Rewarding Kids For Learning

Rewarding Kids For Learning


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Is bribing kids effective to help them learn? Not really, and it may have longer term negative effects.

One hundred dollar bills laying on counter

If your child struggles with learning, you may be looking for alternatives to help them in their education. While there are many different methods that one can try, most of them take a lot of work and patience to implement. One of the simplest suggestions to get kids motivated to learn is by rewarding them for doing so.

Rewarding children for learning is one of the simplest ways that you can try to motivate them to do so. There’s not really much you have to do other than tell them what the reward is, and how they earn it. Once they get there, they either earn it, or they don’t. As a parent, it can be really tempting to try using this method for pushing your kid to want to learn. However, you should steer clear of this method as it will likely fail your child in the long term.

Why Bribes Are Not Effective

When a child knows that a reward is at stake for something, their mind seems to shift its focus. Instead of focusing on what is being taught and what they are trying to learn, your child is now focused on the reward. They want to figure out how they can achieve the reward, not how they can actually learn.

Since your child’s focus is no longer on learning, they are far less effectively taking in information. Learning has now just become a game to them that they must beat to win. Figuring out that doing X gets them Y will be the strategy that they end up using to try to learn. The human mind is wired in a way that playing games comes naturally, and this no different.

Not only is your child simply learning to play a different game, they are likely not learning effective strategies for actually learning. While they may be getting higher grades (which is definitely good), they are not building a base for learning effectively later. Furthermore, by creating a bribery system, your child will expect that system going forward. At some point, the rewards will stop, and your child will have lost what was motivating them to actually learn in the first place.

Instead of rewards, helping your child to learn something new, and celebrating those moments are far more effective. Helping your child to celebrate the wins will cost you less money, but more importantly will help them to find a base for why they want to learn.

Rewarding Children For Learning

If you’re really set on rewarding your child for learning, then there is one strategy that is at least less damaging to your child’s learning development. Rather than setting up milestones that your child earns by completing certain things, you simply reward your child for meeting certain criteria that you feel make sense. By not laying out for your child exactly what the criteria are to earn a reward, you are still able to reward your child (if they’re learning effectively) while having them not focus on a game so much.

It may seem odd to go this route, as your child will not know how to earn the rewards, but that’s the whole point. Rewarding your child for effectively learning is not something that they should come to expect. As they continue to grow older, they’re going to have to learn without being rewarded for every little milestone that they make.

Even if you’re setting larger milestones, it will become something that your child comes to expect over time if you continuously do it. Using milestones can be effective if they’re not common - using a reward that is uncommon but for a large goal can be more effective. You simply don’t want to teach your child to come to expect rewards for everything they do as they learn. As noted above, teaching kids to become intrinsically motivated will be far more effective for them to learn.

Helping your kids to find a motivation from within, they will be better learners and have something to actually fall back on when the learning gets tough in their future. As they go to college, and move out of the house, they need to know how to learn on their own without you dangling a carrot in front of them. Having the ability to reward them for doing well (perhaps by going to lunch or something meaningful but small) will allow you to celebrate the wins (learning accomplishments) with them while not having them focus on always getting a reward. At some point, focusing them on the large milestones of school (completing a grade or graduating) are also important, and they are times for natural celebrations and rewards for your child.


Using rewards for your child is generally ineffective for them to learn. Building correct habits, and helping them to find motivation to actually learn will serve them better in the long run.


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