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To reward or not to reward?


At exam time, conversations often turn to how parents motivate their children to work hard and do their best. Whatever your child’s age, it’s a topic that really divides, with some parents and experts fully advocating rewards and others very much against them.

There are both pros and cons to rewarding and incentivising. To help you through this parenting challenge, here are some things you could consider:

You know your child best

The first thing to think about is whether your child actually needs any additional motivation. Are they already interested, engaged and working well to achieve their best? If so, then maybe it’s just some extra recognition of their hard work that’s needed. But if perhaps they don’t yet have that motivation, and could do with a bit of a helping hand to develop some good habits, an extra incentive or reward may be just what’s needed.

Don't put yourself under pressure

If your child is embarking on their GCSEs or A levels, don't be too surprised if you hear stories about friends whose parents are giving them money if they achieve certain grades, or a specific gift for doing well. Try not to get sucked in to a 'keeping up with the Jones’' type conversation (chances are they're exaggerating anyway) and discuss for a reward or incentive that will work for your family.

When to reward

Given what you know about your child, would it be more motivating for them to receive smaller rewards as they go along to show them their effort is recognised? Or are they more likely to respond to and be driven by an 'end goal' (beyond the success they get from their results and the feeling of achieving)? Consider also what you are rewarding them for – what is success for your child? Is it a specific result, commitment to working hard, or setting out to achieve something new. Bear in mind also that rewards can be ineffective when you are simply rewarding for achievements they should be doing anyway.

Setting a precedent

For those with more than one child consider how you can fairly reward all children when the time comes, in a way that meets each of their needs, while also being 'fair'. Any rewards you set up may well be the start of a family tradition so bear this in mind when you are making plans – what expectations you are setting for the future? A celebratory family meal may be a great way to mark family wide achievements, while expensive gifts are harder to repeat. Not only is cost a factor, you don’t want to find yourself held to ransom at a later date!

Can you over reward?

Rewards don't need to be expensive lavish gifts, more intangible rewards can be equally as effective. Depending on your child’s age some examples include - family time, a favourite meal, a trip out for ice cream, a new book, a later bed time etc. Try to go for as little reward as possible to get the results you need!

Make it count

Asking your child to come up with their reward (perhaps from a pre agreed list) will probably make it more effective. Stick to an agreed plan. If you are using it for motivation, make sure your child knows what the reward is for and what they need to do to get it.

How do you motivate your child to do their best at exam time? If there's something you'd add to our list, we'd love to hear from you at

Reviewed: May 2019

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