This Is How I Get My Kids To Work Hard

I’ve been on so many paths with this one. I started with what everyone wants in a perfect world:

  • Your child should be motivated to learn because of the natural curiosity that they have.
  • Your child should be motivated to do well in school just because they love to learn and naturally want to be the best at what they can do.

What a beautifully perfect world! Ha!

Basically no rewards should be given. All achievements should come from the heart right? This generally works and but takes a lot of effort – from BIRTH. My husband and I made a tremendous amount of effort from birth to educate our kids. We never did TV in the early ages, didn’t let them use and iPad until it was required for school, showed them tons of books, took them to museums, explained everything all the time. It’s a path that’s very tiring but also very rewarding. This worked from birth until about age 6 to 8. I think early efforts definitely flows through to later years

BUT …

something happens when they reach age 6 to that almost double digit age…

They start to have other agendas of their own, having preferences of subjects they love/don’t love, developing strengths and avoiding their weaknesses. You know… normal adult stuff we face everyday. When they’re procrastinating and not doing some things, it could either mean:

  1. It’s boring
  2. It’s too easy
  3. It’s too hard
  4. It’s their weakness
  5. They don’t see a point in it because life is good at home, why do stuff they don’t enjoy?

Things start getting uncomfortable and that’s very natural. As parents we start getting angry because children start to seem like they’re “misbehaving”… Why was learning easy before and now all of a sudden they’re doing stuff out of the ordinary? That’s a conversation in itself. For now, I just want to go over my path to rewards/non-rewards.

Age 0-5

  • No rewards given except for sincere praises for when they’ve learned something that was hard for them before
  • We don’t overdo praises because it makes the child fish for them later and they want to work for praises. Plus, it cheapens the compliments if you do them too much so only compliment and praise when it’s SINCERE.
  • Sincere compliments come when you actually feel they had a breakthrough. Don’t clap at everything because the instant they don’t get something, they’ll get easily frustrated and just give up since they’re not getting a praise. This is actually very dangerous. The suicide rates that are high at the top tier universities are the direct result of this type of behavior. Children who has had it too easy (smart ones) in school, get good grades, high praises, and then get into a top university. Everything is smooth flowing until they get their first grades on their test. Grades are suddenly on a curve and they figured out they are not the smartest one in the world. Then suddenly the reward/praise disappears and they enter into depression and don’t know how to climb back up. Ok, I may be a bit dramatic with suicide but some form of depression does happen when smart kids get in college.

Age 6-8

Rewards start to come in for certain things they do at this age for us. However there are specific rules to giving out rewards and it’s a push and pull effect.

  • If you make the reward too easy to get, they lose interest (too many times a day or even daily).
  • If you make the reward too hard to get, they lose interest (waiting more than two days for a rewards or a week or even a month is pretty long).
  • If you give stars and points but there’s no physical reward, then after a while, it stops working (they need to see and touch the reward).
  • If you give stars and points too easily and they get a physical reward too easily, it doesn’t work (life is again too easy).

You’re probably wondering WHAT SHOULD I DO THEN? SEEMS LIKE NOTHING WORKS!

This is where we started:

  • Find a balance of how hard it is to get rewards. The younger your kids are, the more often. You may start with daily and then then space it out slowly.
  • Make a list of things you want them to do (without your nagging). This is the list you WISH they would do independently and should be rewarded.
  • Make a list of small to large rewards and tasks that earn them.
    • For example, a small sticker could be earned for meals eaten in 20 minutes or less. A favorite lego set could be the result of eating within 20 minutes for a WEEK in a row. Kids this age have a short attention span and waiting a month for something doesn’t sound too enticing to work for.
  • Some rules here:
    • Give rewards they actually want to work for.
    • List rewards they can get on a daily basis for SMALL things you want them to do – do Chinese worksheet in 30 minutes, earn a small reward (don’t go crazy – just something small for this).
    • List rewards they can get on a weekly basis for BIGGER things you want them to do – read a Chinese bridge book within a certain time frame (a week) and earn a slightly bigger reward, and so forth. Every family is different so just think about this one.
    • Some good prizes can probably be purchased at the Dollar Store! Don’t break your bank for this ok? Younger kids are pretty easy to please. Sometimes candy or cookies work! Feel lucky here because it gets harder later.
    • Last, list rewards they can work for on a monthly or even quarterly basis. We’ve listed stuff for going to amusement parks and BOY DID I MAKE THEM WORK FOR IT.
    • Every child is DIFFERENT so please find your balance. Make sure to do some trial and error and see what works with your child.

Age 8-10

This is the age I’m at right now and we initiated an even more complex system. Oh, life gets so complicated when you get older! I no longer want to think about what prizes to give because my children no longer need some rewards daily. Stickers and stars or Lego sets no longer work. Instead, we switched to a points system which is equivalent to our dollar system. HA! Earning above expectations grades in school, doing Chinese book reports above and beyond assigned, doing chores outside of expectations for the week, etc., earns them points where we keep on a spreadsheet.

Bad behavior subtracts points as well. I modeled this after real life work! We work for money and we work for bonuses. If you don’t do a well enough job or do something wrong, then maybe your bonus gets smaller. If you do perfect on everything, maybe you get an extra bonus! However, be very careful with this one. There’s VERY LITTLE ON THE SUBTRACT LIST. We want the points system to be very very positive. We never subtract anything that’s already been given UNLESS if they did something super bad.

Here’s the fun part… they get to spend their points when they go out. We could go shopping and they CAN BUY ANYTHING THEY WANT. YES, ANYTHING! Parents –

DO NOT

DO NOT

DO NOT

DO NOT LIMIT WHAT THEY CAN BUY!!!

The whole point is to empower them to take charge of their own future. They never get to be in charge right? Well this is the only place where they can be in charge. If you limit what they can buy, then it takes the incentive and fun out of it for them and your system will FAIL.

If it’s a disgusting bubble gum – just hold in your disapproval and let them get it. If it’s an overpriced gross looking stuffed animal – just live with it. It’s their points, their choice.

I had a LOT OF POSITIVE SURPRISES with this system. I thought my children were going to go crazy and buy stupid things all the time. Instead I found them:

  • Saving points for bigger things.
  • Checking out prices at the stores and spotting sales.
  • Noticing different pricing for even toilet paper at Costo and Target for me!
  • Choosing to SAVE the points for something later.

They started hogging points and hoping to buy something that’s more value, researching prices, and choosing to let go of certain things they want because now they’re SPENDING THEIR OWN MONEY. This makes all the difference! When they ask me to buy something and I say no, I give them the option to use their points. 99% of the time, they’ll respond, “Nevermind, I don’t need it as much as I think I do”…

WORKS AMAZING. We’ve learned the value of money and working for that money.

Age 10-14?

I would assume it’ll probably be the same thing but with more adult conversations of what they want. I think when they get to high school is when I’ll start asking them to really think about their life goals and they will transition into: what should I do to get what I want later in life and move beyond a point system and back to internal drive.

Final Thoughts:

This is the cycle I hope to make. At first, I didn’t want any rewards system and my husband and I had HUGE INTERNAL struggles on giving rewards for stuff we thought they should do anyway!!! Right?

However, I realized I’m thinking my children are more amazing than any other living human being. It’s not humanly possible to be interested in EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME! If I cannot do it, I’m sure they cannot. I also need rewards! It’s a DREAM to go to work every day doing something we love 100% of the time.

It’s just not possible.

How many of us work in our dream jobs and love going to work whether we’re paid or not? If you weren’t paid, would you still go to work?

My “aha” moment came when I realized this. If we’re all driven beyond the surface motivations, why would my children be different? If you earned your company half their profits but the boss just gives you a pat on your back with no raise or other reward, would you stay or switch jobs? After having realized this, we tried the rewards system and never looked back.

The rewards system is actually a start for them to:

  • develop habits
  • give them incentive to do the stuff they don’t love to do but we want them to try
  • push them beyond their comfort zone

The last point is very important. We all have things we are afraid of doing because it’s uncomfortable. Whether it’s competing, or speaking up, or talking to teachers about things, or performing in front of others, we all have that something. My goals are not to reward for every challenge but to do the first FEW challenges in the same category and make them realize something very important…

I want them to realize that whenever they did push themselves, they are closer to succeeding. It was just the thought that was scary, but, in the end, they will be to conquer those fears with hard work and effort.

Therefore, I’m not saying you should reward everything and forever, but do it to establish a habit and once they get in the habit of doing something, then transfer the reward to some new habit. Keep shifting it to new and better habits and help them grow.

Don’t get bored with this or else your children will get bored. Many rewards systems fail because parents forget to switch, give too often too much, give too little, give stuff kids don’t want, give big things but take forever, or just plainly have not studied what motivates their child. Always keep shifting items every few months or year after they’ve achieved what you feel is the next milestone and let me know how it worked out for you!

Not all children are the same so if it doesn’t work for you, it’s fine too! Just keep trying different things. NO BIG DEAL!

Be creative. Some rewards don’t need to be money related (especially for the smaller kids). It could be doing something with mom and dad (for the younger ages). It could be going to their favorite park instead of studying that afternoon. It could be going to swim classes twice instead of once that week. It could be reading comics together at home instead of study materials. It could be eating pizza every night for dinner instead of vegetables. It could be an extra play date with a friend. We’ve used many different types of rewards. If you’re strapped for cash for the lower ages, try those types of rewards that you know they’ll love but doesn’t require much to buy.

In the end, you will have to switch to points or something else because rewards of a snack or doing something with mom probably won’t last beyond age six. That points/money system really doesn’t end until we retire does it? I’m hoping the portion that comes from parents ends in high school and makes a smooth transition into college where they transition into fighting for the job they want.

Happy rewarding!

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