Should You Reward Children for Good Grades? (How to Do It Best–If At All!)

Posted November 28, 2011 by

Should we reward our kids for good behavior or good grades? I have an internal struggle on this topic that rages within me and has for many years.

Well before I had my own children, I had an idea of how I thought parents should handle certain circumstances such as an allowance for chores or rewards for good grades. That said, I find that what worked for my family even 2 years ago doesn’t necessarily work now.

Today I had an opportunity to meet with an old high school friend who I know was never rewarded for making good grades — and in fact, was often punished for grades that managed to fall below excellent.  I couldn’t help but ask him how he handles the situation at his house since has four children, with the oldest one in college and the youngest in his first year of high school. Needless to say, his views were much like mine.  He agreed that indeed, rewarding a student for doing what is expected of them seems unreasonable. (I know that since he and I fall into the “self-motivated over-achiever” category, this may have some influence on our views, so I’m willing to lend an ear to any obvious rebuttals.)

As I said, in our house, there was basically the concept that chores are to be done because that’s just what we do.  My husband and I go to work because that is our job and our kids go to school because that’s just what kids do.  Technically, that’s their job.  With that in mind, my oldest son who is extremely self-motivated and definitely an over-achiever left us with no reason to question our tactics.  However, the youngest, who happens to be extremely intelligent, prefers to excel in those activities that already come easy to him and simply leave the more difficult tasks untouched.

Our general reward we gave our kids for good grades in the past was simply the ability to choose a special dinner at a restaurant of their choice. Now however, we have two children in the realm of earning actual letter grades every nine weeks. And while the oldest was still excelling, the youngest was simply not motivated.

I presented my case to my husband and to a few peers that I already respected in the parenting arena.  The conclusion we came to was that if individuals who go to work each and every day take an extra step to excel, they often receive a bonus. That said, we won’t be rewarding our children for the general tasks or the grades that we know they are capable of making.  However, we will reward them in the form of a “bonus” if you will, if they can excel.

So the new era of “reward versus punishment” was born in our house. When the first grading period came to a raging halt, the oldest finished the first nine weeks with straight A’s and was given the option of choosing a restaurant for a special dinner and $20 to use at his own discretion.  The youngest, who made a “B” average, was not given the restaurant choice but we did give him $10. Thus far this seems to be a fairly reasonable plan, as my first grader who spent the majority of the first nine weeks of his school reading program saying “I don’t know that word” or “It’s too hard” — even though I knew otherwise — has resorted to reading much more difficult books with much a much larger vocabulary.

We did, however, recently revise the plan in that a report card containing all A’s above 95 will receive that $20 reward and special dinner choice.  All A’s with even one grade below 95 will result in a decrease in the amount to $10.  If there are any B’s on the report card, there is no bonus pay at all. We will simply give encouragement and offer to help more than we did in the previous grading period.  (Which, in reality seems a bit daunting to me since I spend a lot of time with this already!)

And with that, a new tradition has been born in my house. I’m not even sure it’s a good one or a positive reinforcement-type change, but the bottom line is, times are changing and I’m giving someone else’s suggestions a choice instead of sitting firm and being stubborn and set in my own ways.

Let’s hope I can be so agreeable when I’m old and need my children to take care of me and maybe give me a few dollars when I excel.


Jerri Ann Reason is a full time blogger and self-proclaimed internet-junkie who has been writing online since 1999. She can be found at Mom~E~Centric, The Blog Ambassador and Educate My Alabama. Her Twitter ID is @The_Jerri_Ann & Facebook is Jerri.Ann.Reason

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  1. capfelix007 Report

    Beginning of the year, my wife and I have set a target for my daughter’s year end school results. If she meet the target, she will be able to go for a short holiday trip. Now, that’s approaching year end, she scored just marginal off her target and with that result, she know she will not be having that holiday trip. She is very upset about it and even said to herself that she will not forgive herself for that. Now we are facing a dilemma here. Since her score just marginally out of target, should we just be lenient a bit and let her have her holiday trip reward? Or should we be firm and stick to the rule? What might be the consequences of we sticking to our rule to her? Will she be demotivated with her study next year?

    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      I hear you. It can be tough when you set a certain
      expectation for your child and she just misses the mark. Truthfully, when you
      establish a specific reward for a specific expectation, the child wouldn’t earn
      the reward if she doesn’t meet the expectation. With that said, we usually
      don’t advise using special occasions or one time events as a consequence. For a
      consequence to be effective, it needs to be something that can be earned back
      by making different choices. Truthfully, only you can decide if your daughter
      still goes on the trip. Whether or not she goes, however, it is still going to
      be beneficial to sit down with her and problem solve what she can do
      differently to improve her grades next year. You may find it useful to have
      this conversation several times before school restarts as well as throughout
      the next school year. I hope this information is helpful. Be sure to check back
      and let us know how things are going. Take care.

  2. Jack Hodges (Edit) Report

    I agree with B. Stroller that every child is different and needs to be rewarded differently. Day to day accomplishments can be rewarded with encouragement and occasional treats, but for large achievements it is nice to have a family activity planned.

    The most important thing is that every child is working to their full potential, whether or not that means they’re getting straight As.


  3. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor (Edit) Report

    Hi Jenn: It can be so frustrating when you see a child who is not working up to her potential in school. We recommend doing some problem solving with your daughter about her behavior, and getting in trouble at school. For example, you might talk with her about some things she might do differently other than the behavior that is getting her into trouble. If she chooses to do something differently, then she could earn a privilege that day; if not, then the privilege is not earned. You cannot make her care about her schoolwork; rather, the goal is to have her do the schoolwork regardless of how she feels about it. If you try a few new things, and your daughter continues to appear not to care about anything, it might be a good idea to check in with her pediatrician just to make sure that everything is OK. I am attaching an article that I think you might find helpful: Homework Survival for Parents. Good luck to you and your daughter as you continue to work through this.

  4. RKMD (Edit) Report

    I think it is OK to reward kids for grades. That is their “job” and should get paid for doing work. We get paid at our work. You cook most meals at home because it saves time, tastes better (hopefully), and saves money. If you did not get those rewards for cooking at home, then you go out to eat all the time. Most children do not get psychological rewards for good grades since they do not see the importance later in their life. But just like DBF said above, some kids are not able to make As. Plus we make mistakes so expecting straight As may be too much pressure. They frequently make a B but learn an A’s worth. So you may rethink rewards for straight As. Less bonus for making a B?

    Jenn: Every parent is amazed with their second child how their personalities are different for birth. One of my boys was stubborn, smart and did not care about grades and we had to sit on him all the way through high school. He also did not want to do his work. By the way he now teaches high school Honors History and an Eagle Scout. Figure that out? The other son was laid back, go with the flow and what-ever personality. We used to say he was on cruise control. He is a warehouse manager and tells every one else what to do. Life is strange. They still have that personality at 30 yrs old but they are better. We parents try to modify their personality but you will not change it. Accept their uniqueness and thank goodness we are all not robots. God made us different. When we look for a spouse to marry we find a person with the personality we admire. When you have a child, God gave that child’s personality to you and you did not pick it out. So accept it and work with it. You will not change it tomorrow. You might consider talking to your doctor about a Diagnosis of ODD or ADD. As a pediatrician, I have seen many kids grow up and 99% are going to be just fine. The more difficult the child then the more pride you will have in yourself and in them when you finish the job. No one can warn you how hard it is to be married and to raise kids.

  5. Jenn (Edit) Report

    I am a mother of two beautiful girls. I have a 6 year old and 18 month old. Some of you may say that it is too young to tell but my two girls are completely different. My oldest is by far one of the most difficult child I have ever been around. I have worked with children since i was 16 so I have tons of experience. My parents were teachers also so I have that on my side as well. Nothing seems to get to my oldest. She does not care about anything. She is extremely EXTREMELY smart but she will not apply herself. I have emptied her room of toys, that did not work. I have and continued to try positive reinforcement and that is not working. If she doesn’t care, she will not do it no matter what the outcome is. She will not stay out of trouble at school either. I have change her diet completely. I have her on a schedule. No tv on the weekdays. She has a beautiful home and two loving parents. I only list those things because that is what people ask first, a broken home? instability? Nope. Nope. Again she is EXTREMELY smart. When she applies herself…. A’s like not one wrong but if she does not care she brings home F’s. Any suggestions.

  6. B. Stroller (Edit) Report

    Balance,balance, balance. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to lay down definite rules. Every child is different. As long as you apply the rules consistenly from child to child, I think monetary motivation for good grades is fine. I mean, the real world, generally the harder you work, the more money/recognition you receive?

  7. Jerri Ann (Edit) Report

    This is definitely eye opening information. As I said, we made a point to say that “doing what’s expected” doesn’t warrant a reward, it’s the above and beyond that’s worthy of a little extra praise and such.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  8. DMB (Edit) Report

    Lucky you!! To have the categories be A’s or B’s. How does one cope when you’re talking about D’s and F’s for one child and straight A’s with another child? Not as straightforward, I believe. No learning disabilities … just total lack of interest in school and grades. As a mom to 5 lovely offspring, I’ve found the rewards/bonus must be flexible — what works for one does not necessarily work for the other. So if my D-F child brings home a C — that’s an A and deserves a bonus!!!

  9. FoodForThought (Edit) Report

    So, we have 4 kids (2nd grade, 5th, 7th and 9th). They run the gamut in terms of ability, interest, and motivation. I’ve always pressed them a bit to aim high and work hard. And I rewarded for good grades. I told them that it really does matter. I follow their grades closely. I can now track my middle and high schooler’s grades online every single day if I want. I know right away when they fail a test or whatever and we had plenty of talks about their progress.
    But this fall, I changed gears. I saw a film entitled “Race to Nowhere” ( that really shed some light on what is happening to kids in our culture. My daughter is taking FIVE honors courses in 9th grade. She’s doing well, but the STRESS is over the top. My son wants to ‘keep up’ with her and feels a similar pressure. The movie was eye-opening. I would strongly recommend watching it if you have the opportunity.
    Since seeing that movie, I’ve changed gears quite a bit. I still follow their progress. But we’re looking to find a more healthy balance and focusing on the ‘process’ rather than just the ‘results’. If it were only about getting a 95%, then they could take some much easier classes and breeze through them. But I want them taking tougher courses that actually challenge them. That means they might not get A’s all the time. But they are working their hard and learning quite a bit (it’s not that tough to tell when they are slouching off).
    With this last report card, we actually took them out to a nice dinner the night before report cards came out. We wanted to celebrate their hard work. We showered them with praise for their good grades the next day and we talked about grades that needed attention, but we are ‘rewarding’ them for working hard and taking chances. We’ve made it less about the grades and more about the process of education.
    As for financial rewards, we have plenty of opportunities to indirectly reward them (they are always wanting to go on a weekend trip or do something with friends that costs more $$$ then they have). We try to be generous and link it to their hard efforts at school.
    We’ll see how it works! I look forward to asking them in 20 years how they felt about it!

  10. Jerri Ann (Edit) Report

    Thanks, I was prepared to take a lot of heat for that theory but really, once the kids are older, it seems to be working for us. My oldest one does well anyway most of the time and is motivated from within. Money is just a “eh” kind of thing for him. My younger one is not lazy, he is just always in a hurry to be done and makes mistakes… has given him the incentive to slow down and do “excellent” work not mediocre work quickly. Thanks for the support!

  11. JAG (Edit) Report

    We just went through the same thing. My boys are in middle school and while in elementary I never gave them money for grades. I thought, as you first did, that it was their job to do well. This year my oldest has become a bit burned out. He works hard and makes excellent grades, but is often bored at school and started slacking off a bit. I came to the same conclusion. We are given bonuses at work for excellent work, so why not do the same with our children sometimes. I told him that it had to be excellent to receive the bonus. Now, with my younger son, he struggles everyday in school and life in general. I am still devising a plan for him.



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