How to Encourage Good Grades Without Financial Rewards

It’s a challenge that many parents face: They want to reward and honor good grades but don’t want to translate that reward directly into a financial prize.

Not only does paying for good grades add up when your children are performing well at school, it often conveys to them that they should be directly compensated for earning good grades rather than feeling pride in their efforts. But the intrinsic motivation is what will sustain them much more fruitfully in college and beyond.

Here are five strategies to reduce the financial focus on grades, which will save you money while rewarding your kids for a job well done.

[Read: Are You Too Broke to Be a Parent?]

Give non-monetary rewards, such as screen time or a sleepover. If your children bring home amazing report cards, you can reward them for their efforts by giving them something that doesn’t involve an outlay of cash. Simply give them extra screen time that weekend — or at least some additional freedom over their time use — or reward them with an activity such as a sleepover with a friend.

These types of rewards cost you very little, but they can be an enormous payout to your child. The opportunity to watch an extra television program or a few YouTube videos for a few days can feel like a big reward. A special activity such as a sleepover or permission to take over a room with a big art project can also feel amazing.

Look for nonfinancial rewards that will click with your child’s interests and use those instead of simply handing over cash.

Reward effort, not results. Stop focusing on grades as the source of a reward. Rather, offer rewards for concerted efforts on homework and studying.

Create a system that offers some sort of reward for every half hour spent studying or doing homework at the dining room table without electronics. Track it and reward it with the types of non-monetary rewards described previously.

Perhaps you restrict your children’s screen time to an hour a day, but for every 30 minutes spent studying without devices, they can earn an extra 15 minutes of screen time to be cashed in when they desire. Maybe 10 study sessions will be met with a sleepover or some other nonfinancial reward.

Give meaningful praise for their efforts. When your kids bring home great report cards, offer strong and meaningful verbal praise, but focus on the effort that went into the grade. Remind them of the time they spent studying or learning new things and how that built into this grade.

In other words, build up the sense of accomplishment that went into achieving the high grade rather than directly rewarding it. This allows the accomplishment itself to feel like a reward, and the good feelings will come from hard work put into a job well done.

[See: 12 Habits of Phenomenally Frugal Families.]

Share their achievements with others in a way that highlights their effort. Quite often, bragging about your child’s grades can feel as though you’re actually bragging about yourself. But when you’re genuinely highlighting their accomplishment to someone you mutually care about, it can feel quite meaningful to your children.

Tell people that are part of both of your lives about your kids’ accomplishments, but center it around your children’s hard work and effort and what they put into it. Don’t attribute it to a natural gift or any sort of great parenting — center it around their efforts. The only part you should play in this story is that you’re incredibly proud of your children. Everything else should center around their hard work and dedication.

[Read: Should Your Child Pay for Shared Household Expenses?]

Use their schoolwork efforts as part of a justification for a rite of passage, such as a later curfew. If you’ve been considering giving your children greater permission or freedom in some aspect of their lives, consider using their great report cards as further evidence of their growing maturity and ability to handle responsibility and use it as part of the justification for that change.

Are you thinking about instituting a later bedtime? A later curfew? Fewer screen-time restrictions? Perhaps you’re thinking about allowing your child to get a part-time job? Whatever the change is, let their academic efforts be part of the justification for that particular rite of passage.

Whatever methods you choose to use to honor your children’s great grades, remember that they can be deeply meaningful without being financially harmful.

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