We implemented a reward system for our boys when my oldest son was around three. For every task or chore he completed, we would reward him with a sticker. When he had accumulated ten stickers he could turn them in for a reward: a small toy, game or book. Rewards like these work to a certain degree with both children, but I’ve realized over time that there are other things my children value beyond these prizes—like watching TV and playing Legos—and that allotting them extra time for these things could be just as effective as a reward. My husband and I work hard to teach our children not only skills like reading and math but manners, responsibility and accountability. We also want to teach them confidence in their ability to get what they want via hard work.
When I was growing up, I was given an allowance starting around age seven. It was modest to begin with (fifty cents a week) and then over time it increased. By the time I was in high school, I was getting twenty dollars a week and was required to complete all of my household chores to receive it. I was also expected to spend my allowance wisely. My family was on a budget so there wasn’t additional “fun” money given out if I blew my twenty dollars. My dad did also give us a clothing allowance of seventy-five a month which was for everything: socks, undergarments, shirts, shoes, accessories, etc. which meant that if we wanted one hundred fifty dollar jacket, we had better save up for it! It really gave me an appreciation for the concept of earning money and spending it wisely. When I look back on those years, it wasn’t the money that served as the biggest motivator but rather the expectations of my parents. My parents set a high bar and I was forced to work hard to meet it. In the end, I really learned something about my own values and abilities and it gave me a tremendous sense of self-confidence.
With my children, I continue to ask myself if the reward system we’re using is working. Our children’s currency won’t always be stickers, TV, books or games (though some may stay in rotation for a long while). We’ll have to continue to understand what our children’s currency is and adjust accordingly. More importantly, we need to set the right expectations and be consistent—not always easy to do when we’re all so busy.
It got me thinking about what currency I use for rewarding myself as an adult. We look to different things as rewards as adults: a bigger paycheck, more time with our spouse or children, maybe just more time for ourselves. And often, (just like we learned to do as children) we feel best about these rewards when we feel we’ve done something to earn them.
Just as we have to understand what really motivates our children to be able to teach them responsibility and hard work, so do we need to understand what motivates us.
What are the rewards that really matter to you and what are you doing to get them? What is the cost (monetary, mental or emotional) for the things you want? How hard are you willing to work?
None of these are easy questions to answer, but they’re important ones. Know your child’s currency and better understand them; know your own currency and better understand yourself.