By Parenting Educator and Author Amy McCready
“I pay for A’s” is a practice many parents use as a means to entice their kids to do well in school. On the surface it makes sense – you want your kids to do well in school and eventually move out and lead amazingly productive lives; we all do. But there are better ways to encourage kids to set and exceed goals than coughing up cash.
Here's the reality…while you may initially see motivation (and maybe scores) spike, numerous studies have shown that over time, rewards erode the excitement about hitting a goal and can actually start you down the slippery slope of the “What’s in it for me?” entitlement epidemic with your kids. The other drawback of paying for grades is it teaches kids to value the payout rather than the love of learning or sense of responsibility for their own success. They focus on the short game (the dollar) rather than the long game (education, sense of purpose, goals).
Instead of doling out cash for grades, focus on these no-bribe strategies that will help kids be successful long-term in school and in life:
1) Retire your rescue reflex. Do you have a “frequent forgetter”? A child who frequently forgets their homework/school book/term paper? It’s time to give your need to rescue a rest. For children in upper elementary and above, let them know they are old enough to manage their own homework and you will no longer be delivering forgotten items to school. Ask your kids for ideas and strategies they can use to help them be successful at remembering and turn over that responsibility to them. When you do, your child may experience the short-term consequences of earning a “zero” on a forgotten homework assignment – but he’ll reap the rewards of responsibility and accountability that will serve him well for years to come.
2) Studies before screens. Most kids want nothing more after school than to be glued to their phones or to fire up their video games. Downtime is important, but putting schoolwork first with a solid “When-Then Routine” will help them develop good study habits, prioritize their time, and do better in school. An example would be, “When your homework is done and we’ve reviewed your spelling words, then you can play your games for 30 minutes.”
3) It’s THEIR work, not YOURS. “I need help with my homework!” may really be disguise for, “Please do it for me.” When well-meaning parents jump in and offer help right away, we rob kids of the practice and struggle essential for the learning process, which in turn, hinders their ability to problem-solve in the classroom. Instead, give your kids “Homework Help” guidelines such as, “I’m happy to help you with your work between these times – but only after you’ve worked through the problems you know how to do and can explain what has you stumped on the rest.” That will ensure they’ve given the assignment real effort before you step in to assist.
4) If you want to talk A’s – talk Action. When you see your kids doing the tough stuff – studying, doing their homework, reading – give them props for their actions. After all, these are the actions that lead to success in school and in life. Let kids know you see their efforts and you are proud of them for putting in the hard work. When that work results in an A – great. When it doesn’t – remind them that persistence wins in the end and that the “A” is not as important as the effort.
The bottom line…don’t diminish your children’s capacity for greatness by putting a price on it. Giving them the skills and encouraging their focus, commitment and hard work will help them cultivate the habits and problem-solving strategies that will take them so much farther than that $5 or $20 you were going to dole out. In the process, you’ll inspire a love of learning over a lifetime and truly help them to soar.
For more strategies on how to motivate kids to be their very best, order a copy of Amy McCready’s bestselling book - now available in paperback: The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World
Amy McCready is the Founder of PositiveParentingSolutions.com and the author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World as well as If I Have To Tell You One More Time: The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding, Or Yelling. Amy is a regular contributor on The TODAY Show and has also appeared on Rachael Ray, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Steve Harvey and elsewhere. In her most important job, she is mom to two fabulous young men. Learn more at www.AmyMcCready.com.