As we wave goodbye to another school year, my husband and I are once again preparing to reward our children for their academic achievements. They work hard and get good grades. We want them to know we appreciate that, are proud of them and hope their efforts continue next year. So how do we do all that? We pay them.

Some parents believe getting good grades is a kid’s “job” in the family unit. The parents work hard to provide a home, food and clothes, while the kids are expected to achieve their best at school. It seems like a fair trade, but children don’t see it the same we way do.

As a kid, I was expected to get good marks. There was always some sort of gift every June for a good report card, until those good marks disappeared in my teen years. At that stage, I had moved my social life to the top of my priority list, but I also never really developed good study skills as a younger child. In elementary school and early high school years, high grades came to me with minimal effort, so I never learned the value of working hard academically. My parents rewarded output – without addressing my lack of input – until it was too late.

When I became a parent, I was determined to reward both effort and achievement. I wanted our kids to feel trying their hardest was a skill that would take them far, but also felt most employers in the adult world have a concentrated focus on results and accomplishment. Not many bosses say, “You didn’t achieve the desired result, but you sure worked hard, so here’s a big bonus anyway!” Somehow a balance needed to be found to ensure our kids stayed motivated and encouraged, but also rewarded for achievement.

So we pay for grades, whether it’s cash or a gift of some kind at the end of every school year. We developed a sliding scale: A = $25, B = $20 and C = $5. We feel both of our kids are very capable of achieving A’s and B’s, so we only provide a token payment for a “C.” We have also increased a B or C reward amount if we see that excellent efforts were made but the mark assigned didn’t reflect those efforts. Perhaps extra help was sought, additional homework completed or further study was done, but that geometry unit or French verb conjugation just wasn’t fully absorbed. We ensure a reward is still provided for trying their best.

Now here’s where it gets a bit tricky, because many experts feel a prize for grades is the wrong approach. Natasha Sharma, parenting and relationship expert, as well as author of “The Kindness Journal“, stresses that behaviours, not results, should be rewarded.

“Grades can be subjective and arbitrary,” she explains. “What parents really want is to have any positive academic behaviours consistently repeated. ” Sharma advocates deciding with your child what rewards should be offered for behaviours defined in advance by both parents and their kids as a team. She explains pre-tween kids respond best to rewards, but tweens and teens need encouragement for motivation. Every parent knows their child best and understands what motivates them, whether it’s keys to the car for the weekend if a project is completed ahead of deadline, or the wifi password once daily homework is completed.

So what about that boss who only rewards employees for achievement? Sharma says don’t fret. “If children and teens are continuously getting positive reinforcement for good academic skills and behaviours, parents are positioning kids to have the skills they will need later in life to attain employment results that get rewarded.”

Unfortunately, not all kids find school easy, for many different reasons. Should those who face challenges lose out on a reward or motivational incentive?

Absolutely not.

If a child struggles in any cognitive or behavioural aspect, Sharma suggests rewarding any attempt to work on those challenges as soon as possible after the attempt is made, versus an annual reward for accomplishments or long-term efforts.

No matter what your academic expectations are for your child, Sharma likes kids to understand failure is an integral part of life, but failure at a task like a school test or assignment doesn’t make anyone a failure as a human being. Kids become more resilient when they accept that life doesn’t always produce the results we want, and that’s ok. Self-identity and worth shouldn’t be based on quantitative measurements, anyway.

As much as we want our kids to do well in school, we also need to reward positive traits in their character – like creativity and kindness – so they turn out to be the type of adults we all like to know.


Jackie Gillard is a freelance writer who lives on the suburban fringe of Toronto. Between writing the thousands of stories she has in her mind, she is busy as the second wife to her second husband (no, she’s not a sister-wife) and mom to a nine-going-on-nineteen-year-old daughter and a teen stepson. Coffee fuels her days and she used to enjoy wine occasionally in the evenings, but now generally falls asleep after saying goodnight to her daughter. You’ll find links to Jackie’s published work on her neglected blog MyPapayaJambalaya or you can follow her on Twitter or Instagram to see what shenanigans she’s up.