So if you didn’t know raising kids is a lot of work, you sure know it now after reading about all of these ideas and systems. If it makes you tired just looking at all of these ideas, don’t despair. Just pick one idea or chart from this book and try it out. If it works, keep with it for as long as it does. If it doesn’t work, adjust it to fit your needs, or try another technique. In a few months review some of the ideas again, and try something else, or do something just a little different.
In the appendices of this book you will find charts and forms set up for you to use. Feel free to copy them and fill in the blanks, or go to our website and use the forms there. The web version charts are easy to modify to fit your individual needs.
Parenthood is always a work in progress. It is a 24 hour a day 7 day a week job that will never quite be complete. It is all the joys you can imagine in life and all of the sorrows all rolled into one. Your children will grow up just with the passage of time, and you don’t have control over all of what she chooses to do. I do know, however, that if you take on the role of an active parent your child will be much more likely to make positive choices. So don’t give up, don’t despair, and most of all, don’t get mad, get busy!
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Just when you think you have it all figured out and decide parenting isn’t so bad, your kids turn into teenagers. Teenagers can be a real blessing and a joy, but sometimes it seems as if aliens have inhabited your child’s body. He looks an awful lot like your little boy, but what is coming out of his mouth is nothing that your sweet little child would say to you. Many people are scared and intimidated by teenagers. They look so much older and mature than little children that adults often assume they are similar to adults. Don’t let their outward appearance fool you. Young teens are actually much more like little children than adults. Their bodies have grown, but research has shown that the adult brain does not fully develop until the early to mid twenties. That is not to say that you should treat your teens like little children. Teenagers have unique wants, needs and problems that should be looked at in a whole new light. But don’t forget everything you learned when parenting your young children. Many of the same techniques will work with your teens. Some may need some tweaking and some will need to be changed quite a bit. But all that you have learned about child rearing and know about your child will help ease you into the teen years.
Family rules and guidelines that were useful when your children were young may no longer be adequate as your children hit the teen years. You should constantly be reevaluating and revamping your rules as needed. However, when your children begin to leave childhood an entire overhaul of expectations may be necessary. Your family should develop guidelines on ages that it is appropriate for children to begin to be more independent. For instance, our children were allowed to go to the mall without a parent at 13 years old, participate in activities with boys and girls as a group at 14 and could date at the age of 16. The age at which some activities were allowed depended on the activity, the circumstances and the maturity of the child involved.
If your family develops clear guidelines then there are no arguments about when children can do what. It also helps parents to make decisions on allowing an activity. As parents it is difficult to watch our children grow away from us and mature. Most parents have some feelings of dread of their children growing up and moving away. Sometimes parents deal with these feelings by sabotaging their children’s attempts to grow away from their parents. Often these attempts are not planned and many times they may not even be conscious attempts. In our family we made a conscious attempt to help our children mature and move into adult life. We required them to take on responsibilities for many things with adult guidance. We also required them to learn skills that they would need such as driving a car, writing a check and organizing their time properly. If your goal is to help your teen to mature into a responsible adult then all of these skills, and more, will be needed.
To become a responsible adult your teen also needs to be able to make some decisions on her own and to spend time away from the family. Social activities are very important for teenagers. These activities help teens learn social skills and to find their place in the world. We live in a world with increasing dangers and pitfalls for young people, however their need for outside social experiences and autonomy is very real. Help your child find safe and appropriate ways to detach from you and go out into the world. Do know where your teen is at all times, but refrain from calling constantly to check on him or following him around. Do check to be sure that activities that your teen is participating in are safe and wholesome, however refrain from saying no to an activity without a good reason. Do make sure that activities are supervised by an adult, however refrain from hovering or acting like one of the kids if you are supervising.
All humans need to have choices in their life, and this is never more important than with teenagers. One of the jobs of the teen years is to begin to separate from their parents. Remember that your goal is to raise well adjusted adults, so when your teen rebels or begins to assert her independence it is really a good thing. These are the first steps to becoming an independent adult. Teens and young adults do need guidance and restrictions, however they also need to be able to make choices.
One way to start to give your teen some choice in his life is to structure time schedules more loosely. Instead of saying, “Your room must be clean right now,” tell your teen, “Your room must be clean before you go out with your friends, so when would be the best time for you to do it?” Give your child a list of responsibilities and a time frame, and then trust her to complete them on time. Make sure that consequences are built into the accomplishment of the tasks so that your child will be rewarded if the tasks are complete. If your child can show you that he can be responsible then give him more freedom. If your child fails to maintain their side of the bargain, pull back and give less freedom. Make sure she understands the connection.
Another way to give your child more control over his life is to listen to his suggestions and take them seriously. If you have done a good job of raising your child he has learned many things by this time in his life. If your teen has a new idea of how or when to do something you need to listen, and take it into consideration. If you decided not to take the recommendation tell your teen the reasons. Make sure he knows that you really did consider his idea and that you would appreciate that he continues to share it.
You can also help your child feel more control over her life by releasing control over things that don’t matter. Some parents want to continue to tell their children what to wear, what friends to have and what activities to participate in far into their teen years. While it is important to continue to teach your child about proper and appropriate dress and behavior, it is also important to let your teen make their own choices as much as possible in these areas. Pick your battles. You may want to make sure that your daughter wears a really nice dress to aunt Bonnie’s wedding, however you may let her have more choices as to what to wear to school. Let your child have safe rebellions. Severe clothing and hair styles are one way that children signal to the world that they are separating from their parents. If the styles do not violate your family ideals of modesty and safety, allow it when you can. Do not take these rebellions personally. Remember, this is a natural stage and the less you let it bother you the quicker it will blow over.
When our children are small we teach them to share. Little children need little personal space and their understanding about personal belongings can be fleeting. As children age their needs for personal property and space grow. The need for kids to have their own personal space and property is greatest among teens. Sometimes our family practices and expectations don’t grow with our children’s need for personal space and property. And sometimes our teen’s expectations and demands for personal space and property grow beyond our families’ ability to provide them. It can be difficult to juggle the needs of individual children and the needs of the entire family, however parents need to be aware that teens do need to have some personal space and personal property that they don’t have to share.
Sometimes families need to be a bit creative to achieve personal space and property for their teens. Ideally each teen would have his own room, however many times family situation makes this impossible. Use furniture configuration and simple dividers to help kids have their own space. Also, teach your younger children to respect the space and property of teens. Sometimes relationships between teens and younger siblings become strained due to changes in the teen’s needs and personality. Younger children will often deal with this strained relationship by teasing the older sibling or disrespecting their space or belongings. Set firm guidelines to help your teen feel respected. Teach your younger child to give their sibling some space and then give your younger child some extra attention.
I have one tip for parents of teens about lying. Don’t ever say, “My child would never lie to me!” Given the right situation nearly all kids will lie. Sometimes we push our kids into lying. When you walk into a room and see something broken and a guilty looking child do you ask, “Did you do that?” That question pushes everyone into survival mode and the usual answer becomes, “No!” A better question would be, “Tell me what happened here.” No child is perfect, so expect that your child will make mistakes. Everyone wants to protect themselves, so sometimes lying is a natural reaction. No stage is more fraught with mistakes or self-protecting behaviors than the teen years. There will be times that you must confront your child with a possible wrong that he has done, however do be careful not to push your child into lying. Use the tips below to avoid this.
Keep your cool- As tough as it may be, it is very important not to get emotionally charged over a bad situation. This is never so important as it is with teens. Sometimes teens do unacceptable things just to get a rise out of their parents, so keeping calm helps avoid reinforcing poor behavior in your child. You will also be better able to deal with the situation in a positive manner if you remain calm.
Assume the worse, but leave the option of the best open– If you come upon a situation where your child appears guilty, assume he is, but keep an open mind. Comments such as, “Tell me what happened,” or “This looks pretty bad for you,” give the child the opportunity to tell what happened in a non-threatening way.
Don’t accuse, but teach– Sometimes it is impossible to tell who is lying and who is not. This is particularly true when dealing with more than one child. I find in these situations it is best not to accuse anyone of anything, but to use the situation as a teaching moment. A sample conversation would go something like this:
Sue: “Bobby called me a dummy!”
Bobby: “I did not!”
Mom: “Bobby, what is the rule about calling someone a name?”
Bobby: “I didn’t call her a name!”
Mom: “I didn’t ask if you called her a name. I asked you to tell me the rule about calling someone names. Can you tell me the rule?”
Bobby: “We are not allowed to call people names.”
Mom: “Bobby, can you make sure that you don’t call Sue names?”
Mom: “Sue, Bobby is going to be careful to remember the rule.
In this scenario Mom assumes that Bobby did call Sue a name, however she never accuses, asks him to explain himself or reprimands him. Mom simply checks with Bobby to be sure that he understands the rule and that he will be careful to follow it. Bobby has been given a lesson on the rule and he is clear that Mom knows that he may very well have called the name, however he has not been asked to defend his actions so there was no need to lie. The other plus to the way Mom handled this situation is that it is a positive situation for Sue. If Mom believes Sue over Bobby it gives her power over her brother. This may lead Sue to tattle on Bobby continually if he bugs her to keep her powerful position. If Mom believes Bobby and not Sue no one is taught better behavior, and Sue feels mistrusted by Mom.
Give think time and leave a “Way Out”– Sometimes kids will tell a lie and then later decide to tell the truth. Sometimes parental comments make this very difficult. This is especially true if others are involved. I can’t tell you how many times, as a teacher, I have seen a parent stand up for their child, only to find out later that the child was lying. If you unequivocally believe and stand up for your child it can make it very difficult for the child to tell you later on that he was lying. This is a very difficult situation because you do want to stand up for your child if he has been wronged, however you must be sure you have the facts before you pursue it. If the facts do not seem to align with your child’s story don’t tell your child that you think he is lying, however leave a way out. Investigate all of the facts fully before going after someone who you think may have wronged your child, and then give your child a chance to recant their story. Tell your child that something doesn’t seem right about the story, and that if he changes his mind about what happened to let you know. Make sure the child knows that it is okay to change the story and that you will understand. Also, be sure to tell your child that you will be going after the perpetrator if your child was truly wronged. Sometimes kids think they will just tell a lie to get their parents off their back, and the parents take it to a level that the child did not expect. If your child knows your next step he can make an informed decision and you are more likely to get the full story.
Another thing to remember is that we all have clearer heads after we have had time to think things through. Sometimes the best approach is to tell your child that you both need a few minutes before you talk about a situation. Sometimes this method works well if you suspect that your child is lying. Tell her that you are having trouble believing her under the circumstances. Tell her that you both need a few minutes to think through this before you finish the conversation.
Legally your child becomes an adult at 18 years, however anyone who has ever been the parent of an 18 year old can tell you that most are not ready to take on all controls of their life at this age. Add to this situation the complexity and expense of living in our society and you will realize you will not be finished raising your children when they turn 18. Of course at 18 many of the ground rules change. At 18 you are no longer required to provide support for your young adult, however he is no longer required to obey you. The best way to deal with this situation is to be clear with your young adult as to what the new guidelines will be. It is a good idea to begin to lay the groundwork for this early on. During the junior and senior years of high school most teens are looking at plans for jobs, advanced training and college. This is a good opportunity for you to make clear to your child what your expectations will be for her after graduation. Do you expect her to attend college or is a trade school acceptable? What about a job? Will your child need to work when he hits young adult age or will you cover all expenses? Under what circumstances will your child be able to remain living at home, and if he does remain at home what will be your expectations?
Most of your early plans for your child’s young adult years will be a work in progress and some things can be negotiated as time goes on, so try not to be too stern about things you are unsure about. Do, however, start early to lay the ground work for what the essential tasks will be for your child as a young adult. Also, don’t negotiate on family values. Make it clear to your child that continued support is contingent on your young adult following whatever family values you have previously instilled in your child. Remember that legally you have no more responsibility to support your over 18 offspring. If your young adult really wants your financial support she will comply, as long as you are clear early on as to what the guidelines are.
In our family we have had extensive experience dealing with children as young adults. We live in an area with many outstanding and affordable community and state colleges close by. This has made it possible for us to support our kids in college as long as they live at home. Through this process we have learned many things to make this relationship work. Look at the list below before your child hits the young adult years. Talk with your spouse about what your ideals, expectations and available resources are, and come to a consensus. Then present your plan to your teen so that he can begin to plan for the young adult years.
Decide what is important and necessary- Just as you decide what is important for your little children, you should also decide what is important for your young adults. If it is important for your children to attend and graduate from college, you should provide assistance and guidelines that encourage this. In our family we felt it important for our kids to attend and graduate from college. However, we found it necessary to set some limits on how and when we would pay college expenses. We told our children that we would pay for tuition and books as long as they lived at home. We would do what we could to help with college expenses should they want to attend a college not in our area, however additional financial assistance may be necessary. When our kids transferred from community college to the state university we were no longer able to pay cash for tuition. We found it necessary to ask our kids to take out a student loan, then we promised to repay it to the fullest extent that we were able. Don’t feel bad if you cannot finance your child’s college expenses. Financial assistance and student loans are always available for college students and your student will be able to repay loans at a low interest rate once his career is established. Sometimes just the help of having a place to live rent free is enough to help a young adult choose college. If you are paying for college or room and board don’t be afraid to set limits on what schools or types of schools you will pay for or support. As long as you are footing the bill you have a right to set limits on what you will be willing to pay for. You can also set other guidelines or limits on grades or other achievement measures. In our family we agree only to pay for passed classes. Some parents set the bar higher on this, but we try to be realistic and leave room for some mistakes. My feeling is that as long as my kids are getting credit I am willing to pay. Do ask to see a report card at the end of the term. You will not be sent a report as you were when your child was in public school, even if you are paying for it. Make it your young adult’s responsibility to give you a copy in exchange for continued support.
If you find it important or necessary for your kids to hold a job, don’t hand out cash freely to your young adults. Room and board for your college student can be very reasonable if they live at home, however money for clothes, fast food, insurance and other personal wants and needs can be very expensive. The reality is that young adults who learn to work for their own extras learn to be more appreciative and have a much better work ethic. They are also often better students because they learn to really budget their time and money and tend to use them better.
If you find it important or necessary to charge your young adult rent make the guidelines clear early on, and be sure it is affordable. In our home full time students are afforded free room and board. Less than full time college admission would incur a rent charge. So far all of our children have chosen to remain full time college students. I am sure that this has been one of the contributing reasons. Some families have a financial need for their kids to help with the expenses. If this is true for you make this clear to your young adult and explain the reasons. Also, spell out what their portion of rent pays for and what things are not included.
If it is important or necessary for your young adult to help around the house make this a part of the agreement. Make sure your young adults understand that your home is not a luxury hotel with maid service. If she had her own dorm or apartment she would be responsible for upkeep of the entire place, so you are not asking for anything unacceptable for an adult. You will probably need to be a bit more flexible with job assignments and time frames with you young adult than you were with your child. Give her more say in which jobs to do and give a large time frame in which to complete them. In our family young adults are responsible for keeping up their own rooms and doing their own laundry. They also have two jobs to do a week that benefit the entire family and we occasionally require ½ hour of work in the yard per week.
Assist with early plans for adult readiness- If you will be requiring your young adult to attend college or obtain a job you will need to do some work during the teen years to help him be ready for this. Start early by helping your teen look at acceptable colleges and their entrance requirements. Also, look at expenses and make sure she understands what will and will not work for your family finances. Help your child look at possible jobs for an inexperienced teen and give him tips on how to apply and interview and what to wear. Help your teen look at transportation options and choose one that will work for your family.
Ease into the young adult years- There is usually no clear cut time as to when this period of a child’s life begins. Some feel adulthood officially begins at 18 years, others look toward high school graduation and still others look at beginning college or financial independence. Except for financial independence, most of these milestones usually occur within a few months of each other, so a slow transition into the rules your family adopts for young adults works best.
Write a contract- Our family found that this is a good time to write up a new Parent Child Contract (although one of our kids insisted on crossing out the word Child and replacing it with Adult). The contract (Appendix H) worked well in the same form (with the possible exception of replacing the word Child), but filling it out was quite different. The list of privileges was quite different for a young adult than for a child. For a child privileges included such things as TV, computer and playing with friends. Young adults who live in your home should have free access to household amenities, and you really have no control over their friends. The list of privileges for a young adult for our family included such items as free room and board, tuition and payment for books. Responsibilities for a young adult are also quite different. They tend to be more general, like complete all household tasks as expected, and young adults should be held to a higher level of expectations. Make sure you cover things such as chores around the house, financial expectations, curfews and communication about their whereabouts and grades and school attendance.
Consequences- There must be consequences for your young adult violating the contract or the contract is useless. Obviously you can’t ground your adult-aged child, however you can take away privileges that you provide. This can include car privileges, cell phone or spending money. Of course if your young adult has purchased his own car or cell phone you do not have this leverage, and taking away a mode of transportation poses other problems. Some families have found that assigning extra chores or fining their young adults can be effective, but I always found it difficult to collect on these consequences.
One thing you should not do is constantly threaten to throw the kid out. It is a pretty drastic step to make a young adult move out just for leaving his socks on the floor, so once you calm down you will probably not follow through on your threat. Be sure not to get mad, but do get busy. Get busy to come up with a way to show your displeasure without a drastic threat. Our family found that this turned out to be a good time to pull out the trusty Strike Chart (Appendix G) again. In the past, 5 strikes equaled 1 privilege lost, however with our young adults most of the privileges were really a package deal. We provided room, board, tuition and books in exchange for following family rules, performing a few jobs and staying in school full time. We determined that 5 strikes would necessitate moving out of the home and providing their own support. Because the consequence was more dire, strikes were awarded for larger infractions than before. Strikes could be earned back, as before, however the jobs would be more difficult and more time consuming. Generally, a job would be assigned for each strike, not for each privilege as before. If a young adult did earn 5 strikes he was given a time period in which to either correct the infraction and earn all strikes back or make arrangements to live elsewhere.
If you’re young adult does make the choice to move out, accept it, and help him make arrangement. Many times young adults make this choice only to learn that it is a lot more difficult to make it on his own than he expected. If you maintain a good relationship with your child he is more likely to come to you if going it on his own doesn’t work out. And if he does want to move back in, consider it carefully, and draw up a new contract with clear terms.
You should find the suggestions in the preceding chapters to be useful in most situations, and most children will change and shape their behavior with gentle persuasion and simple behavior modification techniques. There are times, however, when more intense methods are needed. Positive behavior shaping methods are usually the best, however there are times when privileges need to be curtailed and punishments or negative reinforcement needs to be instituted. Children go through difficult phases, have difficulties in their lives that shape their behavior or just have difficult personalities. The strategies and suggestions in this chapter are for those difficult situations. The most important thing to remember (if punishment or negative reinforcement is needed) is that the goal is to teach your child, not be punitive. Punishments or withdrawal of privileges should be instituted just long enough for the child to learn from his mistakes and shape his behavior. It should not be designed to exact revenge or seek justice.
One of the things I find to be the most irritating as a parent are the endless small infractions that my children seem to commit. Name calling, sibling squabbles, breaking small rules and talking back to parents are all incidents that drive me crazy, and that I didn’t always know how to deal with. Of course I took the time to teach my children that these things were not okay and to remind them to obey the rule, but what should I do if the behavior continued? I didn’t always have the time or opportunity to provide a time out, I didn’t want to turn my reward systems into punishment systems by taking away tokens and often the children’s actions were just too minute to take away an entire privilege. These problems inspired me to invent the Strike Chart.
Before this method is used it helps if the family sits down together and discusses the difference between a right and a privilege. A list can be made of rights that each child has in the family and also privileges. It should be explained to the children that they are welcome to use their privileges, with parent permission, when their responsibilities are met. One responsibility of the family is that each child follows the family rules. Explain that the Strike Chart will give parents and children an easy way to keep track of who is following the family rules well and who deserves privileges.
The Strike Chart that our family used was printed on a piece of paper and kept on the refrigerator (see Appendix G). Anytime a child made a small infraction we gave her one strike. Larger infractions may earn two, three or even five strikes. Five strikes would cause a privilege to be lost. Strikes were marked with a pencil on the chart and privileges lost were written below. The chart can also be laminated or put into a sheet protector and markers used to mark it. I found that a pencil and eraser was the best marking implement for our family. The pencil could be erased when strikes were earned back, however they could not be easily or mistakenly erased as a marker could.
One of the things that makes this method of privilege management different than traditional “grounding” is the way privileges are given back. Most of the time when parents ground their children or take away privileges it is for a specified amount of time. Passage of time alone does nothing to teach a child anything and does not guarantee that behavior will change. With the Strike Chart privileges can only be earned back, they would not be freely returned just by the passage of time. The way the privilege was earned back had much to do with the infraction that earned the strikes and the attitude of the child. The first requirement to earn a privilege back is that the child must request it. When my children lose a privilege I tell them to let me know when they are ready to earn it back. This requires that the child adopt a repentant and docile attitude and is the first step to change. While the child is working on an attitude shift I work on possible jobs or tasks that can be completed. I gear the difficulty of the task to the severity of the infraction. If a privilege was lost for five very small infractions over a long period of time the child may be able to earn the privilege back by doing a small household task and having a discussion with Mom or Dad about the rules. If the privilege was lost for a larger infraction and the child did not seem to have learned from her mistake the job may be larger and the discussion would be more detailed. The child may also be required to perform a task to show that she has learned from her mistakes. Tasks may include writing an essay about the problem and how the problem will be fixed or doing something nice for a sibling that was harmed by inappropriate behavior.
When the child comes to me ready to earn the privilege back I present the task or tasks to be done and instructions on exactly how it must be done to be acceptable. For small infractions I may give a choice of a few jobs to complete, but for a large or offensive act I usually only give one choice and there is no discussion on what the task will be. The child chooses to complete the task or she chooses to continue without the privilege. In order for this method to work the child must always have the option to continue without the privilege. You cannot force the child to earn the privilege back.
Personal Strike Chart
Sometimes a child just does not get the program and needs a little more intense behavior intervention. For this purpose I developed the Personal Strike Chart (see Appendix I). This chart lists the child’s jobs and responsibilities as well as a place to record strikes and privileges earned or lost. This chart is used over a week’s time and lays out exactly what needs to be done and what privileges are available. It helps the parent assist the child to plan what must be done and exactly how privileges will be earned or could be lost.
The Strike Chart works very well for my family, and most of the time it has been sufficient to help me teach and shape behavior. There were times, however, that children chose not to ever earn strikes back. A child may be feeling so defiant or hopeless that he chooses to remain without privileges and continue to misbehave. It is important for parents to develop a system where it is always possible to lose more privileges or earn them back. If a child feels that his situation is hopeless and that all privileges have been lost and gaining them back is too difficult there is nothing to stop the child’s behavior from spiraling out of control.
The Level System was developed for a child who was going through a very difficult time in life and was patterned after similar systems used with children with severe emotional or behavior problems by many schools and hospitals. The Level System consists of three levels. Level 3 is the desired level. Children on this level have all privileges available to them. Children with 5 or more strikes would be placed on Level 2. On Level 2 children have 1 or more privileges that are currently unavailable. The lowest level is Level 1. A child can attain Level 1 status by continually losing privileges with no attempt to earn them back, by continued defiance or rule breaking or by one particularly grievous act. On Level 1 a child has no privileges. She has all rights afforded the family, however all privileges must be earned for each use.
When a child is on Level 1 she can earn privileges by filling out a Level 1 Points Chart (see Appendix C) and by performing extra tasks. With a Level 1 Point Chart the day is divided into recording periods and the child is responsible for earning a specified number of points during each recording period. On our chart the morning (generally before school) was one recording period, each hour during the afternoon was a recording period and the evening was the final recording period. Each task that my children must normally perform for each time period counted as one point. Tasks included getting up on time, getting ready for school on time, cleaning bedrooms, completing other jobs and completing homework. To earn a privilege for a recording period a child was required to earn 5 points, by performing the normal required family responsibilities, and then perform an additional task to earn the privilege. Some tasks that only needed to be done once a day (for instance, cleaning room) could earn more than one point during a day. If the child cleaned their room in the morning this would earn the point not only for that recording period, but for each period that day. That way, children were rewarded for doing some tasks early in the day. The child was responsible to bring the chart to Mom or Dad to get marked and keep track of it. If the chart was lost then the points were also lost.
To move from Level 1 to Level 2 a child was required to fill out the chart for 24 hours without falling below 5 points for each recording period. On Level 2 the child was then required to continue with the chart until all previously lost privileges were earned back. As long as the child was on Level 2 he had to continue to earn 5 points for each recording period, however an occasional mistake was tolerated. If a child dropped below 5 points for two recording periods in a row the child immediately returned to Level 1.
One of the best tools that I have used with my children when they are going through a difficult stage is the Parent Child Contract. It is very important for parents and children to really understand each other, their needs and their expectations. Often parents assume that their children know what is expected of them, however the terms are not specifically outlined. We often tell our children to behave themselves and be good, but what exactly does being good and behaving look like? We also believe that we know what our children want, but do we really ask them or just assume we know? The Parent Child Contract opens communication and specifically outlines what is expected.
We first began the Parent Child Contact with a child who was having difficulty, however we found it was such a good tool that we sat each child down for a personal interview and developed a contract. The contract is begun by outlining privileges that are available to the child with proper behavior. We next talked about what the child’s responsibilities were, and the link between privileges and responsibilities was explained. The child then had an opportunity to tell what he expected from his parents. Often our children came up with wants or expectations that we were unaware of. We then shared with the child what steps needed to be taken to realize their expectations, if they were possible to attain. At the end of the interview each person signed and dated the contract. The child was given their own copy of the contact, and the parents copy was stored for future reference. At a later date we could pull out the contract, see if all parties had lived up to their part, and develop a new contract based on new needs and desires.
It is imperative that families learn to communicate. In my job as a teacher I find that effective communication is one of the best tools I have to mitigate problems. Occasionally I find that a student, a parent, another teacher or an administrator is upset about the way I have handled something. I find that if I am able to speak to the individual and explain my reasoning that problems can be avoided. We may not always agree, but we can usually come to an understanding. The ability to effectively communicate is an important skill in all areas of life and in all fields of business. Your child will learn communication patterns, good and bad, from you. It therefore behooves parents to learn and practice good communication techniques.
Communication techniques consist of verbal, non-verbal and written communication. Many of our communication patterns are learned in our families when we are children, and much of the ways we view and interpret the world hinges on the communication patterns we learned as children. Take some time to look at your communication patterns. Listen to what you say, how you say it and what your body language says. Ask your spouse what hidden messages you may be sending, and work on ways to communicate more clearly.
Teach your children to communicate with each other. In my home and my classroom I spend a large amount of time modeling and practicing communication techniques with my children and my students. If a negative exchanges breaks out between children I stop them, and walk them through good communication techniques. The main rule is that they must show respect for the other person. This includes listening when the other person talks, responding to their complaints and changing behavior if necessary.
It is important that not every family exchange be negative so be sure to build time into your family life for your family to regularly talk about what is going on in members’ lives. One of the best places to do this is at the family dinner table. Families should eat a meal together at least several times a week. This is a place for parents and children alike to talk about their day and share their likes and dislikes and opinions about things. It is easy for activities to creep in and take over this family time, but it is vitally important to family health and cohesiveness to provide this opportunity for your family. Also plan a time for regular family councils where the entire family can talk about and share their views on family issues.
As children get older it becomes more and more difficult to plan and protect family time. When our older children approached the teen years we began holding weekly family calendar meetings. I developed a weekly calendar with reoccurring events printed on the calendar. Each family member was assigned a different color of ink, so names did not need to be written, just events and times. (See Appendix F for an example.) We slipped the calendar into a sheet protector and used wet-erase markers to write changing events on the plastic. Each week our family meets together on Sundays to look at our calendar for the following week. I write events that will affect all or most of the family in black on the calendar, and then each family member tells me activities that they have planned for the week that are not on the recurring list. I use the colored markers to write each person’s upcoming events in their color of ink. The following week we erase the ink with a wet paper towel and the next week’s events are recorded. After all events are recorded we plan what days and times we will have dinner together, who needs rides where and when, what family jobs will need to be done around the house and yard and our next week’s calendar meeting. The calendar is then posted in our family communication center (see more about this in paragraph below) so that all can refer to it. All family members are responsible to know the information written on the calendar and are expected to be at scheduled events. Any new events should be cleared with parents and/or communicated to other family members involved.
One of the keys to good paper and pencil family communication is the communication center. The communication center can be any location in your home that has a place for paper, pencils and a bulletin board and is near a phone. You could also place phone books, office supplies and an incoming mail filing station in your communication center. It is helpful if the message center is near the entrance to the home that the family uses the most. Use the bulletin board to post your weekly calendar and other important papers that the family needs to have access to. The paper and pencil should be available (it should never leave the communication center, so tie it down if you must) for the family to take phone messages. One of the best communication tools that my family used in our communication center was a spiral notebook. We found that when children took phone messages on little slips of paper they tended to get misplaced. With a spiral notebook I could open the book and leave it available for all family communications. On one side of the notebook I could write notes for the kids on schedule changes or chores that they needed to do. On the other side the kids could leave phone messages. The pages were dated and used in order so that if information was needed on a phone message from some time in the past we could find and retrieve it. Everyone in the family was required to read the notebook daily so that we knew that everyone would have pertinent information.
Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, Clorox Wipes and bottled water became coveted commodities.
On the day the World stopped…
Schools closed, daycares closed and every parent became a home schooler and a child care worker overnight, some more successfully than others.
On the day the World stopped…
Church didn’t take place in a building, it happened on-line, in homes and in hearts.
On the day the World stopped…
Theaters closed, stadiums closed, play places closed, but Netflix, family game nights and creative ways to have fun grew in popularity.
On the day the World stopped…
Inclusion became a bad word and we learned that social distancing and face masks were a thing.
On the day the World stopped…
The positive influence of the internet took on a whole new meaning as we learned how to distance learn, distance work, distance socialize and distance entertain.
On the day the World stopped…
Gyms, playground equipment and pools closed, but people rediscovered biking, neighborhood walks and indoor fitness routines.
On the day the World stopped…
Travel became complicated, travel bans were enacted, trips were cut short, travelers returned to empty airports, some only after going to extreme lengths to come home, airplanes emptied out, flights were canceled, and we relished the few, remote opportunities we had to get away.
On the day the World stopped…
Actors stayed home, athletes hung up their gear, and musicians played virtually, if they could, but we found all new heroes in our grocers, our trash collectors, our truck drivers and our health care workers.
On the day the World stopped…
The mall parking lot transformed into a storage space and a drive up opportunity, store shelves emptied out, and our neighborhoods became places to share and care.
On the day the World stopped…
Dining in was out, dining at home was in and Chuck E. Cheese became a take-out restaurant
On the day the World stopped…
We learned the virus is real, it reached our friends and loved ones, people got sick, people got hospitalized, some even died, but we also learned miracles do happen.
On the day the World stopped…
Our events were cancelled, our calendars were cleared and we all learned its okay to slow down just a bit, to spend time in our houses and with our families, appreciate what we have. And maybe, just maybe we can get along with each other and we can all return to health and sanity.
Thanks to all of my contributors who shared what their lives looked like, with words and images.
When parents imagine their ideal family the children are wonderful students, earning straight A’s easily and with no assistance from their parents. They independently complete their homework on time, study for tests and flawlessly remember all that they are taught. Unfortunately, the number of students who really fit into this dream is very small. Some children come to this world with an innate knowledge of how to achieve in school and have the drive to do so, but this is the exception, not the rule. Most public schools are run on the assumption that children all have the skills and desire to learn in a traditional classroom setting. The teacher teaches, students complete and turn in assignments, then pass tests to show their knowledge retained. The sad reality, however, is that only a small percentage of school aged children learn this way without a great deal of adult prompting and training. All children have skills and talents, but not all skills and talents are evident in a traditional classroom. Alternative schools of all different types have been experimented with, achieving varying degrees of success. However, by and large most children in this country are educated in a traditional public school. As imperfect as this system is, it does have a long history of giving the large majority of our population the basics they need in reading and math and the basic values of our society. Good or bad, public education in its present form is probably here to stay for a good long time, so it behooves parents to make the best of what is available.
I have been on all sides of the school performance issue as a parent, a teacher and an administrator in private and public schools. As a parent I have had children for whom achieving high grades came naturally, and I have had children who struggled greatly at all levels. As a teacher and administrator I have worked with children in private schools who have been given all the advantages, and I have worked with children in public schools for whom all the cards seemed stacked against them. There is no surefire way to make sure that children learn and are successful academically, however there are many strategies that can help. By and large the best way to help children be successful is to build a partnership between parent and educator. Let your school administrators and teachers get to know you. Volunteer in the classroom, and show up to open houses and parent conferences. You would be surprised at how differently teachers look at children just based on how well they know the parents. Teachers try to be impartial; however as human beings they constantly make judgments and decisions. A good relationship with parents will often tip the scales in favor of a teacher giving a child extra help or extra consideration on timelines and grading.
In addition to getting to know teachers, parents should also develop open communication between home and school. This can be difficult on both sides as teachers and parents both have busy lives, but there are some tricks to achieve this. In the following paragraphs you will find some strategies that I have used, or seen used, to establish and keep the lines of communication open. In addition, you will find strategies to help your child learn to be organized and be responsible for himself. Remember, your ultimate goal is to raise a responsible, independent adult. The ideas below will help guide your child toward this goal.
Backpacks are almost universally used by children today to carry belongings to and from school. Plan to use your child’s backpack as a way to find out what is going on and to communicate with your child’s teacher. You should also use the backpack as a tool to help your child learn to get and keep organized.
The first day of school you will probably fill your child’s backpack with all of the items that your child needs to be successful from the start. This starts your child off with an expectation of organization, and some simple steps can help continue this expectation. The next step you should take it to look through the backpack every day after school. Some children are born organized and will dutifully bring you important papers and notices, but most are not. It is simply amazing what you can find in a child’s backpack. Children who are not required to organize and take care of their belongings develop their own unique way of coping with all of the items they amass in a school year. Children who do not have a natural talent for organization usually fall into one of two categories, “stuffers” (they just keep stuffing things in the backpack until no more will fit) or “tossers” (they throw everything away). Stuffers cannot find anything because it is in a mangled mess at the bottom of the backpack, and tossers don’t have anything to find. If you will take the few minutes to go through your child’s backpack and take out the items that need to stay at home and fill it with the items needed for the next day you will ensure better home-school communication and help your child learn to be organized. As your child matures you should gradually have her take over the job of backpack management. The goal is to teach your child to clean out the backpack each day, and get it ready for the next as part of their evening routine. This will require adult instruction and modeling, however if these are done at an early age your child will learn to be organized and give you important communications from school.
Today many schools provide a planner for their students. If yours does not, buy one and require that your child use it. If you purchase a planner get one that is specifically made for the age of your child. It should include a section to organize daily assignments and have a place for periods for middle and high school students. It should also include a monthly calendar and a place to keep a to-do list. Young children can use individual pages to use as a weekly planner, but children in the middle to upper grades should have a school year planner. Children need to learn what to write in a planner and how to use it properly. They need to understand that a planner is more than a list of homework due, it is a way to keep track of all that is going on in class and will be an ongoing record of past assignments. I require my own children and students to write in their planner every day for each class that they have. If they are assigned homework they write what the assignment is and when it is due. If no homework is assigned they are to write a brief note of what they did in class. Teach your child that the planner pages should not be ripped out or destroyed after the days have passed. Sometimes valuable information can be gained from past planner pages if assignments were missed or not turned in.
The planner can also be used as a great communication tool. Teachers and parents can use this tool to communicate about student assignments and behavior. One of the nice things about using the planner is that the communications are automatically dated and they are saved in a place that is accessible to all. This assures clear communication between home and school and it makes it clear to the child that communication will continue between home and school.
The planner can also be used to help your child with long-term planning. Many planners come with a school calendar printed at the front. Go through the dates and make sure that important dates, such as school holidays and semester, trimester or quarter beginning and ending dates are written on the planner pages. When your child receives an assignment that will need to be done over a long period of time help him break it into smaller parts and determine goals for completing each part. Have him write these “due dates” into the planner, and work toward completing each part of the project in a timely manner.
Of course a planner is of no use if it is “lost” or adults do not look at it or read it. Your child should be responsible for her own planner, however associate its use to privileges at home. My children were required to show me their planner fully filled out each day as part of their daily jobs. We would talk about what they did in each class that day, what assignments they needed to work on or study and then make a plan for using their time wisely. Require that your child get a teacher signature if you send a note in the planner. If your child’s teacher knows you use this tool it will encourage him to use it also.
Today’s fast paced society has made it difficult for parents and teachers to touch base and keep in touch, however many schools try to keep pace with the newest technology to help open the lines of communication. Voice mail, e-mail and on-line attendance and grading programs make it possible for parents and teachers to keep in touch without meeting face-to-face. Find out what resources are available at your child’s school and take advantage of them.
Sometimes you will find it necessary to communicate with your child’s teacher the old fashioned way, with a handwritten note. If possible, use your child’s planner to communicate, however if a more formal note is needed feel free to write or type a message. Try to be clear, specific and through in your notes, and always assume the teacher has your child’s best interest at heart. Most do, and you are more likely to help your child if you and the teacher are a team and not adversaries. Have someone else read the note to make sure it makes sense, and make sure the words are spelled correctly. If you are unsure of your spelling or have messy handwriting use a word processor. If you send the note to school with your child ask that the teacher sign it and return it so you know it was received. With older children and teens be sure to explain clearly what the problem is and give the teacher plenty of time to look into and deal with the issue. Remember that middle and high school teachers may have a hundred plus students in their classes, so they may need time to deal with your child’s issue.
When children have difficulty keeping their grades at an acceptable level a weekly progress report can be a good tool (see Appendix E for example). Schools usually send failure notices to parents if children are not making adequate progress, however often by the time the notice arrives children are hopelessly behind on assignments. A weekly progress report can help with this problem. One day a week should be designated as the day to bring home the report. I liked to use Friday with my family so that I could tie privileges over the weekend to grades. I required the report to be taken to school by children that had any classes with a grade lower than C. It was their responsibility to take the progress report, give it to each teacher and make sure the teacher gave it back. It is helpful to let the teachers know beforehand that you will be doing this. If the teacher listed any missing assignments the child was required to bring home materials to complete any missing work. Sometimes teachers, especially in middle and high school, do not allow students to turn in missing assignments. In my family children are required to complete and turn in all assignments, even if no credit is given. This was their ticket to family privileges. An improved grade was simply a bonus. I made sure to communicate to teachers my goal to teach my children responsibility. I am yet to find a teacher who did not support me in this tactic.
Parents need to understand their responsibility in educating their child. It is easy for parents to assume that the school will fully educate their child, however parents are ultimately responsible for the education of their children. As a teacher I have 20 to 30 students in my class. I do my best to educate each one, however there is a limit to the amount of time my students spend in my room and the influence I have over them. Also, next year I will have a whole new classroom of students. I will be the parents of my own children forever, and have legal responsibility for them for 18 years. My influence as a parent far outweighs the influence that any one teacher will have on my child. Do not assume that the school will adequately teach your child all he needs to know; take an active role in being your child’s main educator. This not only includes seeing to it that your child attends school and completes his homework; it also includes educating your child in areas that the school does not adequately teach. This may include teaching your family’s moral values and religious education as well as teaching your child about sports, music or other hobbies.
You are also responsible to teach your child to be responsible. School work and assignments give you an excellent opportunity to help your child learn how to complete assignments outside of the home. Most children will need you to be an active participant in order to learn this important trait. One common misconception is that you teach children to be responsible by leaving themselves to their own devices. I have worked with teachers who believe that they are teaching children to be responsible by not allowing them to turn in missing work. The threat of failure is only a motivating factor if the child cares enough about success. Many children learn to not care about grades and school because they see no link between their actions and the grades. Students often think that grades are a gift from their teachers and that their grades reflect how well a teacher likes them more than how well they performed. A child who learns to not care about grades will show little effort in school. For this child the threat from a teacher that no late work will be accepted is a reward. If the child does not complete the assignment on-time then he will not need to do it. Why do it if no credit is given? Children are taught to be responsible by requiring them to complete any and all assignments. Make it a family rule that all assignments in school will be completed, and then give your child the help and tools that she needs to complete them.
It is important to help your children to complete and turn in homework and assignments, however some parents have a difficult time differentiating between helping the child and doing the work for him. The first thing that parents need to understand is that homework should be extra practice, not learning a new skill. Research has shown that children do benefit from homework, but only if the homework is extra practice on a skill that the child has already learned. Most teachers are aware of this and try to assign assignments based on this principle, however sometimes things go awry. Teachers may give assignments that are not closely aligned to classwork, may overly rely on preplanned lessons that do not match the skills of the students or they may overestimate their students’ proficiency in the subject matter. Sometimes teachers do an outstanding job of teaching a skill and aligning the homework to the lesson, however the students are still not able to complete the assignment. Students may have difficulty applying the practice that took place in class to the homework or they just may not have paid attention during the lesson or may have missed instruction due to illness.
If your child brings home an assignment that he cannot complete make an attempt at reviewing what was learned if you can, but do not do the work for your child. Usually textbooks or worksheets will have brief instructions that explain how an assignment is to be done. Use these tools to help your child go over the instructions to see if you can help him complete the assignment. Teachers use scaffolding to help their students learn a new skill. When parents learn this skill they can be excellent tutors as the child has one on one help. Start by modeling one or two problems for your child. If many similar problems were assigned you can do this with the first couple, otherwise use the examples in the book or make up your own similar problems. As you model how to complete the problems “talk through” each step and explain why you are doing each thing. After modeling a few have your child complete a few problems while you guide each step. Slowly back off your guidance, and have your child begin to explain the steps. When your child appears to understand the process have him complete some problems independently, and then check to be sure that they are done correctly.
If you or your child are still struggling with the assignment write a note to the teacher and explain the problem. Try to frame the problem from your point of view and refrain from blaming the teacher for not teaching your child. Ask the teacher to give your child extra instruction or time to complete the assignment. Be sure to follow up on the assignment and be sure your child received the help needed.
One of the biggest temptations for parents to do an assignment for their child is on large projects and reports. Many students do have difficulty organizing and completing large assignments on their own, but teachers do expect their students to do their own work. Parents are excellent resources to help their children plan all of the parts of a large project, gather information and materials and put everything together into a presentable form. Do remember, however, that the report or project should look and sound as if a child produced it. This does not mean that you should not teach your child how to put together a polished project. However, it should be clear that this is your child’s work and not yours.
We all want our children to be successful, and school performance is no exception. Let your children know that you expect them to do well in school, however be realistic. Remember that you are raising children. Children learn through doing and trial and error. Children also need to have variety in their life. If it takes a child all of her time to be a straight ‘A’ student it may not be the best use of her time. She needs to have time to play and explore different activities. Well rounded children tend to grow into more successful and happier adults. Even the most focused and successful children rarely receive high grades on all assignments, and should not be expected to. If your child performs on an assignment or in a class at a level lower than is the norm for that child treat it as a learning experience. Ask him what the problem is and ask what he could do better next time.
Be careful about how you respond to report card grades. Children should be praised for the work they did do. In some families ‘A’s are the expectation, ‘B’s are okay and ‘C’s are totally unacceptable. Children who grow up in families such as these often believe that they could never be good enough. ‘C’ is an average, and there is nothing wrong with being average in some areas. In my family we regarded ‘C’s as acceptable, however improvement could be made. ‘B’s were very good, ’A’s were outstanding and ‘D’s and ‘F’s were unacceptable. It is also important to take into account personal differences. What may be a low grade for one child may be an excellent grade for another.
Be careful, also, about how you reward report card grades. Some families give monetary rewards, some quite large, for high marks. While rewards for good grades can be motivating, children who are constantly rewarded with large rewards lose the sense of value for the actual grade. In addition, in families with multiple children monetary often pit one child against another. Also, for young children a quarter or semester grade is often too long of a time period for the child to really feel that he has control over the outcome. Try giving smaller, more frequent rewards or just praise your child. When report cards do come, recognize your children who displayed good effort with a small reward or night out.
We all want to think that our child is just a normal kid, but many children have learning difficulties. Learning difficulties can show up at any time and have many different causes. They can be caused by learning disabilities, developmental delays, emotional difficulties, social problems, problems at home or normal developmental stages. The treatments for learning difficulties are as varied as the causes. If you have taken all of the steps outlined above and your child still struggles you may suspect that your child needs more help than you can provide. The first place to look for extra help is through your child’s school. Some private and church schools offer resources for extra tutoring and all public schools are required to provide help for students who are not adequately progressing. Speak with your child’s teacher first. Explain the problem, and be specific about when it began, how long it has persisted and the severity of it. Also share your insights as to what you believe is causing the problem. Most parents are not well versed in learning difficulties, but they are familiar with their own child. Even if your diagnosis of the problem is not correct your insights will be valuable to help find the problem.
If you do not get the help you need from your child’s teacher contact the school administration. Express your concerns and ask what resources are available. Ask about extra help during school and outside of school hours, extra help that you can give at home and resource personnel that can assist you. Try to be patient with the school as some things take time, but do not just assume the problem will resolve itself. Stay on top of the steps your child’s school is taking and your child’s progress.
If adequate progress is still not seen go back to the school and report that more help is needed. Remember that the goal is to build a partnership with the school. Your child will benefit the most if all adults work together. There are times, however, when schools do not provide students with the necessary help. Public schools are required to provide help to all students and to find ways to help every child learn. If your school does not take the steps necessary to help your child do not be afraid to demand an evaluation of your child’s progress. Public schools usually have a team of teachers and administrators who look for specific ways to help students be more successful. If your child has not made adequate progress you can ask the neighborhood public school, whether or not your child is a student at the school, to look at your child’s progress and make recommendations. Make your request respectfully and in writing. Federal law specifies a timeline for the school to respond to your request so date your request and look for a reply within a few weeks.
While you are working on getting help from your child’s school look at outside resources. Remember that you are ultimately responsible for educating your child. The school has a much more limited number of resources available than parents do. For some children medical solutions are successful. For others behavioral avenues work better. Counseling, outside tutoring or training and medication have all been successful to help some children be more successful in school. Be open-minded but reasonable when looking for a solution. Work with your medical professional to get referrals to reputable professionals. If a recommended treatment seems unusual or untested ask for studies that show effectiveness and referrals to others who have tried the treatment.
Any time a treatment is tried with your child careful data should be taken to find out its effectiveness. If your doctor does not provide tracking sheets then use the sample from Appendix B. All treatments, whether medicinal or not, have some placebo effect. Some people will show improvement from any ailment, even if they are only given a sugar pill. In addition, parents and teachers often observe an improvement in a child’s behavior, just because an improvement is expected. This makes it difficult to determine the effectiveness of a treatment. Daily charting of behaviors will help mitigate this problem.
To track behavior with the tracking sheets behavior should first be charted before the treatment is tried. Ideally, parents, the teacher and the child will all fill out their own report, usually for about a week. After the initial charting period the treatment is begun and charting of behavior continues. Some medications take several weeks to begin to work in the child’s system, and all behavior systems take a while to show improvement. For these reasons behavior should be charted with the treatment in place for several weeks. Behavior can also be charted during an optional third period with the treatment discontinued. Ideally, each step would be done with behavior reporters not knowing when the child is receiving the treatment. Sometimes this can be done with one parent administering the medication and the other charting behavior, but this is not always possible. Charts are then compared from before, during and after treatment to see if the child really did show improvement with the treatment. If one treatment does not prove effective try another. Seldom is a first medication type and dosage or treatment effective.
If you have a child with learning difficulties please know that parental involvement makes all the difference. Children with learning difficulties that are left to their own devices will usually turn to inappropriate ways to feel successful and important. These children are at high risk for antisocial behaviors, committing crimes resulting in imprisonment, drug use, early experimentation with sexuality and teen pregnancy. There are children who will just not be successful academically even with all the help in the world. These children need supportive parents who will help them find skills in other areas and assure them that they are important and loved. If your child has difficulty in school help him find something he can excel in. Require your child to join a church or scout group, a sports team or musical group or pick up a hobby. All children have talents and it is important for children, especially children who struggle in school, to find and develop their talents. Help your child to become responsible, teach her to treat others with respect and help her become self-sufficient in other areas. You may also need to focus less on school success and failure with this child. See to it that your child is learning essential skills, such as reading and basic math computation, and lighten-up about the rest. On these children you may need to change or ease up on the rules you would normally set for a child about homework or task completion. Remember the goal is to raise a responsible adult, and adjust as necessary. When your child is an adult no one will ever ask her what grade she received in 7th grade, so don’t put too much emphasis on grades. People will notice if your child is responsible and respectful. Your child will learn these things if you make family guidelines clear and reasonable and set and reinforce limits.
It is essential that children learn how to work. There was a time when children worked as a family necessity. Their labor was needed to keep the home going and the family fed. Home businesses or family farms were a major source of support for families and often parents added children to their families specifically to increase the amount of labor available. Those days are largely gone. Mechanization and electronic appliances now complete much of the work previously performed by children and young people at home and on the job. The family farm is all but gone as farming has become big business and most food and goods are now purchased, not produced at home. The need for children to work to support life has vanished, but the need for children to learn to work has not. In adult life work is essential. Adults in our society are expected to work to support themselves, feed and clothe themselves, clean up after themselves and take care of their other responsibilities. It takes work to perform all of these necessary tasks, and the ability to work is not learned overnight. Some children are natural born workers and will desire to work hard no matter what their environment, but this is the exception. Most children need to be taught to work, and the way to learn to work, is to work. It is essential for children to have jobs or chores around the house or in the yard.
People have different ideas about what chores and jobs children should do, how often they should do them and what the reward should be for completing them. As long as children learn to work doing jobs that are appropriate for their age and ability and still have plenty of time to learn, grow and play there are no wrong answers on how to do it. I would, however, recommend that every parent think about their family policies about work and chores and the lessons they are teaching. At times parents teach unintended lessons about work by their actions and family policies. The following are considerations that parents should take into account when assigning jobs and planning family policies for chores. Just as discipline is a shared responsibility between parents, so should be the assignment of jobs and chores. Parents should take some time to look at the list below and carefully consider what policies they will adopt for family chores.
Compensation- As adults we have jobs which we must complete for which we receive compensation and we have those for which we don’t. I go to my job everyday to receive a paycheck, however I do the dishes at home with no hope of being monetarily compensated. Some families adopt a policy of compensating their children for all chores that they complete around the house, either intentionally or unintentionally. If you dock your child’s allowance for not completing chores or always provide a reward or payment of some sort for all chores completed you are providing compensation. Compensation is not a bad thing, and it can be very motivating, but children do need to learn that there are some things that just need to be done regardless of compensation. No matter what methods you use to motivate your child to complete his chores do be sure that some chores are required with no guaranteed compensation. These are jobs that need to be done because you are a member of the family, not because you get something. One way to separate a reward from the chore is to develop a hierarchy that provides a reward for completing a job quickly, and then moves toward requiring a punishment if a chore is not completed within a specified amount of time. This sends a message to the child that the chore will be done, however there are rewards for completing it in a timely manner. It also instills and understanding of deadlines and gives children a sense of urgency.
Responsibility- It is important that you make your child’s jobs your child’s responsibility. Most parents intend to make their child responsible for her chores; however many parents inadvertently take on the responsibility for completing the chore. You will take on the responsibility for chore completion if you constantly remind your child to do his chores or if you nag or beg him. Your child has the responsibility for chore completion if you give clear instructions with age appropriate reminders. Very young children will need frequent, verbal reminders. Older children and teens should be given a longer time frame, and can be given written reminders. You should also see that an appropriate consequence is attached to completing or not completing the chore. Most parents fall into the trap of taking over their child’s responsibility at some point in time. We want our children to learn to listen to us and to complete assignments we give them right away. And when they fail to do so we start to assert gentle pressure, which turns into not so gentle pressure. On the next page is a list of phrases that parents use to encourage their children to complete their chores or assignments. Some of the differences in the phrases in the two columns may seem very subtle, however they are important differences. Look through the lists and see which type of phrases you normally use with your child.
Phrases that communicate that the adult is responsible for completion:
Phrase that remind, but maintain the child as responsible:
“Did you hear what I said? Put that away right now!
“Remember, you had 3 minutes to put the toys away, and you have two left.
“I am going to come over there and make sure you do that if you don’t get busy right now!”
“Let me know when you’re done and I will come check your work.”
“Why aren’t you doing your work?”
“Do you need a reminder that you should be doing your work now?”
“How many times do I have to tell you to get busy?”
“Is there a reason that your jobs aren’t done yet?”
“Do I have to do everything myself?”
“Is there something I can do to help you get your work done on time?”
Motivation – We hope our children will be motivated to work just out of a sense of responsibility. However, children need to be taught to be responsible so other motivators need to be instituted until children thoroughly gain a sense of responsibility. Sometimes children are motivated by the natural consequences afforded by job completion (my room looks really nice when it is clean!); however more often than not parents need to provide a consequence. Positive consequences are the best (see chapter 4 and 5 for more on positive consequences), however sometimes it is necessary to provide a negative consequence or a punishment. Remember that natural or logical consequences provide the best results, so try to find a consequence that logically connects to the tasks not completed. One logical consequence that my husband and I instituted with our children was to invent a “monster”. The monster was sewn from an old sheet into a giant cloth bag. Permanent markers were used to draw a face on the monster with the mouth at the bottom near the opening. When the children did not clean up their toys they were told that the monster would come to visit the room at a certain time. He just loved toys, and if all the toys weren’t picked up he would have a yummy snack. At the appointed time the monster came out and “ate” all the toys that were not put away. The monster then went away to his hideout until the children earned their toys back. They could earn the toys back by doing extra jobs or keeping the rest of their toys neat for a specified amount of time. If you use this method be careful that you find a hideout for the monster that the kids can’t find, but where you will not forget about him. Once our monster had such a good hiding place that we didn’t see him for many months. When we found him again we realized that perhaps we had a few too many toys as most of them had not really been missed!
How good is “good enough?”- One big conflict that parents often have with their children when they are completing tasks is the level of perfection required. Of course the goal is for your child to complete a task well, however no one expects that a toddler will be able to perform at an adult level. So what should a bed that is freshly made look like if it is made by a two-year old? What about a five-year old? Should the bed be made at a level that is similar to an adult at age ten, fourteen or older? One thing parents need to realize is that each child is different. Some children will be able to perform a task as well as their parents at eight-years of age, while others will still struggle as they leave for college. Parents should develop a policy of knowing what their child’s “personal best” is. They should make a goal of helping their child improve on his personal best as he grows and develops. Parents should clearly communicate when the personal best is expected, and when a job can be done “just good enough.” We’ve all heard the adage, “a job worth doing is a job worth doing well,” however none of us does a job perfectly every time. Sometimes I wash my sink really well, scouring it with cleanser and cleaning the faucet and all the nooks and crannies. But sometimes I settle for “just good enough” and just rinse it out with hot water to kill most of the germs.
One way that our family chose to deal with teaching our children to complete a job well while still being reasonable was to adopt Mondays as “perfect clean room days.” Our children were expected to clean their rooms every day, but on Mondays the rooms were expected to be really clean. Usually this translated into the children just straightening their rooms most days of the week to whatever level their age, ability and time constraints allowed them, and then doing a really good job of cleaning out corners, vacuuming and dusting on Mondays. This would usually required help or direction from a parent to attain this level of cleanliness. Therefore, parental time constraints were factored in when considering just how “perfect” a “perfect clean room” would be each week. I had a friend who adopted a similar attitude, however she communicated her expectations by saying, “Clean your room to look like I had cleaned it.” Her children knew what this meant, and they also knew that this level of perfection was not always expected.
Example- It is great for children to work; it is better for children to work with their parents. When parents work alongside their children they teach them what an adult level of work looks like. They teach them that camaraderie can come with work and they teach that work is a life-long activity. Children need to see what an adult level of task completion looks like. Do help your child bridge the gap between a child’s level and an adult level of work performance, however be careful not to insinuate that your child is not capable of good work by redoing their jobs.
Work does not have to be drudgery, and working with your child can teach him that work can be fun. Wouldn’t you rather work alongside someone than all alone? Your child is no different. Work together and use the time to talk to your child and build a better relationship.
One mistake that parents of teens often make when it comes to work is that they believe that their teens can and should complete large amounts of manual labor without adult help. It can be a real help to a family to have a nearly grown child to do some of the heavy tasks that parents no longer can or want to perform around the house or yard. Be careful about assigning these jobs on a regular basis for your child to perform without adult assistance. When older children and teens are left to work alone for long periods of time the message that they receive is that the hard work is for kids and adults do not need to work. When you work with your child you send the message that you will continue to work as long as you are physically able, and you expect her to do the same.
Once parents decide the values they want to teach through chores it is time to put the nuts and bolts in place. Assigning and supervising chores can be a real nightmare for parents without good planning and tools. There are many techniques that parents can use to assist them in assigning chores, helping their children keep track of chores and rewarding their children for completing chores on time. Below are many different tools for each of these tasks that we have used with varying degrees of success. Remember when choosing and using these tools that they are designed to make your life easier. If your life is not easier with a specific technique modify it or don’t use it. Also, remember the principle that change is good. If you or your children get tired of a technique it is likely to lose its effectiveness. Change or modify often to keep you all on your toes!
If you have just one child in your family chances are this will not be a difficult task, but as soon as you have more than one child, job assignments are always an issue. “The job that Johnny has is always easier than the one that I have, and Mom doesn’t make him do it as often as she does me!” Parents should be fair about assigning chores, but they need to keep in mind that equal is not necessarily fair. Some chores may be set, with one child always completing them, while others may be rotated by one method or another. Do be careful about assigning chores by gender, but keep individual differences in mind. Boys need to learn to cook and clean and girls can work in the yard, but as they get older the sheer physical size of a teenage boy may make his tasks different than his sister’s. Also, don’t be afraid to let your children discuss and negotiate chores and job choices. Discussions and negotiations should not be done, however, when the child is supposed to be doing the job. If you child wants to discuss job assignment, see to it that assignments are completed first, then the discussion takes place for the next time.
When our older children reached their teen years we found their opposition to the chores we chose for them and the rotation method we designed to be a problem. We had a family council and I asked the kids for their recommendations. We talked about the jobs and why it was important for them to be completed and we made some minor adjustments that fit their views better. My oldest son then recommended that instead of rotating jobs in an orderly manner, that everyone got to draw their jobs from a stack. I argued that this would mean that someone may get all hard jobs while someone got all easy ones, but the kids applauded the idea of the chance of getting easier jobs. I figured that this was an idea that we would try for a week or two, and then when someone cried that they had the hard jobs over and over the kids would agree to abandon it. I was wrong. We eventually did some tweaking so that no one had the same job for more than two weeks in a row, but this job picking method persisted for some time. Even when we had two adult aged kids and two high school kids in the house they still wanted to pick their jobs at random every time, and no one complained about the system. They even made it fun by having their friends pick for them.
Whichever method you use try to keep it simple, and don’t be afraid to change as needed. Your children will be much more likely to complete their jobs if they are real clear on exactly what the jobs are, when they should do them and if the picking or tracking system is one they like. All of the systems below have been tried with varying degrees of success. Some work for some ages and temperaments of children, and some are more successful with others. Feel free to try one, or more than one.
Job Wheels- There are two basic ways of using a job wheel. The first way is to use it to assign jobs to individual family members. With this wheel family member’s names are placed on a circle at regular intervals, and jobs are written on an inner or outer circle that lines up with the name circle. If more than one job is desired they can be written on a third circle that is smaller or larger than the other two. The three circles are attached with a brad in the middle to form a wheel and each circle is turned to line up jobs with names. Each circle can be laminated separately for durability.
The second way a wheel can be used for jobs is for each child to have their own wheel. This method is not really a job picking wheel, but a way for children to keep track of their own tasks and what they have complete so far. All jobs that a child should do each day are listed around the wheel. These can include personal care tasks (like getting dressed, eating breakfast or brushing teeth) as well as household tasks. You can either use a large circle with a cutout window that only shows one task at a time or a spinner that points to each job for your child to use the wheel. Either device can be attached with a brad in the middle of the circle.
Job Sticks or Cards- Job sticks or cards can be used in many different ways and provide much flexibility. You can make job cards out of old playing cards, index cards or pieces of construction paper. Job sticks can be made from tongue depressors, popsicle sticks or stiff pieces of paper or cardboard cut into strips. Jobs can be written on your cards or sticks and various methods can be used to assign jobs.
Job cards can be made that list jobs that all family members must do daily. These cards can be put into a pocket chart or stuck to the refrigerator with magnetic clips and children can move them from the “assigned” space to the “completed” space as they finish them. Job sticks can be kept in cups or cans that are labeled with family member’s names and different cups can be used to sort assigned and completed jobs.
Jobs can be assigned using cards or sticks and rotated in an orderly manner to each family member, or they can be randomly drawn. Assignments can be done on a weekly basis, or a daily basis. You can also assign different cards for weekly or daily jobs and have children choose these differently. Below are ways that job sticks or cards have been used. Take any of these ideas, or take bits and pieces of ideas to make a plan that will work for your family.
Big Kid, Little Kid Jobs– When we had children that were old enough to really start to do jobs well around the house, but still had preschool aged children, we found we needed different levels of jobs. Cards were made on the computer (see sample and template in Appendix L) and then laminated for durability. Each child had his or her own card with specific task that would need to be done every day. In addition, cards were made with jobs that were rotated. Listed on the cards were instructions as to how and when to complete the jobs. Jobs cards were color-coded by how often and when jobs were done and labeled as a big kid job or little kid job. The jobs were rotated between the children on a weekly basis. The cards were kept in a pocket chart, with one pocket of each child representing jobs that needed to be completed and one pocket for jobs that were complete. A quick glance would tell us who had done their jobs and who had not.
Daily & Weekly Free Pick– We found that it was always best assigning jobs for daily and weekly jobs. Some jobs needed to be done every day and others only needed to be completed once or twice a week. When I made jobs sticks or cards I made daily and weekly jobs different sizes or colors to easily differentiate between them. One way to assign jobs is a free pick each day or week that jobs are done. This can be an interesting and motivating way to get children to do their individual work and to be excited about their jobs. The way this works is that job sticks or cards are created for each job that needs to be done around the house. When house work needs to be done cards or sticks are placed in a central location for each job that must be completed that day. Children are told that they will need to complete a certain amount of jobs that day, but that their individual chores will need to be completed first. As children complete their individual chores they can choose the job they want to do, or you can have them draw blindly.
Work Day/ Fun Day– This is a good tactic to use if your children have a day off of school and there is time for both work and play. The chores can be the usual family chores, or extra big chores that need to be completed. If the family is working on an extra big job, such as spring cleaning or a large amount of yard work, it may be best to break the work into little jobs and put each job on a card. Job cards or sticks are laid out and children are told that all these jobs need to be done today, but when they are complete the family will have a fun outing. Children then work cooperatively to complete the jobs before the day is out. Children work best with this method if a specific time period is given to complete the chores and a parent guides the work and gives appropriate reminders of how the work is progressing.
Not only is it a good idea to have an organized system to assign chores, it is also helpful to have a system to keep track of job completion. A job wheel (described above) works well for young children and many children love to move job cards or sticks in a pocket chart or in cups. As children get older they will need a more sophisticated method of job tracking. Job charts have many different forms and can be used many different ways. You can use an individual chart for each child that lasts for up to a week or a family chart. Charts can be printed out on a piece of paper, drawn in a notebook or created on a whiteboard. All types of charts have advantages and disadvantages. Below is a list of types of charts that you can try with your family. If one doesn’t work well change it so it works better, or you may want to try another. Your children will be more likely to continue to be interested in whatever system you use if you use variety and don’t try to stick with the same thing forever.
Family Daily Chart– This was a method that I used for a long time to varying degrees with my children. It worked best with kids of preschool age through early high school, but I occasionally used this method with my older high school and adult aged children. This method is best if you have several children and you want them to complete many similar jobs and tasks. For a lot of years we had a large whiteboard in our living room that we used as a chart. I drew a grid on the board with a wide column on the left side to write children’s names and a deep row across the top to write job titles. You can make your grid semi-permanent by using wet erase markers to draw the grid and write the names and use dry erase markers for the children to mark with. A permanent grid can be made with permanent markers or with colored tape.
Each day I used this chart I would draw my grid and write the children’s names on the left column and the tasks they needed to complete across the top. Tasks included everything they needed to complete that day, including personal care tasks (brushing teeth, getting dressed, etc.), personal jobs (make bed, put breakfast bowl in the dishwasher) and things they needed to do for activities outside of the home (practice the piano, do homework). Jobs were usually listed as a category instead of a specific job so that each column could be used for each child (example: red jobs, daily jobs or trash jobs). If there was a column for which a child did not have a task or job I would put a mark in that box to designate that it did not need to be done. As the children completed their jobs they would put in X in the box so I could quickly scan down the list to see who needed to do what. The children loved to use the whiteboard markers and mark what they had completed.
When my children grew older I used this same method with a spiral notebook. This notebook was our family message center and each day I would open the notebook and use two facing pages for family communication. On the right hand page I would draw the job grid and list jobs that needed to be done that day. With this method I would write the children’s initials across the top row and jobs down the side column. On the left page I would write any announcements for the family and important scheduled events. At the bottom of the announcement page was a space for family member to write phone messages or other communications for each other. This method worked very well when I had older children living at home who could all read. Children had an easy reminder of what needed to be done and I could easily scan down the list to see who had completed their work. It also helped our family communication to have everything in one place. Every family member was required to read the spiral each day and was responsible for the content listed there. On the next day I would turn the page of the spiral and we would use the back of our chart for our announcement page and the facing page for a new job chart. Using this method of communication and job tracking allowed us to have a record of communications and jobs kept in a safe and orderly manner. This allowed us to go back and look for phone numbers, other important communications or to see who did what job on which date.
Personal Weekly Chart– Personal charts were usually on paper and we used a computer to print them (see Appendix J). This aided reproduction of the chart and made it easy to personalize each chart for individual children. We used personal charts for all ages of children. When our youngest were preschool aged we used pictures to illustrate the chart rather than words so that they could chart their own tasks and progress.
This method worked best when we had a specific place to keep the chart so that it would not get lost. When our children were young we had a large artist’s clipboard that we used to keep charts for the entire family. This large clipboard held several pieces of paper and was too large to lose, although small enough to move around the house as needed. As our children got older and more responsible we moved to individual clipboards with individual charts. Children were required to mark their own chart each day, and incentives of some sort were normally associated with keeping the chart marked (see chapter 5 for more on token economies).
Most individual charts that we used had space for a week’s worth of jobs, so this method had the advantage over family charts of only needing to be produced once a week. This type of chart is especially good if you are linking children’s privileges, such as computer use or TV viewing time, to jobs completed. Some of the charts we used were specifically designed to give points to use towards such purposes. One disadvantage of this method was that it was more difficult for us to see what each child had completed. We had to look at each chart to see what had been done instead of just looking down one list.
Job Procedure Charts- When I go into a department store I often see a chart posted inside the restroom door listing when the restroom was last cleaned and what tasks were completed during that cleaning. When several people take turns with the same assignment record keeping is important so that all know what needs to be done, what was done and when it was completed. With this concept in mind I developed a Bathroom Cleaning Procedures check sheet (see page Appendix D). This check sheet specifically lists each bathroom cleaning task that needs to be completed. It also provides a checklist for the child to check off each item as it is completed. This has been an excellent teaching tool and resources for my family. It gives specific directions for each task so there is no debate on what I mean when I ask if the bathroom has been cleaned. It also provides an ongoing record of who cleaned the bathroom last and what they did.
This type of tool could also be used for other similar tasks. Children work best with small, specific tasks. A checklist could be provided for room cleaning (with tasks such as pick up toys or put dirty clothes in hamper listed) or for large tasks that are done infrequently.
Some families only give out money to their children as compensation for jobs completed. Some may call this an allowance, but a true allowance is an allotment of money given out on a regular basis. When you decide to give your children an allowance you should determine the purpose and make sure your policies governing distribution support your purpose. In our family the purpose of an allowance was to teach our children to understand and manage money. Their allowance was not a large amount of money and its distribution was not tied to any jobs or tasks. Our children were required to pay a contribution to the church (a 10% tithe), however beyond that they could use the money any way they saw fit. The amount they received was set by their age (they received 25 cents per week for each year of age) and so they were given an automatic raise each year.
Sometimes my children had regular jobs that they did each week and were paid for. These funds were tracked in the same manner as the child’s allowance, however this money could be docked if jobs were not done correctly. Allowance, on the other hand, was paid out just because the child was a part of the family. This assured that each child always had a small, steady income. This way everyone was assured an equal chance to learn about money management, delayed gratification and prioritizing. This also allowed us an easy way to distribute some of the family resources. When we took our children to the store and they wanted to purchase an item we would ask them, “Is this something that you want to spend your allowance on?” This put the burden on the child rather than the parent to determine if an item should be purchased. If the item was too costly, then the child would need to save their allowance or do extra jobs before it could be purchased.
Because our family allowance was so small my husband and I always had extra jobs available to earn extra money. Jobs included work in the yard and house that were not part of the regular chores. We would usually provide a range of jobs with varying difficulty and monetary rewards available for the child to pick from. We were very generous with what we paid for extra jobs, and usually paid by the job rather than the hour. This assured that the job was done adequately rather than time just wasted. If a job was not done adequately the child could choose between doing a better job or earning a lesser amount of money than originally agreed upon.
Families should designate a day as “pay day” and allowance should be distributed on that day. Policies should also be developed about taking an “advance” or borrowing money from siblings. Sometimes this gives a good opportunity to teach about buying on credit, but do make sure to develop policies about how much can be borrowed, for what and for how long. Allowance distribution and spending can be tracked many different ways. Probably one of the most effective, yet difficult, ways to manage allowances is to pay out the actual cash to each child each week. This is very effective method because children have responsibility to keep track of their own money and bring it with them when the family goes on an outing. They are able to feel and see the actual money. With this method children also feel the natural consequences of forgetting or losing their money if they cannot make a desired purchase. This is a very difficult method, however, because it requires that parents have the correct denominations of bills and coins on hand and it is time consuming to dispense cash each week. This method also requires that each child have a place to safely keep and carry their allowance, which can be very challenging with young children. One way to make this task easier is to only dispense allowance once a month. The drawback of this method is that children have less of an opportunity to save for an item and more of an opportunity to lose or misspend their allowance. Also, a month is a very long time for a young child to wait for another allowance day.
If you do give out cash for allowance be sure to have some sort of record of when you dispensed it and to whom. It is easy to give out a few quarters each Friday when your children are small, but as your children grow and life becomes more complex it is easy to forget who was paid when. And if dispensing of actual cash for allowance is not successful for your family you can always go to a paper and pencil method. Of course you will always need to give out some cash to your children for spending money so do find a method that works for you to collect and store small denominations of cash. Some families find it best to go to the bank on a regular basis and withdraw the required cash. In our family we found it easiest to collect small bills and change from our pockets and wallets each night. That way we also had some small bills to use for allowance money as well as lunch money or other needed expenses.
There are several methods that can be used to track allowance accumulation and distribution. I found that my yearly desk calendar was an effective method. In the back of the calendar there was a section for expenses. I converted the column names to my children’s initials and kept a record of money available or earned and money spent. This method worked so well for me that I continued to use it when my kids had more complex expenses in their teen and young adult years. The drawback to this method was that it was not very portable. If my calendar was at home I had no way of knowing how much each child had available to use. If I was organized enough and had time I would often write down available funds for each child before an outing. I would then write on the receipts who had spent what money so that it could be recorded at home. Often I would simply slip the receipts into my calendar so that I could record it later.
Some families have found it useful to use a more portable system to keep track of allowance and other available funds (see more on this in chapter 5 on clothing points, and chart in Appendix A). With a portable allowance tracking system all of the child’s available funds can be kept in a compact, portable fashion. It can also be used to write down exactly what is spent by each child so a running total can be kept. A portable system can also be developed that the child is required to keep. This can be made from a small pad or notebook and available resources and expenditures can be recorded in the notebook. This can be made more portable by placing the pad or notebook in a small purse or bag that the child can carry on outings. The child would be responsible for keeping the recording device and bringing it on outings if she wanted to spend money. Of course the problem with any portable system is the risk of losing the tracking system. For our family I found that portable systems were a good tool for short-term use. However, for the long term my calendar, which never left the house, was the best option.
Beyond allowance, families should develop policies on what items or activities parents will “pay for” and what expenses are the children’s responsibilities. Of course, ultimately the parents will pay for all of the expenses as young children have no ability to earn money outside of the home. However, requiring children to “pay for” some of their own expenses helps parents determine the child’s interest in an item or activity and helps parcel out family resources. As our children grew we realized that there were many activities and items that were beyond the scope of them to pay for with their allowance or small jobs around the house. We wanted them to contribute in some way to the cost of classes, lessons, team fees, uniforms and costumes, but the fees were beyond their ability to pay. My husband and I, therefore, came up with a method that allowed our children to prove their interest, and earn participation, in an activity. We figured out an hourly wage that my husband (the primary wage-earner) earned. We then translated the fees for teams, lessons or uniforms into an hourly amount based on this wage. If our children were willing to put in that amount of time around the house or yard we knew that they were really interested in the activity and we were willing to pay the fee. If they were not interested enough to work, then we knew that this activity was not of importance to our child and we would choose not to invest our money.
Simple reward systems and token economies work very well for young children, but obviously as children grow and mature more is expected of them more complex systems may be warranted. One of the most effective and long-lasting token economies that my family used was Dimick Dollars. Dimick Dollars grew directly out of the ticket system (see explanation of the ticket system in chapter 4). As the children earned a multitude of tickets and as prizes became more valuable counting tickets became unwieldy. When my children began to save up hundreds of tickets I decided that I needed bills with various denominations to make things a little simpler for all of us. With this thought in mind I minted my own “Dimick Dollars.” My bills looked similar to monopoly money with a different color for each denomination. When my children were young I put their names on the back of the bills to avoid lost or traded bills, but as they got older I allowed them to buy, sell and trade bills with each other. This system lasted well into my children’s teen years, however the way it was implemented was not always the same. As my children’s and our family’s needs changed the system changed. What follows are idea on how this system can be implemented in a family. You can reproduce the included Dimick Dollars (see appendix M), or you can customize your own cash! Some families have produced their own money with such names as Feist Francs, Powell Pesos or Carter Cash. If you mint your own cash do be sure not to use a copy machine to copy real dollar bills. The treasury department does not take reproduction of actual dollar bills lightly.
Dimick Dollar Distribution– Dimick Dollars should be awarded for good behavior and completing chores. The plan is to make this a reward only system, so I did not generally take Dimick Dollars already earned away. In our family each child was eligible to earn a certain number of Dimick Dollars each day. Dimick Dollars could be earned for completing chores (more for more difficult chores, and more for completing chores on time), treating brothers and sisters kindly and obeying parents. I started out distributing Dimick Dollars daily as I had tickets, but as my children grew I found this to be time consuming. Now that they were older they could understand the delayed gratification of earning their tokens once a week, but it was necessary to find a way to keep track of Dimick Dollars earned throughout the week. Sometimes I tried to rely on my memory, but this was never very successful. More successful methods included keeping a tally sheet (which was very portable), writing notes on a wall or desk calendar or using a chart. (See chapter 6 for more on charts.) Make sure you work a time to pass out the Dimick Dollars into your weekly schedule. For our family we found that Sundays were the best as we were already spending this day as a family. It is important that you make it real clear to the kids exactly why they are earning their Dimick Dollars. As you pass out the Dimick Dollars use your tally sheet, calendar or chart to explain how much is earned for each item and why.
Dimick Dollar Redemption– As children age they need to have rewards that continue to stimulate and interest them. In the early days of Dimick Dollars rewards were no different than the ticket rewards for our family, but soon the kids became tired of the little carnival toys and small pieces of candy. When our children started school they would often bring home book order forms from their teachers and want to order books. We found this to be a great item to spend their Dimick Dollars on and so we came up with a cash value for Dimick Dollars. Dimick Dollars were originally worth one penny each, and later two pennies each, toward the purchase of books from school orders, book fairs or book stores. Later I would allow my children to trade in their Dimick Dollars for cash, but only for items that I approved. They were never allowed to use cash from Dimick Dollars for candy or other edible items, however they could purchase clothing, school supplies, gifts or admission to attractions with their friends. Other non-tangible items can also be a good incentive such as a night out to dinner, extra time playing a video game or watching TV or a later bedtime on a weekend night.
Dimick Dollar Storage– I experimented with many different ways for the kids to keep track of their Dimick Dollars. From the beginning I wanted them to be responsible for their own cash stores. I felt that this helped them learn to take care of and manage money, as well as count money and make change. When I would pass out new Dimick Dollars I would ask the kids if anyone wanted to trade small bills in for larger ones. The younger kids often wanted to hang on to the small bills as it looked like more, but when I ran out of small bills they were forced to trade up or receive no payments. When the children traded in small bills for larger ones I had them count their own money to help them learn how to count money. We used a lot of different storage devices; including plastic containers, envelopes, wallets or just letting the kids figure out their own system; but the best method we found to keep Dimick Dollars was with the use of a magnetic clip. Dimick Dollars were held together with the clip and stuck on the refrigerator. This kept them in a central location where children could count and keep track of their own, yet Mom would always know where they were.
Our family used Dimick Dollars as a token economy for many years, however we didn’t always use the actual paper money. Sometimes when we were tired of this system we would switch to a chart version. Point charts are a very useful and versatile tool that can be used for a variety of purposes. Children can receive points, or whatever type of token you choose to use, and can use the points as currency or be required to earn a set amount to use for family privileges. Advantages of a chart system include ease of administration (no paper money or tickets to hand out), organization of children’s daily responsibilities (they must read the chart to see what they need to do) and children take responsibility for their own tasks (they must keep track of what they accomplish and their points, not you). This method does require that the child is old enough to understand a chart, however reading is not required as a picture chart can be developed.
A chart can be developed on the computer and printed out daily or weekly. Charts can also be produced on a laminated poster or on a whiteboard. A computer version has the advantage of being easily reproduced and edited, however it has the disadvantage of being easily lost. When I used this method I clipped each child’s chart to a large artist’s clipboard. This gave us a specific place to keep the chart and made it accessible by all. A laminated poster can make a good chart if tasks do not change much for your child. You can draw the chart and tasks on the poster, then laminate it and have the child mark off tasks with a dry erase marker. You can make a similar chart that is easier to change with a whiteboard. Use a wet erase marker to draw the chart and write the tasks, then allow your child to mark off what he completes with a dry erase marker. You can erase your child’s marks with an eraser, but your marks will need to be removed with a wet cloth which makes them more permanent.
Using a chart system does not preclude you from using actual tokens for your token economy, however it does allow you to award tokens or points only on paper if you would like. If you decide to use a chart system as a token economy you can allow your children to purchase items just as they would with any other token economy, however you mark purchases on the paper and keep a running total on the chart. Another option with a chart system is to allow children to use family privileges based on points earned. You can either require that a certain number of points are required to access a privilege (such as you must earn 10 points each day in order to watch TV) or you can allow your children to use the points as needed for privileges (such as ½ hour of TV consumes 2 points).
Another token economy that my family used, usually in conjunction with other token economies, was Clothing Points. This system was developed after I went school shopping with my children for several years in a row and found that some children were perfectly happy with one inexpensive pair of shoes, while another wanted every color of the most popular brand. Clothing Points were born to help my children learn to use our family resources more wisely, to help me distribute our resources equitably and to gauge what items my children wanted to purchase the most. If a child had a limited amount to spend on their clothing then they could choose to purchase one pair of designer jeans, or several pair of the store brand. I also found that my children appreciated and took care of their clothing better as they understood their value. Below are some of the principles we used to implement this system.
Before you begin the system you must decide how much clothing points will be worth and the general rules of use. Our clothing points were worth ten cents each. Children could buy any clothing article that Mom or Dad approved of with their clothing points, and they did not have to be responsible for sales tax. That made it much easier for them to estimate how much they could buy. Children were to buy all necessary parts of their wardrobe, including socks, shoes and underwear with their clothing points.
Children were usually given a large chunk of clothing points once a year when a large clothing shopping would normally be done for the family (right before school started for the year, for instance). They would be given clothing points that equaled the amount of money I had budgeted for each child to spend.
Clothing points were also earned throughout the year by helping with laundry. Children helped with laundry based on their age and ability and my time constraints. Laundry duties could include helping to sort, starting loads of wash, changing clothes to the dryer, folding or putting away. It could also include doing all of their own laundry. Some of my children learned early on that they could earn a lot more clothing points if did their own laundry and opted to take that responsibility on themselves.
There were times that I would allow my children to owe me for clothing points. If new clothing items were necessary, because they had holes in their socks or they had outgrown their clothes in a short period of time, then I would make an exception. Generally the kids were required to save up for clothes they needed or wanted.
Once guidelines are developed for Clothing Points you will need to decided how to track them, when they will be distributed and how you will keep track of points that are spent. I used various methods to keep track of clothing points. The first method I used was a clothing point chart (see sample in Appendix A). This worked well when I gave out clothing points with other token economies. Later I found it was successful to keep track of my children’s clothing points in my desk calendar or planner. I had begun to keep track of allowances here, so it was a logical choice. This way I could keep track of when I distributed clothing points and figure out allowances at the same time. I kept track of spent points by keeping my receipts after clothing purchases and writing on them “who” spent “what.” I could then place the receipts in my calendar and deduct used Clothing Points when I next calculated the points. The problem with both of these methods was that I did not have quick access to each child’s accumulated points, or allowance available, when I was away from home. The solution to this is a portable tracking chart (see Appendix K). This chart can be used for tracking clothing points, or any other type of token economy that your children are allowed to use for purchases outside the home. With this method you will need to write starting amounts on the chart for each child before you leave home. However, the chart folds up nicely to fit in your purse or pocket so that purchases can be quickly and easily tracked. Clothing points were a token system that worked well, was fairly easy to implement and lasted well into my children’s teen years.
Other Token Economies
At times my family found it necessary to implement some type of specialty token economy for special needs, occasions or days. We tried a very simple token economy to help our children stay in bed at night. We found it very difficult to implement a positive reward system for young children to stay in bed and go to sleep. The goal was to get the child to sleep, but once she was asleep we were unable to give an immediate reward. By the morning, the effect of a quick and immediate reward had worn off. For this token system we created happy faces from frozen juice cans lids. Cans with metal lids that are removed with a plastic seal make great tokens for young children as they are smooth and large enough for small hands, do not pose a choking hazard and are free if you normally buy frozen juice. Many lids are plain silver, so you can decorate them with permanent markers. If the lid has a logo or design you can decorate your lids with stickers or by gluing a circle of construction paper over the logo. The construction paper can be protected with a circle of clear contact paper. We made several happy faces for this bedtime system, and each child was given three before bed. The children were told that each time they got out of bed they would have to give up one happy face. In the morning if they had any happy faces left they would get a prize.
Another system that we developed using juice lids was the peace sign system. Our family designated Sundays as a family day. We went to church together, had a big meal together and planned other family activities. We also limited our use of TV and other media and outside interruptions on that day. Sundays were generally very nice days and the children often would play with games or toys that they didn’t ordinarily use, but sometimes all of that togetherness brought on fighting and contention. We decided that since Sunday was a different sort of day, it called for a different sort of reward system. Since peace was what we desired for the day, we used a peace sign as the token for that day. Peace signs were made from juice lids and we drew a peace sign symbol on the front of each lid. Each child began the day with three peace signs, and could earn more or lose the ones they had based on behavior and activities completed. The peace signs were placed along a shelf in age order of the children so that I could easily add or take away peace signs and the children could easily see their progress. Juice lids nest together nicely, so it was easy for the children to see their pile grow or shrink. They received additional peace signs for appropriate behavior at home and at church. They also received them for participating in quiet and desirable activities on that day such are reading, journal writing or for participating in musical activities such as listening to quiet music, playing an instrument or singing songs. Children lost peace signs for calling names, hurting a sibling or for not following other family rules. This was one day that we made a special effort to give immediate feedback by giving out or taking away peace signs right after an appropriate or inappropriate action. When you use this type of a system make it clear that the child’s behavior is the cause of the number of peace signs earned, not your mood or choice. “You are really helping to make our day peaceful by sharing with your sister, so you earned another peace sign!” you can say as you place a new peace sign in your child’s pile.
Peace signs could be redeemed for various things at various times (we often let the children trade them in for tokens or points from our daily system or let them “buy” privileges back- see chapter 9 for more on this), but the thing that made this system a little different than the others was that we introduced a bit of competition in this system. At the end of the day I would choose a peacemaker of the week. It wasn’t always the child with the most peace signs, but that was considered. I usually chose the child who had worked especially hard to bring peace to the family, and no one could be the peacemaker of the week two weeks in a row. The peacemaker of the week was recognized on Monday evening. I would set a special place at the dinner table for the peacemaker of the week with a pretty placemat, a crystal glass and usually a small gift (such as a new pencil or a bookmark). The thing that made the peacemaker of the week the most coveted title was the fact that the peacemaker did not have to help with the dishes. This was a system that worked for many years for our family with only a few changes. It was probably so long lasting because it was only used one day a week so it kept its novelty.
Another specialty system which we found helpful on family vacations was travel dimes. This was especially helpful to encourage the children to get along on extended trips. The way this system worked was that each child began the day with $1.00 in dimes (we didn’t actually use physical dimes, we wrote the accounting on a piece of paper and then awarded the actually cash at the end of the day). Each time that a child would do something inappropriate for a car trip or bother a sibling she would lose a dime. I kept track of this in a small notebook while my husband drove. Dimes could be earned back or added to the $1.00 for improved or especially good behavior. At the end of the day each child received any cash they still had left, and there was also a bonus available. Anyone who had not lost any dimes throughout the day could receive a $2.00 bonus! This gave a really good incentive for perfect behavior. This system helped the children behave better, and it had the added bonus of giving the kids spending money so they didn’t have to beg for a treat or a souvenir at each stop. With this system children with money could purchase these items and those without could not. If you use this system be sure to budget into your trip expenses the maximum each child can earn per day and bring along a stack of one dollar bills and a roll or two of dimes.
Want copies of the forms mentioned or Dimick Dollars you can copy? Click on the forms section on my blog.
Young children love praise and rewards. It never ceases to amaze me how easily you can change a young child’s attitude and behavior with sincere praise or a small reward. It also never ceases to amaze me how many parents forget this simple fact and get into arguments and power struggles with preschool aged children, myself included. As I raised my children their behavior seemed to go through phases. When my children were behaving things were great and I just assumed this behavior would continue, even though I often did nothing to help maintain it. Then one child would go through a difficult phase and start to question and defy my authority. This was not the usual behavior for this child, so at first I may just ignore the behavior or use a gentle reminder that this behavior was not okay. But my son or daughter was not just having a momentary lapse in judgment. My child was going through a normal developmental stage of testing me and/ or trying to separate from me. I hadn’t realized this yet, so I continued to ask my child for compliance, and as the asking failed to work the requests often turned into begging or threatening. As the other children in the family saw me lose control of one child they would often “jump on the bandwagon” and begin to misbehave also. Meanwhile, I had become so used to my children behaving well that I was totally out of the habit of praising my children for good behavior. At this point I was also out of the habit of implementing any reward system well or at all, so when the kids misbehaved I would forget to get busy and just get mad. When I realized that something was really wrong and changed my approach, it would take me a lot of time and effort to get everyone back on the right track. After a period of time things would be running smoothly again, and I would gradually put less and less effort into praising my children’s good behavior and become more lax with my current reward system. This was usually followed by a period of time of good behavior, but then the cycle would repeat.
There are several things that can be learned from my family’s cycle. First, try not to get out of the habit of praising your children. Look for times to catch your child being good, and complement him about it. We all love complements, and children are no different. This is especially true for small children. You can see a very big change in a small amount of time if you start giving your child authentic complements on a target behavior. Be careful with praise, however. Remember that praise does need to be authentic. Children can spot a phony a mile away, and if you start complementing your child for things that are not truly worthwhile or do not deserve praise she will not take your complements seriously. Praise should not be given so frequently that it becomes common place. Complements that are given too frequently can be just as bad as no complements at all as they lose their effectiveness.
The next lesson that can be learned from my family’s behavior cycle is to always look for the reason behind a child misbehaving. All human behavior is motivated by a “want” or a “need”. A child may misbehave because he wants a toy, something to eat or your attention or he may have an unmet need. Parents often have a difficult time determining their child’s unmet need as needs change when children grow and develop. The sooner you meet a child’s unmet need the sooner you will see improved behavior. The longer it takes to fill a need the more likely it is that your child will develop behavior patterns that will turn into bad habits, so it behooves parents to find and fill children’s needs as soon as possible. This is something that it took me many years to figure out as often this concept seemed counter-intuitive. My basic understanding of behavior modification as a young mother caused me to believe that if a child cried for more attention and I provided it, that my response would act as a reward and cause the child to whine more. My naïve understanding of behavior modification did not take into account the child’s deep need for more attention. When I did not respond to my child’s need she needed to try more and more sophisticated ways to try and fill that need. These ways would then turn into problem behaviors that were often difficult to extinguish.
To determine the reason for a child’s problem behavior you need to really get to know your child and then you need to look for the cause of the behavior by trial and error. Learn to watch your child at an early age for signs and signals of what she needs. Contrary to popular belief it is very difficult to spoil a baby. Recent research has shown that children come to this life with much of their personality predetermined. If you have a child that demands a lot of attention at a young age, that child needs a lot of attention, so provide it. If you really get to know your child early on you will understand his moods and needs and you will understand right away when things have changed for him and that he is going through a new stage. This will give you some clues as to what her new need may be. However, since children are constantly changing you cannot really be sure until you have tested your theory through trial and error. If your child is crabby, give her more hugs; if she is demanding, give her more control over her life; if she hits other children; give her some alone time; if she does not share, make sure she has a few toys that are hers alone. If you fulfill your child’s unmet need his behavior will improve. As behavior improves be sure to give plenty of praise so you can sustain the improved behavior. If behavior does not improve then you have not found your child’s unmet need, so keep looking. Children are very complex creatures so it may not be easy to pinpoint their needs.
Praise can be a good motivator for children, however adults and children alike often need something a little more concrete and systematic to shape behavior. My family’s behavior cycle clearly shows that when simple shaping of behavior and praise are not effective it is time to enlist a stronger motivator. There are two ways to provide concrete rewards. One is to simply provide a reward when you see appropriate behavior. This works well for very young children, however it is not always practical. With this method rewards need to be very small and something a child can collect, such as a sticker; or consume, such as food or candy. Young children love to put stickers on their clothes or hands, and they also enjoy putting together sticker books. There are special books you can buy with slick pages so stickers can be re-stuck, however just a small, inexpensive notebook can also be used to collect stickers. Food and candy can also be good motivators, however use these as rewards sparing. Children that are often rewarded with food and candy may learn inappropriate messages about food.
A second way to provide concrete rewards is through a simple token economy. In a token economy the child is given a small item when he performs a target behavior. The item, however, is not the reward. The items are collected to earn a reward. The items collected can be a sticker or stamp on a chart, small tokens or carnival tickets. This method has several advantages over the simple reward system. First, it is a bit more portable. When a child is working for a large reward it is easier to promise a ticket when you get home than the actual reward itself. Second, this method requires less actual rewards to be given, and it makes it possible for children to work for larger items. Of course you will need to come up with the reward, however this method allows you to reward appropriate behavior with non-tangible items such as a night out with Mom or Dad or an extra half-hour of TV viewing.
If you use a token economy make sure your child is old enough to understand how the system works. Before the age of 3 or 4 many children cannot understand that they will need to wait for a reward, so a direct reward may be preferable for children under 3. Make sure that the guidelines are clear to both you and your child as to exactly what behaviors will earn a token, who will decide to award the token, when it will be given, what the reward will be and how many tokens are needed for the reward. Be sure not to make it too difficult or too easy to earn the reward. If it is too easy you will have to be constantly providing rewards, and if it is too difficult your child may give up before the reward is earned. Generally it is best to start with a small reward and a small number of tokens needed to earn the reward, say five or ten. Once the child understand the system you can gradually increase the size of reward and the number of tokens needed to earn a reward. Remember, change is constant, so don’t be afraid to change your system if what you are doing does not work or loses its effectiveness.
One important consideration with young children and token economies is where the tokens will be kept. It is a good idea to have a specific place to put the tokens, especially if you have more than one child in the family that is using the system. This alleviates the problem of children losing their tokens or of the wrong child claiming them. Much of where to keep your tokens will be determined by what you use for tokens. Below is a list of ideas of possible containers that you can use to keep your child’s collection along with tokens that can be used. Children love cute and unique ideas, however remember that the focus should be to improve behavior. Do not develop a system so elaborate that the child looses focus on what he should be doing. Also, don’t overextend yourself. This should simplify your life not make it more difficult. Make sure the system you use fits your personality and time schedule.
Charts– This can be as simple as a piece of paper stuck on the refrigerator or as complex as a graph or pocket chart mounted on the wall. Pocket charts can be purchased at teacher supply stores or made by folding and attaching paper or fabric to cardboard. Poster board with graphs drawn on them can also be purchased or they can be made. The advantage of a graph is that it makes it easy for children to see how their progress is coming toward their goal. Tokens for simple charts can include stickers, stamps or a happy face or star just drawn on the paper. For graphs small stickers or stamps can be purchased specifically to fit on the chart. If you use a pocket chart you can be a bit more imaginative with your tokens. You can use pictures cut from magazines or figures cut out of construction paper. You can also purchase pre-made cut-outs. Calendar cut-outs are available at teacher supply stores and die-cuts can be made or purchased at stores that carry scrapbook supplies. It is always a good idea to take steps to preserve any paper tokens that you use. Lamination is the most durable way to preserve your paper creations, however you can also use clear contact paper affixed to both sides for this purpose.
Open Containers– An open container, such as a plastic cup or decorated can, can be used to store stick tokens. This type of container can be kept on a counter or table top where the child can easily see and handle their earned tokens. Young children especially enjoy tokens that they can handle and count over and over. You can make stick tokens with popsicles sticks, tongue depressors, straws or long strips of construction paper (laminate or cover paper with clear contact paper to prolong life). You or your child can decorate these tokens with markers or stickers or you can glue cutouts or odds and ends (small stones, pieces of broken jewelry, macaroni, etc.) to the sticks.
Closed Containers– Closed containers should seal tight and provide plenty of room to collect enough tokens to earn a reward. Empty food containers with tight fitting lids work well for this as do empty baby wipe containers and zipper bags. If you have multiple children using this token system be sure to clearly label containers with each child’s name. Tokens that can be used with this container include carnival tickets, plastic counters or small toys or game pieces, juice lids (from frozen juice cans), milk lids (from gallon milk bottles) or pennies. The advantage of this system is that the container is small and portable, however this also makes it easier for your child to lose. Be careful with your choice of small tokens if you have children who put things in their mouths. Pennies and other small tokens can be choking hazards, and should only be used with children over 3 years.
To give you an idea of how a token reward system can work I will share with you one system that worked with my children when they were young using carnival tickets. I gave each child an empty margarine container with his or her name on it. My children loved to count and recount their tickets, so I allowed them to keep the containers in their rooms, however I found that this led to some conflicts over tickets. To alleviate this problem I began writing the first initial of each child’s name on the back of the ticket. This way the tickets could not be found, traded or taken; they had to be earned. I found that it worked best for me to only award tickets one time during the day, so each evening I would award tickets. During the day I would let the children know when and how many tickets they were earning, however they would only receive them just before bed. This is not the strongest way to reinforce behavior as behavior is best reinforced immediately, however a behavior system is only as strong as your ability to implement it. In order to be sure that I remembered to give tickets every night I worked it into our bedtime routine. As I gave out the tickets I would tell each child exactly why he or she had earned each ticket. If the children believed that I neglected to give an earned ticket I would always listen to their opinion, however I always retained control over ticket disbursement and did not allow negotiations. About once a week after tickets were distributed I would allow the children to pick prizes, if they had enough tickets.
Needs changed over time so tickets were given for different actions at different times, but actions such as how children treated their siblings, how chores were completed or how well they obeyed parental requests were considered when distributing tickets. Just as the reason for tickets being awarded changed, rewards to be earned also changed. When I first used tickets I had a box of small carnival-type prizes that my children could purchase with their tickets. At first all prizes were the same number of tickets, but eventually some prizes seemed to be more popular so I varied the value of some. The kids loved to plot and plan which prizes to save tickets for, however after a while I got tired of picking up all the little toys. Later, I added edible prizes and prizes such as a date night with Mom and Dad or a trip to the ice cream store. The ticket system was very effective and I was able to use it for some time with my children with just a few variations. It allowed me to reward a variety of positive behaviors and gear rewards to each child’s interests. As my children grew they eventually outgrew this system. As their rewards became more sophisticated and the number of tickets earned grew from the 10’s to the 100’s it became cumbersome and unwieldy to administer. At that point I moved to more sophisticated and complex token economies that more closely matched my children’s needs. For more on token economies see chapter five.