Not many children like doing homework or studying for exams. For over 100 years, parents have been asking themselves the same question: How can I motivate my kids to work hard at school? And how should I react when my child comes home from school with good or even outstanding grades? The temptation is strong to reward a grade 5 with a shiny 5-franc coin. For a grade of 4.5, you might hold out the prospect of 4.50 francs, and for a 6 maybe even a 10-franc note. But how do these financial incentives affect children’s motivation? Would a family trip to the zoo be a more suitable reward or would it be better not to give any reward at all?
Money is a false incentive
Although money for good work seems a simple and tempting idea, financial rewards for good exam grades or school reports make little sense because you are only valuing measurable achievements. The message you are sending to your children is that it’s worth working hard to get good grades, but not for other good deeds such as explaining something to a school friend. In addition, the impact of monetary rewards soon wears off. Children’s thirst for knowledge and curiosity is much stronger and lasts much longer than financial incentives. Their inner motivation to learn and discover new things cannot be purchased. Moreover, financial rewards often increase sibling rivalry, and grades awarded in different classes and by different teachers are often not comparable.
Praise the effort, not the result
What parents should be rewarding or encouraging is their children’s effort – for school work, for learning an instrument, for sports, or for whatever they are enthusiastic about. Their efforts here are not always reflected in measurable results, but of course parents can and should reward their children when they are disciplined and diligent. However, it may be better if the reward – for example, cooking them their favorite dish – is not linked with a concrete result. As we know, failures such as bad grades or messed-up exams are also a part of life, but the hard work that went into them is still praiseworthy.
Money is not the only way to show appreciation
One thing remains: children should learn how to deal with money gradually. To do so, it makes sense for them to have their own money. Regular pocket money or, from the age of 12, a Jugendlohn are much more suitable than performance-linked cash rewards, which lead to unnecessary pressure – something today’s children have more than enough of. So how can parents show their appreciation for hard work? For example with a daytrip for the family or a spontaneous meal out, regardless of their child’s most recent grades.
The main points in a nutshell
- Children naturally want to learn and discover new things.
- Curiosity and thirst for knowledge motivate more than financial incentives.
- Money for good grades rewards only measurable rather than praiseworthy achievements.
- The impact of monetary gifts quickly wears off.
- Financial rewards or similar for exam results or school reports are not recommended.
- Don’t link learning how to deal with money to performing well at school.
UBS’s educational principles
This article was written in collaboration with educator Marianne Heller, who has years of experience in teaching financial education and debt prevention programs for children and young people.