Last week we were shopping in a toy store. The kids must have caught me in a moment of weakness, because I absolutely unequivocally know without a doubt that we do not need one more toy in this house, thus I avoid toy stores like the plague. Just a few weeks ago I gave away 95% of our toys and they have not missed a single one.
So, The Actor found four little Spiderman figurines that he wanted to buy at $21 each. $84 for little bits of plastic crap, but hey, who am I to place a value on something that I clearly don’t appreciate? I decided to take this opportunity to teach him the value of money. If he has to work his little tooshie off for a couple of little plastic figurines, he might begin to appreciate how hard ‘Santa’ has to work to bring the truckload of presents that land under the tree every year. Maybe.
This is a difficult lesson for me to teach because I struggle with it myself. What? $800 for shoes is unnecessary? Really? I think we might have to agree to disagree 🙂
So when he came to me with these little figurines I told him he could lay-by them and do some jobs to earn money to pay them off. In one way this is ingenious; I have a slave for the next 8 weeks. All I need to do is pay him 50c to sweep the floor, $1 to fold the washing, and if I’m feeling particularly lazy, $5 to tidy the whole house. This works in theory, however…I am constantly bombarded with
“How much would you pay me to put the shopping away?”
“If I’ve already earned $5, how much more do I need to earn?”
“What if I don’t earn enough before September (when the lay-by expires)?”
“What can I do if I want to earn x amount? Or x amount?”
“I still have to pay $54 Mum, what jobs can I do?”,
“Mum, what jobs can I do and how much will you pay me?”
“I need to do some jobs today Mum. Will you pay me $2 to walk the dog?”
OMG kill me now.
It reminds me of when the boys were little and we introduced the star chart. If you’re new at this parenting gig let me tell you something.
Star Charts Do Work.
Initially they work like a dream, but they come with a price.
Initially Deflector and The Actor desperately toiled for stars. And then toiled again. And over and over again. They would do anything for a star, and persistently, constantly worked for a star, until I was ready to implode at the very mention of the word star. I made a new rule that you couldn’t ask for stars, if you asked for stars you would lose them. Inevitably they asked for stars and inevitably I would take them away. This is where they start to lose their minds and I start to lose my sanity.
“Are you taking a star away Mum?”
“Can I earn my star back?”
“When will I get my star back?”
“How can I earn my star back?”
“If I do two good things, do I get two stars?”
“What if I do someone else’s job, do I get their star?”
“If my brother is mean to me and I don’t punch him, do I get a star?”
“You’ll get a star when you shut up about the bloody stars!”
Then there is Captain Clumsy who will work for a few stars, then when realising their inherent lack of value, will not budge for one. Ever again.
He will listen attentively while I offer the incentive and then politely decline.
“No Thankyou Mum. I don’t need a star today.”
Sigh. Alrightey then.
I can’t really blame him, they are just little bits of shiny paper. Having said that I could offer him a swimming pool filled with green jelly and Freddo Frogs, and he’d still decline the offer if he finds the effort is not proportionate to the reward. For him that happens most of the time.
So in the end it is us, the parental unit, that is the undoing of the star chart. Basically we get over it. We do not want to talk about stars, we do not want to see another star, we do not even want to hear a mention of the word star. And slowly but surely the whole idea is forgotten.
Here’s the thing. You don’t need to reward your kids for every little thing. There is a certain level of participation that must be expected, for no reward, other than the fact that you are a part of this family. We are a team and you are required to pull your weight. In addition, in case you weren’t aware, Mum is not your personal servant.
“No I am not paying you to clean your room. If you don’t clean your room, you very soon will not have a room.”
“No I will not pay you to walk the dog, he is your dog, it’s your responsibility to walk him.”
“I absolutely will not pay you to not punch your brother. You are not the mafia.”
We have worked out that random rewards are the way to go. You might unpack the dishwasher everyday for a month because it’s your job, tomorrow unpacking the dishwasher might result in a treat just because Mum appreciates that you do it everyday without complaint.
Imagine a lab rat in a cage. I’m not suggesting my children are lab rats, although their father was for a while…just humour me for a second, I do have a point.
There is a button on one wall of the cage. If every single time the rat pushes the button it is rewarded with a food pellet, the rat will only push the button when it is hungry. The rest of the time he ignores the button. Like Captain Clumsy when he say’s “No thanks Mum, I don’t need a star today.” If the button does nothing at all, gives no reward ever, the rat will quickly figure out the button is useless and never bother pushing it again. However, if the button randomly drops a food pellet into the cage, the rat will spend a lot of time pushing the button to ensure it has a nice supply of food.
In adults this theory can relate to gambling. The pokies are set to pay out at certain intervals, if they never ever paid, we’d quickly become bored with them, we’d wise up to the fact that we’re putting money (effort) in and getting no return (reward.) The reason we don’t become bored is due to the thought that ‘this push might be the one that gives me the jackpot’ in other words, we keep pushing the button because the reward is random, we dont know when it will come.
See? Perhaps I am suggesting that children are like lab rats.
Well, at least my children are.
This way there is no expectation for reward. The behaviour is a result of making the right choice, rather than the result of seeking a reward.
On the other hand, I might not be prepared to pay The Actor to do his own jobs, but I will most certainly pay him to do mine.