Motivating your children to do well in school can be one of the most important – yet challenging – things you can do as a parent. If your children are inspired at a young age to set and achieve long-term goals, and earn good grades in the process, they’re more likely to succeed in the future. But igniting that spark is no easy task. Perhaps in addition to giving praise and a hug for good grades, you take them out to dinner or to their favorite amusement park. But cash and material items might be more motivational, a recent online poll indicates.
A majority of kids and parents backed "earning for learning." In fact, three out of four kids, and 60 percent of parents agree that incentives can help reinforce good behavior while helping children learn about money, according to the poll of more than 1,200 parents and children conducted by the Northwestern Mutual Foundation’s financial literacy website, Themint.org.
When asked which incentives might motivate kids, children and adults combined agreed that physical motivators like "cash rewards" (19 percent) and "desired items" (23 percent) like clothes, games or an iPod were more influential than experiential incentives like "a special dinner at a favorite restaurant" (12 percent) or "a trip to a theme park, water park or other attraction" (4 percent).
Parents may be encouraged to hear that kids ranked parents’ praise and encouragement comparably to cash rewards or desired items, garnering 27 percent, 25 percent and 33 percent support, respectively.
"Parents should take away from this the message that their praise and the positive examples they set are very powerful in shaping kids’ long-term habits, and rewards can provide extra inspiration for some students to succeed when it comes to report cards," says Janie Schiltz, vice president of Northwestern Mutual.
Praise and rewards often work hand-in-hand. For adults in the workforce, paychecks and performance bonuses are great motivators, but praise and encouragement are also important parts of job satisfaction and can be drivers for good performance. Kids aren’t so different – many likely need both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards to feel a full sense of achievement.
If you decide to provide rewards for school success, think about sitting down with your kids at the beginning of the school year or semester to agree about their goals and the rewards they’re eligible to receive.
When all is said and done, of course, the decision is personal. While the Northwestern Mutual Foundation survey showed that parents and kids nationwide favor report card rewards, the results shouldn’t be seen as a "one size fits all" answer. Every child is unique, so parents should consider incentives that work best for their family.
Here are some tips to consider:
* Start by focusing on what you will reward. Is it focused on a specific grade? Improvement? Effort? An accomplishment? What is the timeline – the full school year or will you offer quarterly incentives?
* If you have more than one child, do you have different expectations for each child? What you expect for one child may not be the same expectations for a different child.
* Talk to your children. Explain the expectations and the rewards. If a child understands what is expected and what the reward might be, he is far more likely to work for the reward.
* What kind of reward are you negotiating? The rewards may depend on the child. If your family does not eat out often, and the child thinks a restaurant is a big deal, allowing the child to choose a restaurant as a reward might be a great incentive. For other children, financial rewards or prizes may be a better choice. Choose a reward that you are comfortable with providing, and that is appropriate for the expectations and the timeline.
* If your child receives a weekly allowance, consider a "bonus" for the child. For example, if the child receives a $5 per week allowance, give her an extra $5 as a one week bonus. For older students, you could consider a larger quarterly bonus. This type of format is similar to the way a bonus might be provided in the "adult" world.