Offering children cash for good grades could ‘kill off motivation’

Parents checking their child's grades
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For generations have been offering their children rewards at home for good grades in school, but psychologists claim the practice could be doing more long-term harm than good. Speaking to Sky News, Dr Cath Lowther, general secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, warned parents to put in some guidelines and restrictions around their use of external motivators.

She noted that offering money in return for good grades, whether it’s based on the mark they receive in a specific subject or test, a measure of improvement, or overall award, it could “eventually kill off intrinsic motivation”. She explained that the motivation of money digs away at their children’s drive to find joy in their learning journey as well as their ability to set and achieve personal goals for themselves.

Additionally, the expert warned that it could also lead to unexpected conflict in the classroom as every parent may set their own terms and amounts while some parents may not be offering their child anything. Dr Lowther also slammed the schooling system as a whole, explaining that these external motivators are built-in from the very start with the likes of handing out gold stars.

Consultant clinical psychologist Dr Emma Citron noted that it may also put additional undue pressure on students who are still struggling to get up to speed following the pandemic. She said: “I just think that it's sending all the wrong messages as parents.

“You're adding to their pressure and actually, more importantly, changing the dynamic between you and your children. You're making it conditional on outcome, on reward, rather than what we know to be good, which is unconditional approval and validation."

Counsellor Georgina Sturmer agreed with this, as she pointed out to NerdWallet the potential conflict it can cause in the home between siblings. She noted that incentives in return for high grades can lead to “challenging consequences” regardless of whether the children meet the goal or not.

Offering incentives around key times in a child’s development could tie the parenting technique into their sense of self-worth and self-esteem, which could result in extremes in adulthood from perfectionism and people-pleasing to rebellions spurred on by a sense of failure. However, she highlighted that these criticisms on offering incentives shouldn’t deter parents from celebrating their children’s achievements.

She explained: “It’s a positive thing to reward all that effort and hard work with some kind of incentive that feels appropriate within our own families. The crucial thing is to just not tie it to those grades at the end as this sets them up to fail if they don’t achieve them.”