048 – Chapter 5 – Part 9


Step 2: Challenges in Establishing a Reward System (continued) 

Our children like going on outings with us. However, we don’t know how to handle it when one wants to trade credits for such a reward but the others either don’t have the credits or don’t want to use them that way.

This circumstance is rich in opportunities and you can consider a number of alternatives, including: 

  1. Allow the children to pool their credits to get enough for a family outing. This works well if all the children are interested in the same reward, but questions may arise. For example, does each child have to contribute an equal number of credits, or might one who wants it more or sooner put in a larger share? Also, how would you handle an older child badgering a younger one to use credits for something the older one wants more than the younger? Answering these questions ahead of time can avoid new battles. If you can work them out, this can be a viable resolution.
  2. In defining the reward item, specify that this choice is available only if and when each child has earned the right number of credits and agrees to use them that way. While this can work, it could set up conflicts or disappointments if the children can’t agree. The good side could be children learning to negotiate and cooperate. The down side could be added family hassles as one child presses for the others to agree. Also, any child with no interest in the reward, would, in effect, have veto power. That situation could cause enough resentment to make the item negative and not a reward at all, but if your children are good at cooperating with each other, this could work.
  3. Treat each reward choice individually so that when a child earns and selects a reward, you provide it regardless of whether the other children have a similar interest. This choice can work fine and may add the special reward of time alone with one or both parents, but it also can mean added expense and time for you.
  4. Make it clear that if credits are traded in for a particular outing, the child is actually choosing to treat the whole family. If you do this, include such a provision in your definition of the reward choice. For example: 

Hosting a family trip to Ben and Jerry’s for ice cream (within a week).

This alternative makes it clear that choosing to use credits this way amounts to a decision to share. Some children may dislike this idea and never choose it but others may enjoy sharing and work hard in order to do so. Some parents expressed astonishment that their “selfish” children have eagerly chosen such a reward. Perhaps being able to host the family gratifies a sense of importance that the child otherwise doesn’t feel.

If none of your children ever selects a reward involving time with family, accept whatever they do choose and focus on the real interests of each child.

We follow your program idea, but wouldn’t it be a lot easier just to give our son a certain amount of money for each thing on the list, rather than fooling around with credits?

Our society has become so commercialized that our values often are badly distorted. Halloween, once a time for clever homemade disguises, now involves elaborate decorations and factory-made costumes. Weddings often seem to be measured by the costs. Even how loved was the deceased is sometimes judged by the cost of the casket. In such a world it seems a good idea to keep rewards for your children clearly focused on their effort and its benefits, free of the slippery meanings of the monetary world.

Despite such concerns, in the reward list for Johnny Jones shown above, one choice is “25 cents (15 cents to spend and 10 cents to save) – 100 credits.” It was included because parents sometimes ask, as you have, about incorporating monetary rewards into the overall program. This item illustrates a way to include money while assuring it is not the child’s only choice. The clause about saving part of it further moderates the monetary aspect. While this is a feasible reward choice, there are a number of drawbacks to consider.

First, money is universal and children have access to it from a variety of sources. If a child gets as much money for a birthday or can find as much in the sofa as can be earned by concerted effort over days through the program, it will be difficult to make the program attractive to the child. The extra money may allow the child to achieve a desired reward with little effort and provide no sense of accomplishment to sustain continued effort in the program.

Second, money also can be used in so many different ways that it could become quite difficult to associate the money earned by responsible behavior with what the money buys. In the process, the vital association between the effort and the material reward might well be confused or lost entirely.

Third, time with parents is a powerful incentive. While you could assign a monetary cost to playing catch, it seems a bit crass to have your child pay you 50 cents for special time with you.

For all these reasons, your program will be stronger if you use credits and maintain the clear connection between your child’s efforts and its benefits.


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