As parents, we try to focus on the skills and behaviors that will make our children successful, independent adults. One of those behaviors is good academic or school skills. The question is how do we help our children to develop those school skills, and better yet, get the good grades we think they are capable of?
Should I Bribe?
The topic of bribing children with money for good grades is a hornets’ nest. Professionals are all over the board on whether students should or should not get reinforced for academic skills, like getting good grades. Some feel rewards aren’t needed for behavior that is “expected.” The topic is so controversial that a Harvard professor who conducted research on the on this issue received death threats after appearing on national television programs. In education, bribery is a negative word because many educators feel students should do things for the “love of learning”. Realistically, what do we do for the kids who haven’t grasped the “love of learning”? The reality of life is that people, as well as children, don’t do something for nothing. Money is a huge motivator for adults, as well as some kids. Additionally, the research has shown that it can be effective in shaping academic performance.
Bribery vs. Reward
Bribery is a form of reward or reinforcement- you are saying to the child “you do this, you will get that.” We need to think broader in terms of how we reinforce our children and what we reinforce them for. Keep in mind, good grades or academic success is only part of what will make them a successful adult. I always recommend reinforcing all behavior we view as successful for the child and the behaviors we want to see repeated.
What is the Best Way to Help Your Child Get Good Grades?
· Set Your Kids Up For School Success
We need to remember that as parents we are partners our children’s education. We need to know what’s going on and be there to help with homework as needed, especially for children who struggle more academically. Make it easy for kids to learn, study and get their homework finished. Designate a homework spot. Make sure they have the tools they need- pencils, books, computers, if need. The space or room should be free from distraction- no TV, cell phones, iPods, etc.
· Reward Effort
Every child is different and has different strengths and capabilities. School work and good grades come easy for some, yet are a continuing struggle for others. Always make sure that effort, not just results, is a key part of your reinforcement plan. Reinforce things the child has control over- attendance, homework time, time spent reading, completion of work, signed school planners, etc. In the end, we want to teach our kids to work hard and persevere, regardless of results. Additionally, classroom behavior, being respectful of others, following directions and competing tasks are some valuable school and life skills that are not always reflected in grades.
· Individualize Rewards or Reinforcers
The younger the child, the more motivated they will typically be by smaller, tangible items- stickers, pencils, new books or small toys. As children get older they are more reinforced by money and privileges. You have to be attuned as to what motivates your child. Keep in mind that if rewards are very expensive or lavish, you may be undermining the intent of the reward.
· Mix It Up
Most reinforcement or reward programs eventually get stale. They need repeated adjustment and fine tuning. We never want to get into a “Reinforcement Trap”- when the child will no longer exhibit the behavior unless they get the reward. Mixing up reinforcers is a great way to do this. Research tells us praise, not prizes or money, is the most effective reinforcer. Keep your praise specific- “I like the way you started your homework right when you came home,” “I like the way you chose to read instead of watch TV, ” or “I was proud when your teacher said you are always kind to classmates.”
· Should Kids be Bribed to Do Well in School?
· Bribery for Grades: Good Idea or Bad Setup?
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· Grades—To Bribe or Not to Bribe