(Reposted from Examiner)
Like all parents, my boyfriend and I think our kids are practically perfect. But there is a whole lot of meaning stuffed into that word "practically". While they will (eventually) clean their rooms when asked, they do it with an "uhhhhhhhhh!" and a series of stomps or door-slams. And while they will (occasionally) get along, there is still plenty of bickering going on. While Kayden, the 10-year-old, has mostly mellowed out with age (perhaps reserving his power of rebellion for the looming teenage years?), Maia (at six years old) is quick to assume that life is unfair, that anyone who corrects her is mean, and that we all must hate her. Additionally, she has a habit of refusing to apologize and of glaring at you until your hair catches on fire.
It was with her in mind that the idea of an experiment popped into my head.
We handed over twenty quarters to each child, who put the money into their own pouches. We explained the experiment: any time a child broke a rule, we would ask for a quarter back. Simple as that. Whatever was left in their pouches at the end of the week was theirs to keep. And what were the rules?
- No saying, "Uhhhhhhh!"
- No saying, "It's not fair!"
- No saying, "But Kayden/Maia got to __________!"
- No bickering.
- No slamming doors.
- No glaring.
- No tattling.
However, this wasn't going to be just a doom-and-gloom experiment. There would be a way to earn their lost money back. If we spotted them doing a good deed (especially for the other child), we would give them a quarter back.
We made the kids recite the rules back to us. They both acknowledged their understanding of the rules. We explained the goal of this experiment: to get them in the habit of not whining or complaining, to make them think about consequences before arguing, to help them cope with what they perceive as unfair, and to simply make them stop with the bickering already. And so the experiment began.
Within an hour of explaining the rules, Maia lost a quarter for saying, "It's not fair!" She replied tearfully, "But I didn't know it had already started!" She glared (lost a quarter), then repeated "It's not fair!" (lost a quarter), before calming herself. By the end of the night, she was down by $1.00.
I arrived home from work the evening of the second day. Upon entering, both kids rushed to greet me, yelling, "We haven't fought all day!" I was pleased, but not surprised. With the experiment being so new, the kids were sure to be on their best behavior. During dinner, neither child whined about having to eat all of their food in order to get dessert. After dinner, I asked Kayden to sweep the kitchen for me. He responded with a pleasant "Okay!" But then, a most unexpected question came from Maia: "can I help him?"
Okay, now that surprised me. I planned to give her a quarter after she finished, but she curtailed that idea by saying, "Can I get my quarter now?" I explained, "Maia, it's not a good deed if you ask for something in return. Keep this in mind: you'll never get a quarter if you ask for a quarter. Help him because you want to help him, not because you want the quarter." She promptly stopped helping.
So far, so good. At one point, I had to raise my eyebrows at them when they started to bicker at bedtime. I said, "What could you do right now to avoid losing a quarter?" Kayden quickly apologized to Maia. I looked at Maia, the girl who would rather forego dessert, would rather chew off her own hand (don't worry, this hasn't actually happened yet) than apologize. She said, "Um, apologize?" I nodded. She hesitated then said, "But I don't know what you want me to say." I said, "Maia, you know how to apologize." She looked at me and said, "I'm sorry?" I replied, "You're not apologizing to me." Then, I watched with shock as she turned to Kayden and mumbled, "I'm sorry." And it didn't even seem to hurt her or make her weaker.
After several close-calls over the past few days, my boyfriend and I decided it was time to cut out the warnings: the raised eyebrows, the "uh-oh"s, the chance for the children to redeem themselves. From now on, they would lose a quarter immediately upon breaking the rules.
Maia was down by $2.50, which was still impressive given her temper and her stubbornness. However, she actually earned back $0.75 by helping Kayden clean his room and by consciously stopping an argument that, at any time, she would have fought to the death to win. This was monumental.
No quarters lost.
So far, I considered this to have been very successful. With Maia, she was apologizing more quickly than ever, she hadn't thrown a tantrum, slammed a door, or screamed all week. That being said, there were a couple of glares and the usual "You just hate me!" outbursts. However, considering it had only been a week, I was impressed with the abrupt change in behavior.
Kayden lost a quarter finally. This morning, he and Maia started bickering. Even though we had agreed that there would be no more warnings, I still said, "Are you guys...bickering?" They immediately stopped and said no. But before I even turned away, they began arguing again. I took a quarter from each of them. I could tell it really bummed him out.
This marked the final day of the first week. After dinner, we asked the kids to bring us their pouches. In all, Maia had lost about $2.50; Kayden had lost that single quarter. We all discussed the experiment, as well as our observations of the children's behavior over the week. Despite Maia losing half her money, her behavior had taken a major turn for the better, and we told her as much. While Kayden--being older and more focused on keeping his money--had not lost much, but we had noticed he too stopped arguing, stopped complaining about chores.
Overall, we, the parents, were impressed and very excited to begin the second week. As for the kids? Maia mumbled, "I don't like it," but later decided she wanted to try again. Kayden said, "I liked it a lot...but it got a little scary at times."
As of today, we are now three days into the second week...and only one quarter has been returned to us.