Motivate and reward good behavior

We believe that our children can be motivated by a system that provides them with consistent earnings for desired behaviors that yield tangible, certain rewards.

Our initial experiment into such a system was successful beyond our wildest dreams and we were asked by friends and family to make it accessible to others.

Our children are struggling to understand the value of their work. Explaining it to them isn’t enough. They need to see a tangible reward for it.

A person could argue that a job well done is its own reward. There is truth to that, especially when doing work for oneself. Children do not view work as benefitting themselves, however, and most adults work for compensation when doing it for someone else. Therefore, providing a payment for work done reasonably reflects the standard used by our society.

Managing earnings is also an important skill that every person in society should develop. Giving children currency provides the opportunity to own, budget, and spend. 

Does currency with our kids have to be real money?

Money is defined as a medium of exchange. It is a way of representing the value of items and work. Adults earn money for their work, so it is logical for children to learn to earn money for their work too.

We have a large family and realized that paying our kids for all of the work they do might motivate them, but it would also quickly use up a lot of our monthly budget. A medium of exchange was needed other than cash.

Inspiration came. A point system customized to our family would provide a way to reward the children without breaking the bank. They could earn points without the artificial limitations that real money would have placed on us.

This is a concept that is being used heavily in video games. Many games use a custom currency that can be generated as needed. It can then only be spent in the game. Sometimes real money can even be used to buy the game currency.

We decided to experiment with creation of our own family currency.

The value of rewards

Money is only useful if it can be spent. The most important part of a family currency is to have things it can be spent on. 

The heart of the point system is to redeem the points that were earned for things of value to the children. As parents, we should naturally be able to come with some ideas for rewards based on what our children want. We came up with a few, and then let our kids suggest additional rewards.

One of the keys to the reward system is that rewards must be guaranteed. All too often, especially in our family, the children were approaching us with anxious or haughty attitudes about the things they wanted. In some cases they didn’t know if we would approve, and in others, they felt entitled.

We found that the certainty of being able to redeem a specific amount of points for a specific reward would be beneficial. What we did not expect was the incredible confidence and calm that overcame our children as they worked to earn the things they wanted, knowing they would get them.

Getting started is easy

Children earn a specific number of points for pre-approved activities. We do not allow our children to earn points for an activity unless it is on the pre-approved list, or they ask us for permission first. This ensures that they are only being rewarded for the desired behaviors. Undesired behaviors should not be rewarded.

Points should be awarded by a parent, adult, or older children using the buddy system for accountability. More on that later.

Let’s say that my daughter wants to earn a point. She sees that the dishes in the dishwasher need to be put away, and knows that emptying the dishwasher is a pre-approved activity. She does it and comes to ask for her point. I get up and give her a white chip to put in her point jar. She prances away happily, thinking about how to earn more.

Make the points feel real to the kids

White chip
1 point
Blue chip
10 points
Red chip
20 points

We recommend some type of physical object to represent the points. It is our belief that getting something tangible for the work done makes the currency seem more real to the child. 

In our house, we decided to use Bicycle brand poker chips of different colors to represent our points. 

These poker chips are fairly inexpensive, easily distinguished, and not otherwise used in our house. The different colors serve the same purpose as denominations in real currency; they allow a smaller footprint for the same value. The point system does recommend large point values for special achievements. It would be easy to use up all of our white chips in these cases where one-hundred or more points might be awarded at once.

Please note that any type of item could be used instead of poker chips, assuming it is easy to get more of for parents, and only available to children from the parent.

Now we need a way to keep track of these points

It was important in our family to keep each child’s point earnings separated. To do this, we bought plastic jars on Amazon and put each child’s name on their jar. When a child earns points, we immediately put them into the jar. 

We do not recommend waiting to award points if at all possible. It is too easy to get distracted and forget. It also moves from an immediate certain reward to a future uncertain reward. This makes a dramatic difference in motivation. Most adults would prefer to be paid by their employer promptly at the agreed upon schedule rather than when the employer gets around to it. Children deserve the same respect and consideration.

Group Points

Our family has seven children. Five of them are old enough to earn and spend points. During the first week we implemented the point system, and interesting dynamic began to set in. Some of the children started working together to complete tasks, and to spend points. They realized quickly that this allowed them to earn and use more as a group than they could as individuals.

We decided to formally embrace this model by adding Group Points to the system. It works like this.

In addition to the individual jars for each child, there is also a Group jar. If two or more children work together on a single task, the point for that task goes into the Group jar. At any time, the children can spend points from the Group jar with only one condition. Everyone must agree on how the points are spent. It does not matter who earned the group points. This encourages teamwork both in the earning and spending processes.

We also award a group point when older kids help younger kids with certain tasks. For example, if our eleven year-old daughter helps our five year-old son read an age appropriate book, we award a point to our son for reading the book and another point to the Group jar for our daughter’s help. This is a way in our family to encourage and reward older kids who help younger kids. By putting it in the Group jar instead of the older child’s jar we believe the group benefit is emphasized rather than the individual.

Heart Issues

This system will not address your child’s heart, nor does it attempt to. It is the responsibility of the parent to evaluate and speak to their children about the inner motives and desires that drive behavior.

It is possible that a child might attempt to steal physical points or lie about earning points. These are heart issues that must be dealt with one on one. Systems do not substitute for this type of interaction.

Furthermore, we believe that trying to design extreme measures into a system to protect against stealing and lying is evidence only serves to foster a culture of distrust inside the family.

We suggest a buddy system for older kids to award themselves points, where a sibling or adult must be in the room when a point is taken out and awarded. This provides a minimal level of accountability that will be enough to avoid surface level temptations. It also helps to build trust.

A child who is dishonest about earnings points, whether through theft or lying, will be convicted in their heart. The weight of sin will take its toll, and parents will see outward symptoms over time. Rather than viewing this as a failure to secure the points or manage their award more carefully, this is usually a great opportunity to engage the child’s heart. Adding rules is often a way of responding to symptoms rather than root causes. We want our children to be trustworthy, not tightly controlled. This can be hard for many parents, including us, but is important to remember.

If a parent has grave concerns about their child’s honesty and integrity upfront, we suggest working through these issues with the child before attempting a point system like this. Points will not produce a more honest child. Only directly engaging heart issues with the Gospel and person of Jesus Christ will yield real change. A person must see their own sin for what it is in God’s eyes, rebellion against God’s holy character and Word, in order to truly repent. Anything less is simply behavior modification.

Make your own

Now that the basic ideas have been explained, consider creating your own point system. Use ours, or customize it however seems best to you for your family.

The sections following this will give insight to our standards and rewards.

Ways to earn

Education

We give points for completing units of work in our homeschooling such as reading books, writing papers, and finishing curriculums.

 

Chores

Helping around the house earns points for activities including washing dishes, cleaning rooms, sweeping, mopping, and more.

 

Accomplishments

We give big points to show how proud we are of our children for doing their best and seeing hard tasks through to completion.

 

Spending

TV & Movies

10 points per episode

50 points per movie

(control of the remote)

Video Games

10 points per hour

(control of group games)

Go out for Ice Cream

100 points

Snacks & Candy

1 point per piece of gum

3 points per York patty

5 points trail mix pack

Above are examples of actual rewards we tried at different times

Some notes from our own experiences

An interesting dynamic began when we implemented this system. We disallowed all media except for educational items, and made the rest buyable. Screen time immediately went down in our house considerably, and children began working hard to earn enough points to buy the opportunity to watch shows and play games.

It became self regulating because we made the cost of a show or game several times higher than the amount of time it took to earn that reward with points. Watching a half hour of television now requires a couple of hours of work. 

To our surprise, the kids love this. They feel empowered by it.

* Note: we do not have televisions in our kids rooms. The only television and game console is in the living room, on purpose.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many kids do you have?

Seven.

I don't homeschool, can I still give education points?

Absolutely! Consider points for completing homework, school projects, and semester grades.

What ages are your kids?

Toddler up to 12. No twins.

Your rewards don't fit my family, what should I do?

First, figure out what your kids want. Look for things that are or should be limited resources. Assign a point value several times higher than the length of time it would take to earn.

Can this work with a small family?

We think so!

How many points should my kids be earning in a day?

This is up to each family. We decided to limit our kids to three total shows or a movie, and two hours each of game time. We rarely allow more than two total hours of game time in a given day, except for Saturdays. 

How many rewards can my child redeem in the same day?

This is up to each family. We decided to limit our kids to three total shows or a movie, and two hours each of game time. We rarely allow more than two total hours of game time in a given day, except for Saturdays.

How many points should my kids be earning in a day?

This is up to each family. We decided to limit our kids to three total shows or a movie, and two hours each of game time. We rarely allow more than two total hours of game time in a given day, except for Saturdays. 

What if my child saves up a lot of points?

Occasionally your child might save up enough points to have a binge day. We allow this in our house. Once all the points are spent, the motivation to earn more increases dramatically.

What happens if I limit my kids reward purchases?

It is also worth noting that if parents place strong restrictions on reward purchases, children will stop being motivated to earn points. It is the certainty of the “if I do this, then I get that” process that drives the work. Likewise, if rewards are too easy to get, then children will begin to feel entitled without having to work. It is a careful balance to be sure!