Should You Pay Your Child For Good Grades?

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I’ve paid all three of my kids for good grades many different ways and times throughout their school years. But, I can’t say it ever resulted in better grades.

My son, now a senior in high school, would never push a 78 to an 80 just to get some extra cash.

My oldest daughter, now a 20-year old junior college student, had mostly good grades whether I paid for them or not. In high school, she jumped on the honors and Advanced Placement (AP) classes and the ACT study guide because they helped her accomplish her goal of becoming a college volleyball athlete.

Once, I promised my middle school kids $20 for every “A” on their final report card. But, that didn’t help either daughter, both “C” math students (even with a tutor), get an “A” in a difficult subject for them, so they felt worse. I probably should have set a more realistic goal. And, paying three kids for all those “A’s” got expensive, so I was also broke that month.

A 2012 survey for American Institute of CPAs found 48% of 269 parents with kids in school, not only paid their children an allowance, but also paid them for good grades.

The average reward for an “A” was $16.60. Seems I overpaid, too.

I asked my friend, Joanna Gatsolis, a Los Angeles-based mom of a 10-year-old, whether she had paid him for good grades.

She said she offers “experiences” her son wants (instead of money) for achieving challenging yet attainable school goals. Gatsolis told me about her friend who says she has no qualms about paying her kids for good grades because, in the real world, we get paid for doing a good job.

So, I called up David Field, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Spring Hill, Florida, who specializes in parenting issues, to ask if it really helps to reward kids with money or experiences for good grades.
He said he understands that parents “have an overwhelming anxiety about their kids being successful which adds to the temptation to pay kids for good grades.”

But, Field explained, good grades should be a function of kids’ own work ethic and responsibilities as a resident of your home and the “payment” they get is all the privileges of being a part of your family.

“Parents can become desperate to try anything when grades falter and kids under-perform,” Field said. “But when you give rewards for every positive thing kids do, that external motivation takes over their internal motivation to learn, achieve and do good.”

Child For Good Grade


I wondered if there’s any research on what happens when you give kids money for good grades.

I found The National Math and Science Initiative’s College Readiness Program, which promised students at 83 high schools $100 cash rewards for each AP exam they passed.

The number of AP tests taken increased by 74% in a single year at those schools, and the number of AP exams their students passed nearly doubled.

The whole plan included subsidized tutoring and extra classroom materials for students and increased training and mentoring for teachers along with subsidized exam fees and the monetary rewards of $100 to the student and $100 to the teacher for each math, science or English AP (passing) exam score of 3 or higher.

Combined with increased classroom materials and study time, the cash rewards worked in a school setting on test grades, but there were no long-term studies on outcomes when parents pay kids for good grades.

What about giving a surprise gift for good grades?

Once, my middle daughter proudly got straight “A’s” in 8th grade (even in math) when I hadn’t offered any money for good grades. So, I wanted to reward her with a surprise mall shopping trip with her friend.


Field says that was a smart thing to do.

In his view, a surprise reward after the fact for any special achievement your child is proud of such as any improved grade, a successful project or improving their SAT score can reinforce their positive experience.

So what else can you do to foster that internal motivation?

Field says the best thing you can do for your kids is to create a strong message of what your family stands for, a sort of family exclusivity, early on. This includes having fun together, having dinner together and daily contact with one another.

When it comes specifically to school, model the desired learning, working and reading behavior and say things often to children such as, “We think learning is important,” and, “For us, reading is what we do every day.” This way, good grades is just another extension of what “we” do as a family.

“Don’t be afraid to let kids make choices in how they work at school without promises of money or rewards and let them experience and learn from both the good and bad consequences,” Field advises.

Have you paid your kids money or rewards for good grades? Did it work?

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