Family, Parenting

How to Motivate Kids

A couple of weeks ago, my neighbor asked me to write a blog about how to motivate kids to get good grades.

Report Card
Report Card (Photo credit: AJC1)

She asked me how I motivated my kids.

I had to think about it for a minute to remember, then I squirmed a little.

“Money,” I said.

I honestly don’t know whether our offers of cash motivated them, but we tried it.

Our plan was to push them a little harder to get As. So we paid a premium for As, less for Bs and Zippo for grades below a B.

I’m afraid our system turned out to be about as bad as our allowance plans. They started out strong and waned over time.

This happened to the Tooth Fairy too. She was a flibbertigibbet of a fairy really. I think she didn’t know what to do with all those teeth she collected so sometimes she forgot to do her job.

Cover of "Dear Tooth Fairy (All Aboard Re...
Cover of Dear Tooth Fairy (All Aboard Reading)

One morning we found a note on Annie’s pillow that said, “Dear Tooth Fairy, you should be fired! You forgot to do your job.”

The forgetful fairy quickly flitted into our house the next night and doubled the prize for the little tooth resting under Annie’s pillow.

But, back to my neighbor’s question about how to motivate her kids to get good grades.

Her problem is really not motivating them to get good grades, it’s encouraging them to get the best grades they can. She believes her oldest son is capable of getting straight As. He’s a smart, talented student with outstanding athletic abilities. She’s sees scholarships in his future and believes he should do everything he can to snag the best ones out there.

I remember asking friends and neighbors the same question about incentives when my kids entered high school. Most people told me they rewarded their children with money, phones, video games or promised to pay their car insurance or give them driving privileges. One woman told me if her children got straight As all through high school, she promised to buy them a car.

We didn’t go that far.

Cell Phones
Cell Phones (Photo credit: Scallop Holden)

Others used the punishment system – poor grades equalled loss of privileges like getting a driver’s license or playing video games.

Doug’s parenting theory is that the reason parents give their kids things is so that they can take them away. We relied on that for bad behavior but never really needed to punish for bad grades —  not that they always got straight As, but we always felt they were doing their best, and if their best only got a B or even a C in some classes, we applauded the effort more than the grade. (I honestly hate the grading and testing system in our schools, but that’s an entirely different blog!)

When it came to grades specifically, compliments for good work went a long way. We hoped gushing over the As or rewarding them inspired them to get more As.

Sometimes their best motivation came from their peers. When their friends were high achievers, they wanted to be too. It also helped that they set their sights early on getting into Brigham Young University, a school with high admission standards. Their strong desire to get into BYU spurred them to do their best, and actually seemed to do more than money. (Remember, however, that our money incentive plan went the way of allowance and the lazy tooth fairy…They faded out over time.

I did a little internet research and learned there is a lot of debate on this topic. Some think financial rewards are shallow and meaningless, and that we shouldn’t reward kids for doing what they should be doing anyway. Getting good grades is what they should be doing anyway so there shouldn’t be any further motivation. Others say that monetary rewards are effective and give them yet another reason for working hard.


While we obviously want our children to develop their own healthy motivation, sometimes it takes more maturity on their part for them to discover their own internal, personally drive and determination.

Some parents recommended rewarding kids with dinner at their favorite restaurant or buying them the new coveted toy or item they want.

I think the best idea I read was asking kids what they really want. Ask them, “What would motivate you?”

Some kids said a weekend ski trip, a new video game, a ticket to a special event or a special item of clothing motivated them.

What do all of my loyal blog readers think?

For all you parents, what works? What doesn’t? What do my kids think? Did any of our parenting ploys work? For all the college students who can still remember what their parents did, what worked? I’d love your answers and advice.

I’ll be sure to pass it on to my neighbor!

7 thoughts on “How to Motivate Kids”

  1. This exact topic has been on my mind the past few days. My husband found some old high school report cards and made the comment “Oh, my poor parents. I had such horrible grades.” To which I replied “Ok, how do we encourage our kids to get good grades, when the time comes.” We ended up in a big discussion and I learned that he ended up getting grounded pretty much all summer, every summer. That obviously didn’t work. Would love to hear what ideas others have!

  2. That blasted Tooth Fairy. She is such a flake. If she was being paid for grades, she would get bupkis.

    I don’t have any problem with rewarding good grades with $, with realistic expectations and real expectations. It doesn’t have to stunt maturity and appreciation of hard work. I would have a hard time promising some extravagant reward because you really could put yourself in tough spot. Do you waffle because they were SOO close and we’ll just let it slide (and I really want to give it to them), or do you stick to your guns even though the grade was really unfair and didn’t reflect their effort? Not clear enough for me.

    Of course, I grade my kids, so I can do whatever I want.

  3. Thanks so much for leading me here and visiting my site!

    I think you are so right that not one strategy fits every kid, or every family! And I think this is an age-old question and debate among parents and teachers.

    From a teacher’s perspective, get on board with your student’s teacher and find out why they don’t like a class, or what they are doing in the class, or even what they do enjoy about a class. Teachers want students to succeed too so they should be your ally – together you might be able to figure out a way to pique your child’s interest and start improving the grades.

  4. Encourage healthy learning. Found out that motivation and brain power don’t always match. My kids are all adults now and still pride themselves on using the biggest, most obscure word for every occasion because we did that together when they were growing up. They didn’t get graded on that. I was in grad school worrying about getting A’s and my college age son said “Chill, Mom, you can go snowboarding and still get B’s.”

  5. Encourage healthy learning. Found out that brain power and motivation don’t always match. My adults kids still pride themselves on using the biggest and most obscure word possible for every situation because we did that together when they were growing up. They didn’t get graded on that. When I was in grad school worrying about getting A’s my college boy told me “You worry to much about grades, Mom. You can go snowboarding and still get B’s.

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