Motivating kids can kind of feel like a game. You try one thing and if that doesn't work you try something else.

The Mills family seems to have a found a formula that works.

“They pay me for my grades on my report card,” said 12-year-old Ella Mills.

The incentive started last year when Ella was in 5th grade. Her parents set up a system where she would get $5 for an A, $3 dollars for a B, $1 for a C.

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“School is like a job pretty much.” Said Ella. “So now instead of being like an intern and not getting paid for something I have a real job and I get paid a lot.”

Do incentives work?

“I had watched Freakonomics and they had talked about incentivizing grades with kids. Some research has been done on it. I was interested in the idea that the job for the child is to go to school every day and perform just like we do everyday at work,” said Tony, Ella’s dad.

There have been a lot of studies on this issue and most of them show students are more likely to improve if they're given money for concrete tasks like reading books or completing classwork rather than earning a certain grade -- but it really may boil down to one thing.

“You have to know your child, what motivates them,” said Psychologist Dr. Hillary Cauthen from TOPPS.

Dr. Cauthen said typically parents will see an initial improvement, but it can backfire.

“The problem is sometimes these kids who are naturally succeeding when we give them that money for the reward it totally takes away the joy for learning,” she said.

Ella's dad doesn't see the harm in paying up.

“She either performs and gets the money or she doesn't perform and doesn't get it,” he said.

They do more than cough up cash.

“The other catch to this we opened a savings account for her. If she chooses to put the money she makes he made an agreement with her that he'd do a one to one ratio with her,” said Sarah, Ella’s mom.

It's paying off for Ella.

“She earned $600 last year in 5th grade,” said Sarah.

“She really pays attention to her grades because of that,” said Tony.

A possible game changer if it happens to be in your family's cards.

How to motivate your kids

If you are looking for ways to help motivate your kids here are some things that may help:

  • Set up a system of small milestones. It doesn't have to include money - it could be a fun experience, or time on the computer for completing assignments or getting a good grade.
  • Monitor your kids study habits. Check their work. Give them a quiet space to study.
  • Start early. Kids who learn good study habits early in life, tend to maintain them later on.
  • More than money -- it is about being an involved parent.