What do I get for passing my SATs, entry exams, GCSEs, A levels?

When my son was doing his GCSEs he asked me, ‘Mum what do you get for doing your exams and studying hard?’ My reply was, ‘Well you get good grades, an opportunity to stay at your school to do A levels, to go to Uni (if you want to) and hopefully get a good job.’ My son: ‘that’s not good enough, EVERYONE else gets money for each A or B they get!’. What’s next? What do I get for getting up in the morning at University, finding myself a job, earning money? Here is the difference between motivating our child and bribing them…

Let’s start with why we should NOT give exam’s gifts:

We don’t teach them to do it for themselves and enjoy the long term reward and pride of working hard and getting good results.
They do it for the money, for us; it’s a short term fix and doesn’t teach them how to stay motivated by themselves.
We make them spoiled and lazy. Kids who can only ‘do things’ or ‘perform well’ if they get something from others become less self-motivated in the future and reliant on others.
It doesn’t teach them responsibility, self-motivation and confidence. We send a signal that they are not capable of doing things on their own without us bribing them – ‘we don’t trust you’.
Not to mention what happens if they fail or don’t get the grades. Do you still give them the ‘gift’ because you feel sorry for them? And teach them what?
No, we want to teach them to do well in the long term, to perform for THEMSELVES and be proud of that.
The definition of bribe: persuade someone to act in one’s favour by a gift of money or other inducement.

Definition of motivation: reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way; desire or willingness to do something; enthusiasm.

So here is the million dollar question: How do I keep them motivated without using bribes?!

Well it does take a bit of work and it is not a quick ‘fix’, unlike bribes! Firstly, remember to look to the future. You want them to thank you for doing the right thing NOW, which is to teach them that their hard word is for THEIR benefit.

Help them to motivate themselves. It is hard with all these exams and pressure from a very early age and there is nothing wrong with having ‘something to look forward to’ to keep going. Sit down with them and come up with:

Small motivation: a nice dinner at home, a relaxing scented bath, a movie night in, trip to the park to play a game, going for a run.

Medium motivation: movie night with a friend, trip to the cinema, a sleep-over.

Big motivation: summer party, end of year ‘burn the revision papers’ party, going to a music festival, a weekend trip with a friend.

Top it up: we can help to keep them motivated without money or gifts.

Praise and encouragement: praise all the effort they put into revision and work, ‘you are working so hard, you should be proud of yourself’. Don’t only praise good grades, recognition of their effort is motivation to keep going!
Make life at home ‘nice’: have small, healthy and tasty snacks at home (berries, melon, bake a cake), dinners, give them a lift (if you can).
Your time is the biggest gift: make sure you give them your time every day. If the revision is hard maybe give your time before (to motivate and encourage) and afterwards as a reward. Bake a cake together, go to the park, curl up in front of the TV, go to a cafe etc.
Choose your language, stay understanding: Try to remember that it IS hard and frustrating for them – so don’t get carried away with ‘words’ if they resist the revision. Just come from a place of acknowledgement, ‘I can hear you are very upset, and I understand that you are frustrated and have had enough’. Only 8% of our communication should be words, the rest is in our tone and body language!

AND reward yourself for being a good parent: take time out to recognise and reward yourself: a bath, a walk out in nature, a trip to the cinema (without kids), a nice meal with a friend or your partner. Keep saying to yourself, ‘I am doing this because I love them and want them to have a happy, independent and confident future!’

Best wishes,
Mette Theilmann – part of the Parenting Community team