Do marks based incentives work with kids?

girl-280x300Arushi has always been the ideal child one could ask God for; but till six months ago she was slowly developing resistance to class tests. Getting her to study needed some push, and Hindi (her second subject) was slowly becoming a nightmare for her.

As parents we proactively hit the drawing board; just like half a decade ago.  Arushi had speech problems as a child. It reached proportions where parents started pressurizing us for speech therapy, medicinal help and every other route which makes the child conscious, increases pressure on both parties, time and money flows and the need for quick results overpower a natural process.

We didn’t panic.

We just got her concentrated only in one language – English. Against the exposure she was getting in a concoction of languages – Hindi based television channels, Bengali mother tongue, Chinese school mates and Tamil neighbours. English replaced the Bengali diction at home, we changed her school from Chinese to Indian (to homogenize the kids she was meeting) and solved the speech problem within six months.

Obviously now confronted with the complexities of Hindi language verbose and script, she got a fresh challenge. And she was hating tests. What was worrying more was that she was amongst the better students of her class – teachers loved her, friends adored her. We didn’t want her to lose way from that position of strength.

So against the norm, we created a marks based incentive scheme for her. Every test she scored above 80% or 90% would earn her hard cash. If she scored below 80%, but within 95% percentile, that would fetch rewards too. The targets and rewards were chosen based on certain criteria – enough for her to feel they were achievable, substantial enough to keep her interested. Once she got her first amounts (read: saw the entire cycle work in front of her eyes), she started setting targets and was willing to work for it.

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She now had a chance to build up a pocket money kitty with no amount limit. She got in her first marks under the new scheme. The initial amounts looked small (haven’t we parents already spoiled kids enough?). But then the addiction started kicking in. She was now expecting high marks after every test, and eagerly awaiting the verdict of amount she earned.

As the reward kitty started growing, there was realization that she now had a choice in buying toys without the need for parents approval. The power of money can never be assessed enough. She now didn’t mind sitting longer hours, studied till she was convinced to score cent percent and didn’t mind early morning revisions.

In two months her kitty rocketed to levels she could never believe. It was time for economics to kick in, the value for money to be judged. Would she buy one toy for 20$ or two for 26$? She started appreciating the concept of discounts, the importance of need – would she pay 20$ for a toy she was unlikely to play more than a week? The attachment to her purchased items increased, the attention grew in terms of intensity and duration.

Now she awaits tests, wants to take them head on, gets excited rushing home to tell that a test is coming up and potentially how much her kitty can bulge. Gone are the days when she loathed Hindi or tests. We ended up with a huge win win situation, considering all along we never brought them toys randomly, now it didn’t hurt.

This model isn’t standard and will need flexibility as she encounters harder subjects, tougher competition, more pressure in the years to come along with the complexities of growing. Parenting never has a fixed template or formula, it’s a constant learning and customization process. But as of now we do get satisfaction that a huge checklist is ticked. She now is understanding

– the importance of money.
– the power of money.
– the intensity of labour needed to earn money.
– economics of a purchase (her need vs the value vs the time she will give).
– importance of budgeting/saving for a target need.
– keeping an eye for discounts.
– the value of constantly getting good marks.
– is getting more and more comfortable with her unfavorable subjects.
– loves to gives school tests and prepare to take them head on
– and more….

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Marks based incentives have worked wonders for little Arushi


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