Boy smiling at the camera with his parents in the background

Raising a child is a something for which absolutely nothing can prepare you. It is a rollercoaster of emotions, with tough times for sure – but made all the more worthwhile for those moments of complete and utter joy. Every parent ‘learns on the job’, so to speak, and this is true even as children get to school age. Which brings us to the topic in question.

As the end of the summer term nears, the dreaded report cards are once again due back to parents across the country. This can be a time for celebration or commiseration, and in some cases could make all the difference in your child’s next step. It is important to reinforce good behaviour and diligent work, but how best can you approach incentives and rewards for academic achievement?

The Psychology of Rewards

The most important principle to remember when it comes to rewarding children is that there is a slim but distinct difference between ‘rewards’ and ‘bribery’. It can be all too easy to bribe your child into work, but doing so can engender unexpected behaviours – and reinforce the wrong traits. This is especially true if you give the gift before the work is done; what may seem like an advance reward is in fact having the opposite effect to incentivising study.


Instead of risking falling into ‘bribery’ territory when it comes to rewarding your child’s efforts, you should approach positive reinforcement of ongoing work towards a positive reward card from a different perspective. Instead of incrementally rewarding your child before they have demonstrated any tangible results, give them incentives to continue to work towards a goal.

You could tell them that if they stick to an exam revision schedule for a certain length of time, they get a small spending budget for toys. Rare treats such as takeaway food could also be used as incentive to stay the course academically – alongside a lesson in healthy eating, of course.


The above incentives could be applied as rewards for work well done after a positive reward card – but if a child performs poorly despite their efforts, this could lead to disenfranchisement. Instead, the best form of reward is a surprise reward – something they weren’t anticipating, which happens as a direct result of their achievement.

One of the best ways to reward a child in this way is with an experience. Weekends away in holiday park homes, seeing new sights and playing with other children, can form lasting memories and reinforce their hard work for time to come. Even a surprise day out can have a lasting effect, especially if you incorporate special and memorable activities.


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