Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mommy, I Earned Playtime!!!

Parents are beginning to look for ways to keep children’s behavior under reasonable control over the summer months.  One Mom, who hates coming home to a messy house, came up with a rather clever approach.  She will put up a chart on the wall that lists the basic chores and behaviors she wants.  When the kids comply they will earn stars which can be turned in for favorite outdoor activities.  If there aren't enough stars, they can’t have that activity.

This Mom’s plan has a few things going for it.  She is acting like a leader, telling the kids clearly what she expects and assuming her legitimate authority as the head of the household.  She is not explaining away their misbehavior (because they are tired, because they are bored, because, because, because….).

But I do find a few problems that we should explore. 

Basically, rewards do not work over the long haul (and summer vacation is most definitely the long haul!!!).  What happens on rainy days when they can’t play outside anyway?  Or when they aren't going to be home to play outside (family plans, ball games etc.)?  Or when the named activities are no longer the favorites?  Or when they just plain don’t care about outside play? 

Rewards also imply that there must be something in it for me before a child is required to comply with good behavior.  And surely THAT is not what parents mean!!!!

Also, rewards suggest the parent is willing to negotiate good behavior.  “Well, Jonathan, if that reward isn't what you want, what would make you follow the directions?”  Pretty soon you will be up to ice cream trips, then an amusement park trip, a new bike, an IPod and……. Well you get the picture!!!!

So here is my thought.  I love the list on the wall.  Keep it short and simple!!!  It might include:
·         Make your bed in the morning
·         Pick up toys by 4PM
·         Kitchen clean and neat by 4PM
·         Your babysitter or caregiver reports you have been respectful

But that’s it.  No rewards for good behavior.  Just clear, concise expectations.  You tell them about the chart the night before it goes up by saying: “I am putting up your summer behavior chart tonight and I expect you to succeed every day.  No one is going to nag you or remind you to do these things.  We just expect it.”

The next day the chart goes up. Mom kisses her kids good bye with a cheerful “Have a great day” and no more discussion of expected behavior.

Likely outcomes to this approach include:
·         Improved behavior for a few days and then gradual deterioration
·         No improvement at all
·         Worsening behavior!!

In all instances, when Mom gets home if the expectation hasn't been met, she calmly (totally in charge) announces a significant consequence. “Because you didn't succeed with your chart today, you are losing your scooter and pool time for tomorrow”.  (If it is going to be a rainy day, pick something else!!!) 

That’s it – when your kids have earned the negative consequences a few times, they will begin to realize that their freedom and privileges are all based on the choices THEY make.  While they are learning this you must be calm – no threats, no second chances, no yelling, no “When are you going to start listening to me”, no “I am so angry – I can’t believe you would treat me like this”, etc.

Give them the time they need to learn the new approach.  It really should not take too long.  Expect a little backsliding – because learning takes time and because they will need to test you to see if you still mean it!

And on a good day, there is nothing wrong with taking everyone out for ice cream.  Not as a reward for the good behavior, but just because it is a beautiful summer evening and all is well with the world!!!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Mom, I Need Money!

Mindy at age 10 is always asking for money.  Her parents listen to each request and finding most of them reasonable, usually give her the cash.  She wants ice cream, dance school t-shirts, pens and pencils for school, a new jacket that is cooler than the one she has, a toy while they are at the toy store, a mall trip with her friend’s family, music for her ipod, a new book……

I asked them how much money they were giving her each month.  Neither one knew but looking somewhat sheepish, predicted it might be about $100.  I asked them to give it some thought, writing down everything they could remember for the last month.  When they returned, they reported it was $210. Wow, $50 a week for 100% discretionary funding.  I know many adults who don’t have that kind of free money.

Mindy does not get an allowance so the only way she can access money is to ask for it.  Her parents know this and assume that as good parents, they should fund all reasonable requests. 

My biggest concern with this approach is that Mindy is not going to have an eternal fountain of cash available to her all her life.  And she is not learning how to cope when that bountiful geyser dries up.  She will have no skills with budgeting or delayed gratification.  How will she decide whether to save for groceries or go to the movies?  What will she do when she doesn't have the rent money? How angry will she be when her entry level salary gives her almost NO discretionary cash? 

Doesn't she deserve better than that?

Allowance isn't just about having money to spend.  It is about learning to be RESPONSIBLE for budgeting it carefully, to be RESOURCEFUL when you want more money than you have and to become gradually INDEPENDENT in money matters so you can be an adult when the time comes.

So here is the magical allowance plan I suggested for Mindy’s parents.  Give her an allowance of $25 per week and let her know that is all the money you are going to give her for discretionary spending.  That cuts her current standard of living in half, but it is STILL more money than a lot of adults have.

Tell her allowance comes at a specific time each week and you will not advance it.

Tell her that sometimes you have to save for things you want and it may take a few weeks to get them.
If she wants more money for a particular purpose, brainstorm with her about how she might get it.  If there is a BIG job at your home that isn't a part of routine home operations (such as painting the fence), you might offer to pay her for it.  Maybe she can ask for the item for her birthday or for Christmas.

As she gets older, I would add more money to the weekly allowance, but I would also add more things that she is responsible for purchasing herself (i.e. school supplies, clothes beyond the basics, school lunches, dues/registrations for any organizations she is in). 

Many parents of 10 year olds are not able to give them $25 each week in allowance and I am not suggesting they should.  For Mindy, we just needed to get her back on track in learning how to handle money.  The dramatic decrease gave her the wakeup call she needed to learn that most things in life are not free.

The point here is to help your child learn to handle money responsibly using whatever amount of allowance you can afford and believe in. 

So….. “Mom, I need money” becomes “Mom, I need a bigger allowance”.  To which you may cheerfully reply, “Yeah, me too!”