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Is it wrong to offer rewards to kids for something they should do?

February 23rd, 2010

A parent asked me, “Isn’t it wrong for parents to reward their children for something they should do, such as their homework? I would reward them for doing something above and beyond expectations, but why should I reward them for something that is their everyday responsibility?”

In the previous post, I offered a suggestion on how to get your children to do homework. It includes offering them a reward when they finish their homework everyday by a certain time. Is it wrong to give rewards to our children for doing homework when it’s something they ought to do, even without a reward?

Do kids care about grades?

If we think that children should take ownership for doing their homework without some motivation from us, we have to assume that children care  about getting good grades, and want to get an education.

For some children, the system of grades instituted by the school is enough to motivate them to study. However, some children do not care about grades. They don’t care if they get a D or an A, as long as they pass the class to avoid the embarrassment of being held back.  Would you agree that “Getting an education” is probably low on their priority of “Things I want to do in life”?  I am willing to bet that “playing” ranks a lot higher!

As parents, we know that much of a child’s success in his academic future is dependent on establishing good study habits and getting good grades early on. But does an 8-year-old see that far down into his future?

It is precisely because our children do not see beyond their immediate pleasures that parents have a job to do. Our job is to make sure they eat their vegetables instead of candy, get proper exercise instead of sitting at the computer all day, and do their homework instead of playing. What’s good for them often goes against their natural inclinations. Why would we expect our children to “naturally” do homework, without some push?

The push may be in the form of grades and fear of the teacher. Or that push can be from the parent.

What motivates your child?

There are several ways you can motivate your child to do their homework. You can nag and yell until they do it. You can intimidate them with threats and punishment until they do it. Or you can offer a positive motivation, such as a reward, for them to do it.

I suggest the last option for several reasons:

1. Positive rewards create a much more positive home environment. After all, who wants to come home to be yelled at all the time?

2. Positive rewards does not alienate the parent as the “bad guy”. You want to be on the same side as your children, not the enemy dishing out punishment all the time.

3. Positive rewards associate good behavior with good feelings. The child learns that it feels good to do the right thing that will eventually translate to self-motivation, which is what we hope for.

I think of rewards as priming the pump to self-motivation. At first, your children may do their homework to get the reward of a new toy from you. But once he grows in confidence, receive  accolades from his teacher for his good work, and takes pride in his own accomplishments, he will see the value of education and be self-motivated.

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