By now, you’ve probably seen your child’s first report card of the new school year.

Did you reward your child for good grades? Should you? And if the grades weren’t exactly what you hoped for, should you begin a reward system as motivation?

As is so often the case, it really depends on the child.

Some children are more motivated by external cues (grades, rewards, praise) than others. Think carefully about your child’s behavior and how he or she has responded to praise and rewards in the past. If your child is old enough, ask if it would help to work toward something throughout the school year. If you have multiple children, be sure that you are recognizing each child’s efforts in the most appropriate way.

For some children a material item can be a HUGE motivator, and some children favor experiences (getting to go to a movie, spending a day with a favorite aunt or uncle, etc).

A reward should be discussed early on. Simply pulling out your wallet and paying up on report card day may give your child the impression that you’re only interested in the letter grade, not the day to day work that has gone into it.

I really like “random rewards” where parents just, out of the blue, reward their child for something that they’ve noticed. “Hey, it looks like you’re really working hard at your science project this week, do you want to take a break and invite a friend over tomorrow night?”

Your child’s teacher can give you insight into what motivates your child in class. Does she get excited when she is verbally praised by the teacher? Is he a child who likes a visual reward, such as seeing his name placed on a list of children who have met a goal? Does he prefer tangible rewards such as stickers? Does she prefer special privileges such as being a line leader? This can help you decide what sort of rewards your child may benefit from at home. Also, you may want to let your child’s teacher know if he is working toward a goal at home.

Your child’s teacher can also be a valuable resource in letting you know if your child’s efforts are matching his or her abilities. Also, depending on your child, you may want to focus less on the letter grade, and more on behaviors (i.e. turning in homework assignments on time, working well with other students, using time well in class, etc). This can also be a way to help your child learn to break down tasks into smaller steps. Getting a good grade doesn’t happen overnight, but takes effort every day. If there is a large project due, help set “due dates” for each step along the way, and possibly set a reward at the halfway point and at completion.

Definitely reward improvements and progress! In some subjects, achieving an “A” can seem nearly impossible, and could lead to feelings of frustration that they will never “please” mom and dad. It’s best to sit with your child and discuss an achievable goal, such as increasing a particular subject by one letter grade during a semester.

You’ll want to discuss this with your child – something along the lines of “It seems like math is giving you a tough time this year. Let’s set some goals together (this is where you would want to involve your child’s teacher) and when you get to those goals, let’s plan something special.”

If you decide to reward monetarily, don’t break the bank every semester. If your child gets an allowance, I would suggest making it in line with the allowance. Maybe one week’s worth would work. Don’t give in to pressure (“my best friend’s mom gave him $25 for each A on his report card so that’s what I want”). Be consistent and be sure that you and your spouse are on the same page (i.e. dad’s not shelling out an extra $10 when mom’s not looking).

You should always recognize your child’s efforts – beginning in toddlerhood (“you did a great job holding mommy’s hand while we walked into the store!”). This can and should carry on into school days. But, not forever.

Eventually the goal is for children to be more rewarded by internal cues (satisfaction of a job well done, pride in your efforts, etc). You don’t want your child calling you from college asking for money because he finished a class.

Betsy Hillyard is a Child Life specialist at Cook Children’s.

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