Remember that politically correct name someone came up with for “housewife” several years ago, so a stay-at-home mom would have something sophisticated to put on a resume? “Domestic Engineer”.
Hah, hah, just like “Sanitation Engineer” for a garbage collector or “Entertainment Specialist” for a stripper.  I didn’t give the words much more thought…until recently.  As I write for this blog, I realize that I’m always looking at situations and trying to “invent” a better way to do things, especially at home. A real domestic engineer, I guess… or behavior engineer.

One of the “inventions” I’ve been working on for a long time is a reward system for good behavior and good habits.  It’s a challenge to make it “one size fits all” with more than one child, because each are wired differently.   What is a reward for one child may not work for the other.  And as they grow older, what they once considered to be a reward is no longer that.

I started with one of those pre-printed charts with stickers when my oldest was around four years old– you know, the ones where a child get stars for making their bed, brushing their teeth, not putting the cat’s tail into the Playdough Fun Factory… It worked for about a week.  Once the novelty wore off, she wasn’t interested. 

The chart was soon replaced by a six-page “catalog” I created, with pictures of items to be earned by accumulating varying amounts of reward stickers– prizes as simple as Pop Rocks and a Beanie Baby on up to a trip to the circus and a coveted Easter dress.  As she filled up the pages with stickers, she could see herself getting closer to her goals.  First she went for the candy, then the Easter dress.  She was going to bed without a fuss, arguing less, making her bed.  “Have I got a system for you!” I remember proudly telling a friend.  Hah! Famous last words.  After she earned the dress, everything else paled in comparison.

Not to be defeated, domestic engineer mom then came up with “Kid Tix”– pre-printed tickets to earn for good behavior (yes, I had too much fun with my computer and printer) which my daughter could use to shop at the “Kid Tix” store, a store I would set up in our bay window at the end of the week, with a few small items I’d purchased.  She couldn’t wait until I’d pull the curtains to reveal what was on that window ledge.  Definitely fun and effective at first, but too hard for Mom to keep “fresh”, so that idea joined the others in File 13.

Eventually, all this evolved into an allowance system we originally called “Behavior Dollars” (now we just call it allowance).  My younger daughter was mature enough for it by the time we started and participated whole heartedly.  It’s worked really well to help shape good behavior in her (and some in her sister) and is a great consequence tool for sibling fighting.

How our allowance system works
Basically, you pay a set amount of allowance at the end of every week, but the kids can lose dollars each day until Payday for various “infractions”–  not making the bed ($1), clothes left on the floor ($2), bath towel left on the floor ($2), lights left on ($1 per light), shoes left around the house (50 cents per shoe).  We keep a white board on the fridge to keep track.  If they hit their sibling or name call, I remind them that $1 now goes from their allowance to the siblings’s (this especially has worked good in the car, when it’s hard to separate them when fighting.) The perpetrator usually stops, since she doesn’t want to keep making the other one rich.)  Rare is the week when either one earns their entire allowance but sometimes one of them gets close.

Once they’ve earned money, we allow them to choose how to spend it– another good thing about this reward system.  It gives them life lessons in real world money management, about making good and bad choices with it (“So you want to dump all your money into The Claw at CiCi’s Pizza? Well, I wouldn’t, because it’s set up for you to lose, but if that’s what you want to do, go ahead…”) We pay for their needs and they pay for their wants (as long as it’s not a live animal, a tongue piercing, or a Red Rider BB gun…). Sometimes they amaze me, like
giving their own money to charity (and it means so much more when it’s their own!).  To take the whole money management thing a step further, my husband even did a “loan” once with our older daughter, charging interest and late fees– surprisingly, she paid it off pretty quickly.  And how many adults do you know who still don’t get the hang of that?! (Um… I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re in a recession?)  Anyway, at ages 9 and 13 they both had “junior bank accounts” at the credit union, complete with their own debit cards.  Guess who has saved money and who hasn’t? 

Maybe I should make one of those “catalogs” again for the teenager– it will have one page, with a picture of a nice used car on it.  Maybe she’ll have enough stickers on it by the time she goes to college…