Five Tips to Make Financial Incentives for Your Son/Daughter Work

Child putting money into piggy bankColleges already are paying your son or daughter for academic success in the form of merit-based scholarships. Should you be doing the same? Some parents scoff at the idea, and call these rewards "bribery," forgetting that there is a difference difference between bribing and reinforcing. Others are still fooled by the outdated 70's belief that rewarding achievement will undermine your son or daughter's natural will to succeed. In actuality, your reinforcement will strengthen his or her drive and influence positive academic growth.

I believe in the power of academic incentives, and Deborah Fox of Pay for College Blog agrees. Here are five tips to help you create your own academic incentive program:

  1. Reward improvement rather than offering awards for specific letter grades. By recognizing only As or Bs, siblings who cannot perform as well feel left out. Give every child a chance to succeed by rewarding improvements like more time devoted to homework, increased test performance, or better behavior in class.
  2. Be uniform in your rewards so that your son or daughter always knows what to expect and so that there is no accusation of favoritism from siblings. It can be as simple as a, "if your grade goes up, we'll all go out for ice cream" promise, or as complex as a list of rewards on the refrigerator.
  3. ...but also be spontaneous. "Variable ratio reinforcement" may sound like psychobabble, but it is a tool of positive reinforcement that slot machine designers use to great success. Rewarding your son or daughter in unpredictable ways has a powerful effect on his or her desire to succeed. Consider "catching" your child studying hard one day, and surprising him or her with that new toy they've been wanting. It may sound crazy -- and your child might think that you are when you do it -- but it really does work.
  4. Involve the entire family in the rewards process. Instead of padding your son or daughter's piggy bank, plan a family dinner at the rewarded child's favorite restaurant, or let him/her pick the next family movie. Not only will this help avoid siblings' hurt feelings, it will also give the child a greater sense of accomplishment and inclusion because the entire family is joining in the celebration.
  5. Encourage a supportive atmosphere for your child with his/her peers and siblings. Parental praise is great, but a congratulations from an equal gives a huge boost to a child's self-esteem.

Reinforcement can be powerful in shaping your child's will to succeed. Use these techniques to maximize your academic incentive program and you'll have a child driven to achieve and ready for college in no time.

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