Here's Why I Won't Pay My Kids For Good Grades

by Meredith Ethington
iderina / Shutterstock

I have no intention of paying my kids to get good grades in school.

I didn’t realize this was my philosophy until I became a parent, but I think paying kids for grades robs them of an important life lesson: that good grades are the reward, along with a bright future because they worked hard at something, overcame challenges, and learned new skills.

Some people argue that school is a kid’s job, therefore, why not pay them? Well, as a stay-at-home mom that doesn’t get paid for my job, that idea doesn’t really sit well with me. Besides, school isn’t my kid’s job. Being a kid is their job. School is helping them learn and will help them become successful one day, but only if they work hard at it. School is absolutely necessary to lifelong success, but I want my kids to find motivation to work hard in school because they are motivated by their own achievements and goals, not by my bank account.

Easier said than done, though right?

My job as a parent is to instill in my kids the desire to work hard. And this is the part of parenting that doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of work, a lot of time, and a lot of teachable moments. And once you start paying your kids for grades, it feels like you’re just setting them up for the wrong kind of motivation and the expectation of an immediate reward.

I get the appeal. Kids love cash, especially cash they get to spend at their own discretion. And if bribing your kids with money and iThings yields good grades, then so be it. I even get that sometimes — it feels like a desperate situation because you are running out of ideas to help your kids unlock their true potential.

But the unmotivated kid has to find the motivation within themselves, and sometimes I think that means learning the hard way. Accepting the bad grade, retaking the test, whatever the case may be.

Maybe your kid might be the type who would totally be interested in an extra 20 bucks. What does that really do for them in the long run? Sure, it gets the assignment turned in on time and avoids a failing grade, or even worse, a failing year. But what has the child actually learned from that experience? I think it’s worth thinking about.

Have they learned that if you work hard in school you’ll begin to take pride in your work? No. They’ve learned if they work hard in school, they’ll get some money.

But what happens the next time a moment of desperation pops up? Do you keep paying your child to follow through with all of life’s challenges and responsibilities? Do you increase the amount when the novelty of the $20 bill wears off? It feels like an infinite loop.

Sure, it is absolutely more work to teach a child how to be motivated by their own efforts. And if I had mastered that already, my kids would all have spotless bedrooms. Getting a middle-school-aged kid to take stock of their lifelong goals is no easy task either. Usually, they’re just happy to make it through the day and earn their screen time. But by withholding rewards like money and possessions, over time, you’re teaching your child to take pride in a job well done. They will see that success doesn’t happen overnight, but is a road that is long and often involves sacrifice.

So what can we do instead to help our kids get motivated? Here are a few ideas:

Provide verbal praise.

Every time my daughter puts in a solid effort in cleaning her room, I point out how beautiful it looks and show her how much nicer it is to play in that clean space. Sure, she may not totally get it now, but she will eventually.

Help your child learn to be responsible.

I think this is by far the hardest in my experience. The first time I had to let my daughter face the consequences of forgotten homework instead of rescuing her, I thought I might die from heartache. But over time, our kids will learn that it’s their responsibility to succeed in life, not ours. And the only way to do that is to not rescue them over and over.

Stick to your guns.

Kids can sense when things are even slightly negotiable. Teach your kids that working hard at school is not negotiable by doing things like withholding privileges. A night at a friend’s house or screen time doesn’t happen until the work is done. If you can remain consistent, they will learn that the schoolwork itself has value, and that they are rewarding themselves by finishing it on time and getting to retain their privileges after the work is done.

So I’m not going to pay my kids for grades because I don’t want them to think that the only reason to work hard is to have money for more stuff. And with three kids, I’m not sure that I could afford to keep up with the incentives anyway.