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Should you reward your kids?


Montessori does not advocate rewarding kids. However, the topic of rewarding kids is not black and white. We live in a meritocratic world and should reward kids for doing the right things, such as working hard, getting good grades, etc. 

So, how do we teach kids to want to be helpful and to work hard? Teaching the value of hard work is not easy, especially when there is no tangible trade like cash. Focusing on the effort made is critical, especially with young children.

rewarding kids

More and more these days, I find people writing about, stressing the importance of, and creating tools to help teach kids financial responsibility. A sign of the times, I suppose. There has never been a greater need for that teaching, and it is not too late.

Although these ideas should have always been a part of the Parenting 101 manual (one exists, right?), as a parent and a person part of a genuinely remarkable messed up financial world, our children (aka the future) are the perfect place to start instilling good financial habits and thinking around money. So when I see an article in a widely read publication like the NY Times, my heart warms, and I know we will be all right.

The most recent article I read was in the NY Times, titled Teaching Children to Help Neighbors, With or Without Reward. The author makes many excellent points about the value of helping without the tangible benefit of receiving a reward in the form of money or a gift card, etc.

Rewarding Kids – Should You?

A few points can be boiled down to:

  • Knowing when it is appropriate to accept a reward and not to accept a reward:

The family needs to teach when it is appropriate to get paid and when to go the extra distance, Ms. Godfrey said. If, for example, your son regularly gets born to rake leaves for a neighbor, but that neighbor is suddenly ill, it would be right for him to help out without asking for more money. Or offer to work free until the neighbor gets back on her feet.

Teaching how to make that judgment, rather than simply laying down rules, is a subtle and complex message and is as important as the job itself, she said.

  • Knowing how much to give (adults) and knowing how much your services are worth (children):

In an affluent community, like ours, another unlikely problem arises overpaying.

I have felt the pressure myself. You don’t know what to pay. You don’t want to seem cheap. You don’t want the child telling her parents you were cheap. You want to get the child to come back to tend to your cats.

So you err on the side of offering too much money.

Bad idea, said Janet Bodnar, editor of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. If they’ve been overcompensated, then the financial lesson has been totally lost. 

The ability to judge when it is appropriate to give a reward and what amount of reward is appropriate is difficult not only for children but for adults too—sometimes being neighborly means that you don’t get paid.

In other words, sometimes helping a neighbor (because they are sick, just had a baby, started a new job, are old, or simply need help in general) is just the right thing to do- ahem without pay.

The more tangible point of how much is appropriate is a big deal these days. I used to babysit for families for $5/6 an hour back in the early 90s, a good base. Sometimes I got more, maybe around the holidays or randomly. Somehow, I recognized that extra money as a bonus I had earned and never felt entitled to the extra money. I felt worthy of it. Of course, the result was that I was motivated to work harder and to do better, but isn’t that the point?


I do remember once I babysat for a family, and it worked out to be $2 an hour. I was disappointed, to say the least. I felt a bit used, even at 13 years old, because I knew my care for this family’s 2-year-old was worth more than $2 an hour (another important point the author makes don’t underestimate your worth).


Along with earning what would be considered a lot of money for a teenager from babysitting, on the flip side, my mother made sure giving back was part of our life. For example, my siblings and I volunteered in the community, and I remember helping a few elderly people in our neighborhood.

Sometimes that required us to spend time with them, raking leaves or shoveling driveways. My mother made sure we understood that sometimes you need to take care of other people, and the reward you receive is knowing that those people are doing better today because of the help you gave them.

I won’t lie. I didn’t always look forward to working hard and not getting paid. That lesson is tough and takes time to sow into a teenager’s mind.

As a parent, I am comfortable with my kids accepting money for a job (well done, of course), but I will try to make sure they understand that may not be the norm.

In other words, I will try to instill that helping others out is the right, neighborly thing to do is/should be the motivator, not the money. Not an easy virtue to instill; one that will take time to develop and nurture in your kids.

How to Pay Kids Appropriately

Here are a few ways to try to make this happen:

  1. If your child is overpaid, talk to your child about it and then suggest that he/she offer extra chores next time he/she works for that neighbor or offer to do chores for free on a separate occasion.
  2. If your child has regular paid jobs, research volunteer opportunities, or consider neighbors in your area who may need help but don’t have the money. Make your child part of that process.
  3. Talk to your child about how much they are is getting paid, whether he/she thinks the services are worthy of that payment, and what he/she may do with the money/reward (half in a savings account, half for fun?)

Thanks for reading!

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