My kids have been a little bit punchy lately.

When it comes to using “tricks” for effective parenting, I am TOTALLY CLUELESS. Up until now, my M-O incorporated a combination of timeouts and bribery (apparently a parenting no-no!). However, as my kids get older and they learn to game the system, timeouts and bribery are no longer effective.

I was lamenting about this to a friend and she stated the obvious that wasn’t so obvious to me. “Use a reward system.”

I looked at her, probing for more details.

“You can do anything – stickers on a chart, cotton balls in a jar. Whatever it is, reward only good behavior, do not punish bad behavior, and provide a visual cue to the child on how well they’re doing relative to their goals.”

OMG, she is BRILLIANT.

And so was born our “Happy Face, Vacation Money” system; a system that (I think) incorporates several points of learning: 1) behavior; 2) basic counting and math; 3) money management. I’m sure some parenting expert will balk at all of this as being inappropriate but hey…it’s working.

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Teaching Good Behavior

Our chart has several categories and for each category my kids achieve successfully, they get one happy face. Happy face categories include:

    • Get out of bed without complaining
    • Had a good day – this category was not well thought out when I created it and it ends up mostly being a “bonus” category.
    • Listened to Mommy and Daddy
    • Got along with your sister/your brother – uhhh, yeah, right!
    • Ate my growing food – they can get up to 3 happy faces here; one for each meal. They are required to at least try everything I give them to get a happy face.

Teaching Basic Arithmetic / Math

At the end of the day, I make my kids count up happy faces. On an ordinary day, they can get up to 7 happy faces (they can get “bonus” happy faces if they’re extra good). If they have anything less than 7, I ask them what’s missing, and if they got more than 7, I ask them why.

“I got 8 happy faces today.”

“How did you get 8 happy faces?”

“I got one extra happy face for being ready for school early.”

– or –

“I only got 5 happy faces.”

“Why?”

“I didn’t eat my lunch, and I didn’t listen to Mommy. I am missing 2 happy faces”

“How many happy faces would you have if you ate your lunch and listened to mommy?”

“7”

(Yes, I know that we do not punish bad behavior, but I want to reinforce what they can work on tomorrow.)

Teaching Money Management

I don’t yet know if this will work, but it’s worth a shot. For each happy face they get, my kids get a coin. Each day, after we have dropped the coins into their clear plastic jars, we count it all up. In a few weeks, we’ll be going on vacation to a very popular theme park and I have told them that they will be able to use their money for whatever they want to buy. As part of this, I keep reminding them of the following rules:

    • If you spend too much money on the first few days, you will have no more left over to spend for the rest of the vacation.
    • If you buy something that you don’t want later, we can’t take it back. Think carefully before you buy.

My daughter already kind of gets it.

“Mommy, I really want to get a (theme park logo) pen. How much money do I need?”

“Probably about one dollar and fifty cents.”

“If I buy a pen, how much money will I have left over?”

“About nine dollars…” (Yes, my kids already have $10.50 in their jars!!! My mistake was that I started with quarters…now I’m on nickels!)

“How much is cotton candy?”

“Maybe about two dollars.”

“So, with my money, I can get a pen AND cotton candy?”

“Yes, sweetie.”

“And will I have money left over?”

“Probably, yes.”

 

I have no idea if this is all considered “good parenting” – I’m sure some parenting expert will find some fault in my ways – but it really is working. My kids get excited every time they get a happy face and they work hard to make sure they get 7 (or more) happy faces, they rejoice at the plunking sound of the coins dropping into their jars, and they are looking forward to spending their OWN money on something fun.

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