Rewards/Incentives for Grades

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    • #51636

      My son is starting middle school in the fall. He is not at all motivated by grades. He is smart and has managed to bring home all A’s and B’s in elementary school, but to be honest he’s never once asked what his grades were and never talked about what he scored on a test or project. We’ve never made a big deal about grades because just getting him to tolerate school and participate has been enough of a challenge and since his grades haven’t been bad we’ve glossed over them. He is the opposite of competitive but with middle school and the need to keep up grades in 7 different classes I’m wondering if giving him an incentive might help him stay engaged and focused or if it will put unnecessary pressure and cause anxiety and drama. Anyone have experience one way or the other with their middle school child? He is dual dx ADHD/ASD with anxiety.

    • #51652
      Penny Williams

      My son just completed middle school. He has ADHD and ASD with anxiety also (my son also has severe executive function deficits and dysgraphia, making school even more challenging). We do not push grades at all. For us, it just increases anxiety to a breaking point. We have battled school avoidance and refusal for 4 years now, so we focus on getting him to school willingly, making him as comfortable as possible while there (or else he won’t go), and doing his best work. If he brings home a low grade on a test or assignment, we do discuss what he might do differently next time to get his grade up to where he’d like it to be, but we don’t admonish the grade. He does get upset by Ds on his report card (we’ve had a few over the years), but that doesn’t translate to motivation in the moment, when he needs to do schoolwork or study — they’re just too far apart to feel causal for him.

      So, all that to say, grades aren’t everything. A child’s self-esteem (and actually going to school at all) are much more important. I wouldn’t put the extra pressure on grades.

      Here are a couple great articles on success during the middle school years:

      Make the Middle School Leap With Ease

      You’re Going to Need Bigger Carrots: Middle-School Discipline Truths

      ADDitude Community Moderator, Author & Mentor on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

    • #51653

      Tried that when my kid was 5. After a few months of this she told me to stop it, because when she messed up she realized she also wouldn’t get her reward, which led to a ridiculously prolonged tantrum. She said she would rather rarely get a toy than have to go through that, and she has been as good as her word ever since. She must be one of the few kids in the universe that can calmly play and then exit a packed toy store after being told she can look, but we cannot get a thing. Honestly, I’m just glad she was able to verbalize the problem, because there was so much else going on, we couldn’t be sure if the rewards were helping or hurting.

      May work for a middle schooler, if you find something that a) would really motivate him, and b) he is actually capable of achieving what you want him to. My kid was simply unable to do all what was required of her at that time.

    • #51659

      I agree with Penny/ADHDMomma that grades aren’t everything. Middle school is a huge transition and there will be a lot of things to deal with including as you pointed out juggling 7 classes (and learning how to deal with 7 teachers and their differing styles, rules and expectations, keeping track of homework and assignments for each, etc.), not to mention the other potentially anxiety producing stuff like finding his classes, figuring out how to work his locker, dealing with gym class, navigating the lunch room, friend/social drama, etc. etc. I think until he starts and you see what challenges he has, it’s too soon to set any goals and rewards other than going to school every day and trying his best. (But in my experience as a school counselor I have found that in most instances, if a student goes to school every day and turns in all (or most) of his assignments, the grades tend to take care of themselves.)

      You say that grades are not a big motivator for him, but eventually, once he learns the ‘lay of the land’ there could end up being things related to grades that are motivating for him, like trying to get on the honor roll (a lot of schools have fun things for kids who make honor roll) or winning “student of the month”, etc. that he might find interesting and worth pursuing. But that will take time to figure out. In any case, whatever goals you set (and associated rewards) need to be meaningful to him so it’s best to get his input.

      One thing you did not mention is whether he has a 504 plan and/or an IEP. The most important thing you can do to ease his transition to middle school and give him the best chance of success grade-wise as well as social/emotionally is to make sure that he has the accommodations he needs (and that all his teachers are aware of what those are.) It’s best to not rely on the school to let teachers know.

      Hope this helps!

      Joyce Mabe
      Parenting Coach, school counselor, author, mom of adult son with ADHD

    • #51664
      Dr. Eric

      You may want to consider smaller rewards for consistent process goals…
      Weekly use of the planner.
      Getting the homework done each week.
      Whatever needs to work on…

      Mastering those will make the grades happen.

      The struggle is usually in bridging daily habits/practices to get the grades.

    • #51694

      Thanks all – I agree that grades are not that important so I guess I’ll let it be and see how it goes. He’s a big “why” kid. “Why do I have to do this assignment? Why do I have to learn more math?” etc and was thinking maybe the answer could be – because grades – but there’s probably a less stressful tool I can use. @Joyce he does have an IEP and we’ve already had a transition meeting to make sure he has what he needs as far as accommodations going in and we’ll revisit in Sept. He’s already met the principal and the counselor and toured campus as well. It’s a small school of just over 200 students in grades 6-8 and the principal used to be a spec ed teacher so I feel like we’ve done what we can to set him up for success and now we just wait and see.

    • #51703
      Dr. Eric

      Russell Barkley talking about the problem with long term goal-directed motivation and ADHD.

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