Should We Reward Children for Good Report Cards?
“$10 for each A, $5 for each B, $2 for each C, and nothing for Ds and Fs. That sound fair?”
Does this interchange between parent and child sound familiar? Then perhaps it is because you have been on the giving or receiving end. It represents a common situation—parents offering children rewards for good report card grades. While no one will dispute the idea that children appreciate the money, the issue we must address is whether such a practice has detrimental effects on children’s intrinsic motivation for learning and achievement.
As we have seen in this chapter, the answer depends on how children interpret the reward contingency. Some may view it as controlling their behavior. They need or want the money, and to earn it they must study hard and make good grades. This perception of control of one’s behavior by others would be predicted to lead to a decline in intrinsic motivation for learning. Conversely, other children may view the contingency as a reward for their achievement and as a recognition by others of that achievement. For these children we should not expect a decrease in intrinsic motivation, and the contingency might even help build children’s intrinsic motivation for achieving in school.
We do not take a position on whether parents should offer children rewards for good grades. We recommend, however, that parents who choose to do this keep a few points in mind.
- Try to link the reward to progress or achievement. A reward offered for improvement (e.g., C to a B) signals progress when the child receives it, which can build self-efficacy and motivation. Likewise, a reward offered for achieving well in a tough course signals competence when the child receives it. Conversely, a reward offered for an A in a course where everyone gets an A does not convey the same type of competency information.
- Second, emphasize the link of the reward with achievement, not the offer. Although children may come to expect rewards for good grades, saying nothing in advance (i.e., no offer) but then rewarding children when they receive a good report card de-emphasizes the offer and links the reward with achievement.
- Finally, try moving rewards away from report cards and to other forms of achievement. Rewarding a child for a high A on a test (perhaps the highest grade in the class) that the child has studied hard for signals competence and that diligent studying can lead to positive outcomes. By not offering these no-report-card rewards in advance, parents can help to build children’s self-efficacy, motivation, and positive outcome expectations by taking advantage of natural contingencies as they arise.
© ______ 2008, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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