Should I pay my child for good grades?

Paying-for-grades-imageThis is a hot topic right now. (In fact, parenting expert Amy McCready just wrote had an article in last week’s New York Times on this topic.) I hear parents on both sides of the argument having valid points. Some parents, who favor paying their children at report card time, say things like:

  • Isn’t that how life goes? Work = $$$
  • The harder you work, the more money you make…Shouldn’t my child learn this now?
  • Don’t we, as parents, want to show our children that hard work pays?

But on the flip-side, I hear…

  • Shouldn’t my child work hard in school because that is the expectation?
  • Isn’t internal motivation—the good feelings we get from working hard—the best route to success in life?

Both approaches have solid points. So let’s shift our focus to some different—but related—questions around rewarding our children for their achievements…

  • What is the best way to teach motivation, perseverance and the value of hard work to my child?
  • How can I insure that my child will be motivated to work hard in the long-term?
  • What works best when it comes to rewarding achievement and effort?

According to both Alfie Kohn (author of Punished By Rewards; The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Brides) and Daniel Pink (author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us), rewards and praise often diminish motivation. Dangling a treat or award often motivates children—and people in general—in the short term, but when it comes to long-term effort and achievement, tapping into internal motivation works best.

Awesome. Saves you some money, right? But how do we get our kids motivated when they frankly could care less about rockin’ that geometry test?

While I don’t have the perfect, magical cure-all answer to that question, I do have a strategy that looks pretty promising. It’s called motivational interviewing, and it was developed by clinical psychologists William Miller and Stephen Rollnick, and further developed by Michael Pantalon of Yale University. Basically, motivational interviewing means you sit down with your child and discuss the task that he is resisting. By asking the right questions, you can either tap into his own motivation (as small and dormant as it may be), or uncovering anything he sees as an obstacle to success. Check out Daniel Pink’s video to see how to ask the right questions and grow motivation.

As Daniel Pink states, people are rarely just obstinate. If someone is resisting something, it is usually because that person is either not aware of the reasons for doing something, or they feel that there is some reason they would not be successful and therefore avoid the task.

Give this approach a try the next time you talk to your child about the value of working hard in school, because you just may unlock some drive.

Ask Heather

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