The Point System - Part One

I’ve had a big success in our household with a new incentive and reward system, and I was describing it to a friend the other day and she suggested I write it up and post it to my blog, in case it could be helpful to anybody else. I was reluctant at first, (is it too personal?) but then decided to go for it. When I'm struggling with something at home, I love coming across blog posts from real moms who are talking about their real solutions. So, I am posting this in that spirit, and as a way of giving back to all the blogger moms who have helped and inspired me over the years. 

Here is my story.

I’ve tried various types of incentive programs, rewards charts, chore charts, and point systems in the past. And for some reason they never worked. Or they worked for a few days and then fell into disuse. But by around mid summer, I was feeling like the tone in our house was turning increasingly negative. I was starting to see more complaining, whining, an increase in anger flareups, and an increasing rate of eye rolling and even rudeness. (My kids are 8 and 10.) The overall atmosphere in the house was becoming more stressful than peaceful, and it was affecting everybody. Time to try another chart.

Keeping in mind the failed attempts at charts that litter my past few years, I devised a new system that kept the focus strongly on attitude and behaviors (vs chores), and focused on the positive (incentives and rewards), vs on consequences and punishment. And then I crossed my fingers and introduced it to the family.

A month later, I’m thrilled to find that the program is still going strong, and that there has been a noticeable change in the overall tone of our household. 

There is so much to share on this topic I had to break it into two parts, to keep the post from getting too long. 
  • Today: I am sharing an overview of the system, and what the kids have to do to earn points.
  • Monday: I will share what they can redeem their points for, and why I think this system has been successful where other systems have failed.

The Overall System

The structure of the system is pretty standard. The kids earn points through various behaviors and actions, and redeem their points for rewards.

The Logistics

Again, the logistics are pretty straightforward. We keep track of the points with a 3 jar system. There is a “bank” jar, which contains all the point strips, and one jar for each child, labeled with their name.

I printed out these printable coin sheets, and cut them up. (I discarded the “1” strips, since our system uses multiples of 5.)

When a child earns points, they take what they’ve earned out of the “bank” and put it into their jar. They are responsible for their points. 

Earning Points

Now comes the fun stuff. Points can be earned many ways. I divided my list into categories. I kept the emphasis on behaviors and attitude, (vs on chores), as this was what I really wanted to work on.

Here are the categories I used, with several examples of each category.
Earn points for showing good behavior 
- Saying “okay, mom/dad” the very first time we ask you to do something instead of negotiating for more time, or whining/complaining (20 points)
- Remembering to use “I statements” to talk about your feelings (20 points)
- Getting through a frustrating situation without having a tantrum (i.e. showing self control) (50 points) 
Earn points for doing nice things for others 
- Unsolicited offers of help (15 points)
- Lending a hand when asked, without hesitation or complaint (10 points)
- Participating in dinnertime conversation until everyone is finished eating (10 points)
- Kind words, sincere compliments, and generally spreading positivity (10 points) 
Earn points for being responsible 
- Completing a chore without being reminded (feeding the dog, setting the table, etc.) (5 points)
- Taking care of yourself without being reminded (taking a shower, clipping your nails, etc.) (5 points)
- Going to bed when we say “time for bed” without reminders (10 points) 
Earn points for building great habits  
- Reading a book (0.5 points per minute) - only applied to my younger reluctant reader
- Writing in your journal (0.5 points per minute) - only applied to my older child
- Filling out a gratefulness card and putting it in the gratefulness jar (5 points)
- Trying a new food (25 points) 
Earn points by being helpful around the house 
- Make your own lunch (20 points)
(I used to have more cleaning and housework types of items here, but I deleted them when this category started stealing focus from the behavior and attitude categories.)
I thought an anecdote would be helpful here to show how this system has changed the way we talk to each other in the house. The other day I needed to tell my daughter about a decision I made that I knew would frustrate her. Before the point system, I would have simply given her the decision and then braced for the reaction that was sure to come. After the point system, I started out saying that I wanted to talk to her about a decision that I thought might trigger her frustration, and that this was a great opportunity to practice her “I statements” and self control. I reminded her that there would be big points at the end of the conversation if we got through it calmly. She was frustrated by my decision, but went to enormous efforts to handle it calmly, and was immensely proud of herself and smiling ear to ear at the end of the conversation when she was rewarded with 50 points. WIN WIN WIN!

Losing Points

There are very few things that the kids can lose points over. I try very hard to resist the temptation to use the system to punish bad behavior. That said, there are two items on our “lost points” list that I do recommend (especially the first one):
Negotiating over the points (-20 points) This was critical. When I rolled out the system, I emphasized this right away, and I think it saved the system. If there had been any perceived room for negotiation, the whole system would have collapsed. If they really felt strongly that a point value on the chart was off, they could submit a change request in writing. (This did happen a couple of times, and I ultimately agreed to adjust relative point values based on the logic presented.) 
Asking again about something that has already been “asked and answered” (-5 points) This was becoming a real problem for us, so I wanted to try nipping it in the bud within this system. As the weeks have gone by, I'm noticing that I rarely bother to deduct the points, but that the phrase “asked and answered” (delivered with a pointed look) has worked wonders at curbing this habit. (I got this phrase from a Love and Logic newsletter. Brilliant!)

Stay tuned on Monday for Part Two, where I review the rewards (choosing the right ones is key to making this type of a point system work!) Plus, I summarize the three reasons why I think this system is working for us where others have failed.

1 comment:

  1. I love it! I may try to steal it! I really have shyed away from reward systems but I like the idea of using something to help me remember to focus and NOTICE positive behaviours and attitudes. Our therapist tells us to do that and I find it easy to forget--this will be a good reminder! YOu are always so creative. Thank you for sharing!