All parents want their children to live up to their full potential, and grades and schoolwork can be a special area of concern. Parents understand how good grades can open doors in the future, but kids’ brains don’t always think that way! Incentives can encourage kids to pull their grades up, as positive reinforcement (incentives/rewards) usually works better than negative reinforcement (punishment).
Incentives Worth Trying
Different incentive programs work for different personalities and different age groups, so you might need to try more than one system, or change a system that has stopped working for you. Since kids are all different and you may have several, consider varying your incentives and your objectives. Goals might be pulling up a full grade--for instance, going from a B to an A, or from a C to a B--getting straight A's, working hard on projects or tests, or turning all of their homework in on time.
You may need to alter rewards and levels of effort based on your children’s abilities. A child with a severe learning disability may never earn straight A's, while another may get straight A's with ease, and the third may be in between. Recognize effort and attitude if this comes into play in your family.
At the beginning of a term, you can make a deal or write a contract specifying what grades or effort will net a reward when the semester is over.
- Money - Many parents pay their kids per final grade. Be clear about how much you will shell out per grade, and base the amount on your child's age. A younger child, for example, may be satisfied with $1 per B and $2 per A. An older child, on the other hand, may require more.
- Day trip or thrilling activity - A day trip can be a great end-of-term incentive, but it can also end up costing a lot more than simple payment. If you are a family that takes an annual trip, then this incentive may work for you. And to be frank, it doesn't have to be a day trip; perhaps your child loves going to the arcade or go-cart racing.
- Dinner out - A family dinner out at your child's favorite restaurant or fast food place can be rewarding and fun.
- Sleepover - For younger kids, a sleepover can be a great reward for end-of-term success. You can make this extra special by cooking your child's favorite meal, renting their favorite movie(s), and/or planning arts and crafts that she and her friends will enjoy.
For many kids, no matter what the age, an end-of-term incentive is too remote. Consider creating a week-by-week incentive system. Many kids—including very bright kids—struggle with getting homework completed and turned in on time because it is high energy but low reward. Other students might struggle with completing reading logs or studying spelling, vocabulary words, or math equations. Arrange a small incentive on the weekend for each week of homework completed on time or foreign language vocabulary studied successfully. Incentives are easy to vary by age and may include:
- Extra time - This may involve staying up later or more gaming and computer time.
- A movie - Theater prices can be pricey, especially if the entire family goes, so consider a family movie night in if you don't have the extra cash. But make it special by using tips from the "sleepover" section (e.g., letting your child choose the movie and whipping up her favorite food).
- Mani-pedi - Taking your child to the nail salon on a weekly basis can quickly add up, so you may want to alter between trips to the salon and mani-pedi parties at home.
- A book, magazine, or comic - This incentive is not only fun but also educational. If your little one has a love for reading, getting him a book, magazine, or comic is just the trick.
- Ice cream or another sugary treat - Many children love sweets, so why not make this an incentive? If you are worried about your child's sugar intake, however, opt for sugar-free treats.
- Camping out in the backyard or living room - If you've ever been camping, then you know how memories can be made doing it. The thing is, you don't have to drive more than an hour away to do it, either. If you have a spacious backyard and the proper equipment (a tent and sleeping bags), spend a few hours or the entire night out; don't forget to stargaze! Or, if you don't have a backyard, skip the tent and just sleep in sleeping bags. You can make this an authentic experience by sitting in a circle and telling stories and by making S'mores.
- A trip to your local playground - Younger kids love to play. Hop in the car and drive to your local playground. Let him go down the slide, swing, and move along the Monkey Bars for a few hours. And think of it this way: your child will get much-needed exercise.
There are businesses that offer rewards for good grades or good grade freebies; however, some restrict their incentives to K-5 or K-8, so check before you mention this one to your child.
- Chuck E Cheese offers a variety of academic 10-token rewards: Homework First, Super Student, and Reading Rewards. They also have many incentives on other topics.
- Chick-Fil-A and Pizza Hut offer rewards through schools. Talk to your kid's school or teacher, as they have to sign up. If you know their school registers for these programs, make sure your kid is aware.
What to Do When Incentives Don't Work
If your child is dedicated, works incredibly hard, and still cannot pull up their grades, contact his teacher and pediatrician. There may be a learning disability at play, a need for glasses, or your student might have never learned effective methods of studying.