Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Structuring a Token Economy in our Household

Discipline is really hard for us for a variety of reasons.

Time out works for exactly 1 out of my 3 children.  The other two couldn't care less.

Grounding is hard to enforce when you have a child who lives spread over two families and doesn't have a ton of friends to begin with.

It is very challenging to discipline a child with serious anxiety without triggering an anxiety attack.

We have a very large and awkward spread of ages (12, 6 and 4).

Having separate reward and punishment systems for different children is simply impractical and seems unfair to the children, thereby undoing much if not all the good that the system does.

We also, because of the crazy nature of our lives have trouble finding systems for TV time, chores, etc that aren't just another chart to lose or forget or another added stressor for everyone.

It's in the early morning that I have my best ideas and today I had what seems to be a winner.  I love it.  My husband loves it.  Most importantly: the children all love it!  After I talked to them all and started setting it up, I did a little internetting and saw that token economies (which is what this is) are actually highly successful with children of all ages and abilities. There is some reading on them here, here and here. There is a cheap deal on the perfect tokens for this here.

Here is how we are structuring ours:

  • Each child has baseline chores/duties that are expected of them each day.  They all have to do any homework they have, keep tidy rooms, help with pets and dishes, etc. As long as they do these things without complaint or whining, they will get two tokens each evening for the next day. 
  • Additional tokens can be earned by completing a task from the chore jar or getting a chore from Mom or Dad. My husband is even working on a searchable chore database that will only show chores that are due (for example, the cat litter only needs to be dumped and changed once a week, but the table needs to be set every day.) Some of these are more healthy tasks or things to do than they are chores. For example, they can earn a token for writing a letter to their World Vision friend, sending a card to a grandparent/aunt/uncle or for reading their Bible for half an hour (they can read other stuff too, but they have to read an hour of something else to get a full token). 
  • For now, the hottest commodity in the house is TV time. Lex is also big on computer time, so that will be an option too.  Each TV show or 1/2 hr of computer time is worth 1 token. A movie is worth 3. If they have a bunch saved up, they are welcome to turn them in at a rate of 4/$1 for some extra money above and beyond their allowance. As my oldest is saving up for an iPad, it might be a long while before she decides to turn any in for TV time. We will probably add other privileges to the mix as the children change and request certain things, but for now it's just TV, computer and cold hard cash. And maybe temporary tattoos.  Levi is really into them. . . hmm. . .
  • They are welcome to collaborate on this.  For example: if they all want to watch Rio, they can choose to each pitch in a token, adding up to the three required to watch a movie. That way they are each only spending 1 token, but are getting to watch a whole movie. They can also decide to team and split the spoils on on 2 or 3 token chores to get it done faster.
  • Mom and Dad reserve the right to fine anyone who chooses to be a punk.  Hit your sister?  You're losing some tokens. Don't want to listen to the babysitter?  Just lost some TV time, friend.
Positive aspects of this system (I hope):
  • It's more concrete than charts. Because it's physical and right in front of us, it'll be easier for my husband and I to keep in motion.  You know how smart people aren't always the most organized?  My husband and I both fall soundly into that stereotype. This is less abstract for the kids and easier to manage for us. This is more manageable in the long term for many reasons.
  • It's very flexible. We can modify the chores and rewards without really changing the system.  This makes it adjustable for age and personality, while still being "fair" and "the same" in the kids' eyes. As they get older, we can add bigger chores and bigger rewards.
  • It encourages teamwork and collaboration.  They can work together and split the reward.  They can each pitch in to watch something together.  They can even "pay" someone else to do a job that they normally do (delegation is perfectly acceptable.)
  • Responsibility!  We'll help them each find a safe place to keep their tokens, but we're not keeping track of them beyond that.  If someone's cleaning the family room and finds a lost token under the couch. . . it's theirs!  Just like real money- if you lose it. . . it's lost.
  • Preparation for the real economy. You want something?  You have to earn it.  Sometimes you have to do stuff that you really hate.  But that's how it works. Plain and simple.  It will help them also learn how to save up money and resources. If you do the bare minimum, you get the very basics.  If you go above and beyond, you might get to have a Harry Potter marathon next weekend.
We're only on day 1, so I can't really speak to the long term effectiveness of this, but it seems to be tried and true in a variety of settings.  I'll be sure to keep you all posted here on the old bloggerooni. Feel free to share your thoughts on this system.  Have you tried something like this?  What motivates your kids to help out?

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