Is There Anything Wrong With Rewarding Children for Good Grades?

I love the way this commonly asked question is answered.

Q:  Should we be rewarding our six year-old for getting high marks on her weekly spelling test? I know better. But I can’t seem to get her to believe in self-satisfaction for doing a good job. Help.



A: I have seen this all too often in my career in education. Parents are very well intentioned and want to support their children’s learning. Rewards or bribes to perform well at school or elsewhere may work temporarily, but there is a big price to pay.

It teaches the child that learning is not worthwhile in its own right. These external rewards take away the joy of learning for learning’s sake, stifling curiosity, inquiry and creativity.

It teaches the child that a parent’s love is conditional. “If my parents want to pay me for doing well at school, what if I do not do well – will they love me then?”

In my experience, reflecting the child’s day at school back on them is a great way to go. When they tell you they got 100 per cent on a spelling test, you might say, “I bet that made you feel good!”

Similarly, when they achieve an unfortunate result, you might ask, “How did that make you feel?” This could provoke a supportive and warm conversation with your child about being frustrated that she wasn’t able to learn the words and that next time, she might do things differently.

Above all, the child needs to know you are there for them regardless of marks, behaviour, talent and ability. It is only when love is unconditional that children feel supported and can grow and mature.

Children have a very precious internal motivation to be good, and external rewards show the child that we do not trust their desire to be good or do the right thing. In short, the end result will be that the child will lose that natural internal motivation and external rewards will assume the default position. You will teach your child that nothing is worth doing unless they get something for it. I am certain this is not the lesson you want to teach.

Jean Bigelow Parent Educator/ School Principal


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2 Responses to “Is There Anything Wrong With Rewarding Children for Good Grades?”

  1. John Tapscott Says:

    I couldn’t agree more. In fact Australian Indigenous children see through the scam better than most. I remember how often, when given a sticker or some other such token a child has then destroyed his/her work as much as to say, “I have given you my best work and you haven’t valued it for its own sake.” What this means is that a reward greatly diminishes the value of the work in the eyes of the child. Value the work. Yes. Value the child who has produced the work so that the child knows he/she is accepted for who they are rather than for what they produce. Amen?

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