First-quarter report cards come out this week in many area school districts, and as I await my children’s grades, I’ve been thinking about how to praise or reward their efforts.

Dennis Kim answers questions during Spanish class last winter at Rocky Hill Middle School in Clarksburg, where teachers are rewarding hard work rather than grades. (Sarah L. Voisin/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Sure, there was an occasional spontaneous reward, like the coveted Cabbage Patch doll after a great year in fifth grade. And they certainly piled on the verbal praise.

Never once, though, was I paid for my grades.

With my own children, I’m trying to do the same thing. Particularly with my child who has learning disabilities, I don’t want to emphasize the actual grades too much. I want both of them to work hard because that is what they are supposed to do, not because they want to pad their piggy banks.

Much has changed about parenting, though, since I was a child. Babies sleep on their backs, we all strap our children into car seats and kids wear helmets when they ride bikes. So maybe the thought process behind rewarding academic performance has evolved too?

It turns out my parents were on the right track, according to Their experts have several tips for rewarding a good report card:

First, be spontaneous when rewarding good grades. Go out for a family dinner or special activity after report cards, so it’s a nice occasional surprise instead of a planned incentive or an automatic reward every time.

De-emphasize the actual grades; praise effort and concentration more. If your child does his best and earns a C or works really hard and improves his math grade from a C to a B, that is often more noteworthy than a child who easily gets all A’s every quarter.

Finally, teach your children that the harder they work and the more they learn, the stronger their brains will be. Their minds need exercise, just like their bodies.

For my children, I’m thinking a surprise night out for pizza or bowling this weekend might be in order to celebrate a job well done. What do you think? Do you reward your children for good grades? If so, do you pay them, or use other kinds of rewards?

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