the same problem with wearing clothes! It took her many outfits and several agonizing hours to start her day. At that moment I thanked God it was just my daughter’s feet and I decided to let her go barefoot if she wanted to. We lived in New Hampshire and I made this decision in the winter. She wore her snow boots – no socks – into the summer until I was able to find a pair of slip on sneakers she was good with – no socks – that she wore for the next 2 years (I bought 4 pairs!). Lisa’s suggestion about working out an arrangement with the school is a good one too – but please also consider this:

    According to the story on 20-20, as well as Dr. Stanley Turecki in his book “The Difficult Child” (page 135 under “I DON’T LIKE IT” BEHAVIOR in my 1985 edition), this is actually a condition called “Low Sensory Threshhold”. The child is not simply being defiant, rather, she truly is uncomfortable and cannot tolerate certain sensations of touch (or in other cases taste, smell, sound, etc.). My solution was to let my daughter find what she could “handle” and not worry about the fact that her hot pink snow boots or her slip-on sneakers looked ridiculous with many of her outfits. Without my constant perstering about what she “needed” to wear, she was eventually able to grow out of it.

    I truly sympathize with your situation as I remember all too well how frustrating those days were. My daughter had a few other “difficult” idiosyncrasies that Dr. Turecki’s book really helped me with – you may want to see if you can find a copy – or Google “low sensory threshold” – for additional guidance.
    Good Luck!

  4. Lisa (Edit) Report

    My son went through the same problems with not wanting to put on his own shoes and socks. This constantly made him late for school. Finally, after discussing it with the school, we said he would go to school with his shoes and socks on or off (with him holding them), but he would get into the building on time. He has since tried to employ many other stalling tactics, but this one was finally “cured” after stomping into class on a few snowy days with shoes in hand (and very chagrinned). He was in third grade at the time. We still have many issues we’re working on, but I used to swear I would be putting on his socks in college! At least he does that now. By the way, he is very large for his age and it has been physically impossible for me to “put him” in the car or anywhere. I share your frustration. It does get better. I’ve found the Total Transformation program to be the most effective approach in parenting my son. It is effective, although not always easy. Stick with it, you’ll get there.

  5. Mayra (Edit) Report

    I’m not sure where to post this question but I have a problem I don’t know how to handle. My six year old has a problem with her socks and shoes every morning. She has me put her socks on but we usually go through several before there is one that doesn’t “bother” her. Mind you, all the socks are the same! Then her daddy has to put her shoes on, but the velcro is never quite tight enough for her. She ends up throwing a tantrum anyway and she ends up being late for school, making her sister late as well. I can’t force her in the van because she is too strong. She refuses to put on her own socks and shoes. I don’t know what to do! I have tried positive reinforcement and time out when she comes home. Help!



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