Is there a difference between an incentive, a reward, and/or a celebration?


I could write for days about  back in the day when sports trumped everything and now when they award academic achievement in kindergarten and give out t-shirts for high test scores, and how much of that comes simply from being privileged. (I would have loved receiving a t-shirt for a high standardized test score. And then I never would have worn it because I would be embarrassed for having it. And that may summarize my relationship with incentives and awards assemblies.)

Now my kid is having all the conversations I used to. And it brings up all the feelings in me.

A year or so ago, Wordgirl said to me, “My friends get to go to Disneyland for getting good grades.”

I said, “We’re never going to go to Disneyland for you getting good grades. We love that you get good grades. We want you to get good grades. We expect you to get good grades. It’s not hard for you to get good grades. If you want to go to Disneyland for something, do something that’s a challenge. If you stick with karate and get your green belt, I’ll take you to Disneyland.” It was spontaneous. I don’t know if it was a right or good thing to do or not. We had just started karate. She had earned her first stripe on her white belt. The green belt that came after 3 stripes seemed like a pretty good achievement to me.

karate promotion

Karate Promotion Day. My phone died just before the ceremony where she received her green belt.

She has stuck with karate. Twice a week, every week. She works hard at it. She goes to the promotions and does well. I am so proud of her. And on June 10, she earned her green belt. I don’t think she earned it in order to go to Disneyland, but because she wanted to earn the rank, because it means something and I think she is proud of herself for sticking with it and doing it, but I don’t really know.


I kept my part of the bargain. In the end, she picked Knott’s Berry Farm over Disneyland, and we went and made the day mostly about her, (I took her on the “big” rides while Computerguy and the boy did the less “thrilling” rides.) and I think it was a good celebration of a challenging achievement.

awards 2017

Fourth Grade Awards!

And the truth is, I am incredibly proud of her academic achievements. Lots of kids received awards for lots of things. She was one of three kids in her grade who read over a million words (and she read over three million, 2 million more than either of the boys) and one of two who achieved Principal’s Honor Roll (honor roll in all subjects all year). I am bursting with pride. And for her personal achievements. She has stuck with piano and worked hard at it, even though she doesn’t like it. She does get up every morning and get herself ready without being pushed (well, maybe hurried occasionally). She takes care of her gecko every night without fail and without reminder. And I try to tell her and show her that I notice, that it matters, as much as I can. And we do celebrate quietly every time there is an awards assembly. This kid has never, ever, not once needed an incentive to do a thing. (Even piano, which she really and truly does not care for, she just does because she is supposed to. And I’m not going to even touch incentivizing that one.) So just because she doesn’t need an incentive, why shouldn’t she get a reward. Or am I just being semantic?

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