Last Friday, I shared how the system works, and what the kids have to do to earn points. Click here to read Part One and see the list of ways to earn points.
Today, I will share what they earn with those points, and why I think this system is working where other similar systems have failed.
The trick with these charts is to find something motivating enough that your child wants to earn points, but not so expensive or difficult that you feel stingy about awarding the points. It’s no easy task. Here are a few examples of rewards that worked for us.
“Live” minutes of a favorite show. (1 minute per point.) My daughter has been addicted to So You Think You Can Dance, and loves to watch it live so that she is up-to-the-minute on who gets kicked off each week. But the show is 2 hours long and ends at 10pm. That's way past bedtime. Usually I would make her wait to watch the recorded version the following day. However, it was summer, so I decided to use this show as our incentive. She could redeem one minute of “live” watching for every point she earned. To watch the entire show live she needed 120 points. This worked like a dream while the show lasted.
Baseball cards. (25 points each) For my son, I purchased a pack of Giants Baseball cards, and made him buy them one at a time for 25 points each. This was wildly motivating, until the pack ran out, but it was great while it lasted.
Sugar Free Gum. (20 points apiece) I usually don’t let the kids have gum, but for this program I decided to let them buy pieces, one at a time, for 20 points apiece. I have recently added HiChews for 25 per piece.
Special drinks. (50 points) It’s 50 points to add a Capri Sun Lemonade to their lunch (I usually make them drink water from the water fountain. Aren’t I mean?!)
School pickups by mom. (100 points) I charge 100 points for a personal pickup from school. (The kids usually take the bus, but they love it when I pick them up.)
The key is finding something that the kids don’t usually get to have or do, that you don’t really mind giving away as long as their behavior has been good. It’s not always easy to find these things! I imagine they would be vastly different in each family depending on what their habits and routines are.
Here is the most recent version of our spreadsheet. (I update it every so often as new ideas occur to me, or as we move through rewards.) I printed out and taped to the wall in our kitchen. (I know it's too small to read, sorry about that, but I thought it would still be helpful to show the form it actually takes in our house.)
Keys to success
Here are the three key learnings that I believe helped us succeed with this system when we have failed in the past.
ONE | Keep the focus on the positive. While I have once in a while given in to the temptation to subtract points ("minus 50 points for hitting your sister!"), I try very hard to use the system for rewarding the positive, and use other types of consequences to address negative behavior. This has made the point system continue to feel like a fun and positive force in the house, vs a vehicle for punishment.[An important note: Perhaps one of the most valuable and unexpected benefits of this new system is that it has trained my husband and I to notice and comment on the positive. In the past, it was too easy for us to fall into the habit of noticing and commenting mostly on the kids negative behaviors ("don’t use that tone!", "don't throw balls in the house!", etc.) Changing my own habits has perhaps been one of the most powerful outcomes of this system.]
TWO | Be generous with the points. When in doubt, give the points. By erring on the side of giving more points vs fewer, more often rather than less often, the kids gradually began to have faith that this point system was real, and that they could earn enough points to get frequent rewards. That made them more motivated to stick with the system and to continue caring about the points. I think if we had been stingy with the points, or appeared in any way to be holding back, they would have lost faith. The key to being generous is to fill the rewards list with things you don’t mind giving away. Avoid expensive or logistically complicated rewards (ex: a ride on the train, or dinner at their favorite restaurant).
THREE | Keep the list focused and specific, and print it out. The list of things they can earn points for is typed up and printed out, and is very specific with point values pre-assigned. There is no in-the-moment decision making for mom and dad. If it’s on the chart, they get the points. Having everything printed out and posted to the wall makes it feel more objective and reduces the likelihood of negotiation.
Well, there you have it, that's what we do. I've been very very pleased with the change in our family after adopting this system.
Note, of course, that different kids will respond to different types of systems, and of course this is just what worked for us. That said, I hope hearing about my system was helpful, and I wish you luck devising a system that works for your family.