Should parents use tangible rewards to motivate their children to score As? Hear what the KiasuParents community has to say.
I know of someone who hardly studied and skipped classes, but was a very clever boy who was scoring 70+ marks. He wanted to get a new computer. One day nearer to the O-Level exams, his mother promised him a new computer if he scored above 80 marks. Guess what, he suddenly studied harder, and passed the exam well.
— KiasuParents member Oppsgal
During my son’s preschool years, I tried the external motivation method and there were diminishing returns. Finally, it got to the point when he asked for what he wanted before he got any work done. I stopped trying to push him entirely, and have stopped any form of material rewards since. I agree that the A itself should be the reward, if that is what the child wants.
— KiasuParents member concern2
I do reward my child for good grades and behaviour. Rewards can be in various forms, and not necessarily money. If we start using money as a reward at a very young age, I’m afraid the child may become money-grubbing, which will do more harm than good.
Why not get a present, go for a show that they like, or give them a treat at the restaurant of their choice? I think all these are much better and healthier than giving money.
— KiasuParents member KSP
I don’t reward my kids for getting A grades. The A grades should be reward enough. The result? My kids are highly driven to succeed for the sake of success and learning. My daughter worked hard for her A-Levels and once ended up in hospital from overwork. No rewards. My son insisted on working on Sundays and I had to veto his decision to do so. No rewards.
The moment you start giving rewards, you won’t get this level of self-motivation. The higher the external motivation, the lower the self-motivation. I flee external rewards like the plague for my kids. It’s not just another viable motivation option—it is a dangerous one.
Parents who complain that their kids must be asked to study, or need people right next to them, often fail to make the link back to the few occasions where they gave external rewards for an achievement. You want your child to achieve for the sake of achieving, and [one reward] is enough to break that mindset. Read this ST article.
— KiasuParents member Chenonceau
I feel it is okay to give rewards to motivate children to put in effort. Yes, in the early stage, say, from Primary 1 to Primary 6, or even up to Secondary 4, they may be after the reward. However, once they get older, they should be mature enough to realise that getting good grades is for their own good.
It is better for children to secure good grades first. Later, when they are older, parents can find opportunities to explain to them that they should not expect rewards all the time. The alternative is to miss the chance to motivate them, and when they grow up, they may regret not putting in enough effort to get good grades.
Perhaps those born with a silver spoon don’t need rewards; they have everything they need. They go on holidays, they have game consoles, they have good food every day, and most of their needs are fulfilled. In such situations, I wouldn’t be surprised if external rewards were ineffective, simply because such children don’t need or crave for anything badly.
Those who have less, however, are different. You don’t go on holiday every now and then. You don’t buy this and that at your fancy. To get it, you must work hard for it. You must earn it. Rewards can be a strong motivation for such children to excel. It is no longer about a sense of satisfaction or achievement. It is a ticket out of poverty.
— KiasuParents member limlim
I have seen it happen with my kids. The drive to do well comes from within. Not just because it is good for them—that is so hard for most kids to comprehend. It’s usually because they have experienced the sheer joy of achieving a target and/or the love of doing the work.
When my daughter was in Primary 1, she once asked what she would get if she scored full marks for maths. My answer was “Nothing.” But I added, “As a perk, you get bragging rights. But only till the next exam.”
Later in upper primary and even in secondary school, teachers praised her for her responsibility and motivation.
But I also realised that for my daughter, not reaching a self-set target could be very demoralising. We go out for a meal, a long walk, or any activity, to convey to her, “You tried, we believe in you and love you. Maybe it hurts a lot and there’s not much we can do about that, but we are here for you.”
With my son, it’s more tricky. When he was in Primary 1, he asked what I would give him if he got full marks, and I happily told him, “A big hug.” In another year, he asked again, “If I get full marks what will you give me, other than a big hug?” This time, I replied, “A kiss.”
He shook his head and gave me a hug. I hope he will find his true joy in learning and doing his best.
— KiasuParents Member Sun_2010
The comments above were excerpted from a KiasuParents forum thread on rewards and motivation. They have been edited for language and clarity.