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A points system!?! Has Abigail gone mad??

Aug 02, 2019

For those of you who know me, this email may come as a bit of a shock. It is not what I usually recommend. 

For those who don't know me well, then you should know I do NOT recommend rewards and punishments as a general "go-to" for parenting. I think they are a poor substitute for internal pride and real consequences.

But for those who know me best, this email will be exactly what you expect from me: real world, constantly evolving tools that actually get you the behavior you want from your kids, in a way that feels good to us parents too. 

Because kids do things all day long. Some of those things delight us, and some of them drive us mad. In the interest of being more madly-in-love and less just-plain-mad, I am always looking out for parenting hacks that make our days go smoothly. And it's not like I have to go into a lab to invent these things. I just live life with my kiddos and they present me with the perfect inspiration. 

When leading our families, there are ALWAYS challenges in need of solutions. And the best solutions are the ones we hand tailor to our own circumstances.

Case in point:

For the last few months, my two boys (aged 10 and 12) have both had a massive and sudden influx of aggressive energy, kind of like someone gave them a testosterone protein shake in the middle of the night. We couldn't go anywhere without a friendly to the ground wrestling match taking place. Back were the toddler days of "I got there first!" and suddenly everything felt like an unscripted WWF competition. I knew I needed to harness this force before someone got hurt, but how?

On top of this, there are now an increasing number of things they want, and that I am in the position of offering or limiting (usually screen-time and money for more Magic the Gathering cards). I am excited for their passions, but I also realized I was growing slightly annoyed at how much"policing" I was having to do. This was a clear signal for me: we had outgrown our current systems and practices. 

We don't do allowances in our family. Instead our kids may earn as much money as they like by doing certain odd jobs, or by acquiring skills, either practical or emotional. We hadn't really been doing this so much lately, and so I realized it was perfect for a refresh. The idea came to me in a flash: we should re-fashion this into a good old-fashioned points system! 

Now I will admit. Part of me was nervous. A points system?? What?? As I said, I am not one for rewards charts, and those of you who have worked with me know one of the things I talk about is how bribing and punishing our kids usually teaches them way more about "how to work us" rather than about who they want to be in the world. 

And yet here I stood, seriously considering this points system. Every time I asked myself what they needed, I just knew that this was it. So I listened. Because at the end of the day, the ONLY parenting method I really teach is learning how to listen to ourselves and how to listen to our kids. All other methods and techniques serve that one golden principle. What the listening looks like can - and should - change based on the needs of the moment, and the developmental stage your kid is in.

So we broke out this new points system. We devised it together, all agreeing on the rules, and then tweaked them as needed. And it has been working so well for them! 

Why? Here are a few of the reasons I think this is working in our family right now:

— My kids had a ton of energy and needed enough focus and structure to funnel it purposefully. 

— They are getting older and needed concrete ways to contribute to their own wants. They don't want to beg for stuff. They want to earn it. 

— We have a strong enough emotional connection that adding in a system like this won't negatively impact their feelings of self worth. 

— We built it together, and have been having fun with it. It feels like a FAMILY project, not a way for them to comply or lose. 

— The points are based on our collective values, so we are all ok with them, and we have value based agreements on how the kids will use these earnings.

— We have put a time cap on this, and they know this is an experiment we are trying for who they are right now, and only for as long as it serves us.

— They are enjoying their new emotional growth and skills and are (almost) as invested in those as they are in the points. 

So am I advocating a points system for everyone? Oh goodness, no! Not unless it's right for you and your family. All I am saying is it doesn't need to be completely off the table just because it doesn't at first blush align with your overall philosophy.

So, in this world of confusing parenting messages, how can you know what's right for your family? Well, first you learn to listen really well - to yourself, and to your kids. And then you experiment - and ultimately tweak and define.

And you keep an eye out for the results of your experiment...

Just yesterday my oldest said he felt like each point they earned was worth too much screen-time and that to make it harder for them, we should change the ratio from ten minutes per point to two. He decided this himself! This is one of the ways you know your experiment is working. You see the growth you want, not just the behavior.

Seriously, 99 times out of 100, what our kiddos really need is our warm presence, clear family values, and properly set limits. And once we've got all that humming smoothly, then playing around with what it all looks like can be a whole lot of fun!

Parenting is messy business.

Far beyond the dirty diapers.

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