Token Effort

Taking a leaf from Erin of bearing blog‘s book, I am considering starting a token economy of my own. Earlier this year, David started getting an allowance. It’s a modest allowance, a weekly $5, but as an exercise in fiscal responsibility he also became responsible for providing his own weekly dollar for the collection basket, and his own library fines.

It’s worked out quite well. Other stolen ideas from Erin include David’s cooking lessons, lessons in how to work the washing machine, and lessons in how to change a diaper. In fact, apart from some early enthusiasm for Khan Academy, all school this summer has been very oriented towards home economics. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s led me to an observation about David (and myself).

David is only interested in doing the chores he finds novel and exciting. He’s an enthusiastic, energetic helper for these chores. But boring things, like picking up the toys and books or putting his socks and shoes away, remain a constant struggle and source of conflict.

And eventually the bloom will fade. Cooking dinner, doing laundry, all the necessary bits of housework he finds so exciting and grownupish, will become boring and "not fun", and therefore in his mind optional, because he "only wants to do things that are fun."

At the same time, he’s a big help when he will something (without whining). And as I ponder some possible rearrangements in work and home life, I know that his help will only get more valuable. The big question is how to keep it.

This is where I think the token economy will fit into our family. By tying the chores he does not want to remember (or do) to his allowance, maybe I can reinforce the idea that tasks he does not find fun are still a necessary evil.

Like Erin, this is a work in progress, and will probably be modified at the beginning of each month, to fine tune it. Here is is how I envision it starting out:

1. Everyone age 6 and up will receive a jar of 30 tokens. Himself and I will have as well as David. This will hopefully serve the dual purposes of reassuring David that this is fair, and that our participation will encourage Himself and I to be less sloppy ourselves. We are all terribly messy people, but the reforming energy never lasts.

2. We will each have slightly different lists, tailored to our individual bad habits – things we regularly forget to do, or hate and actively avoid.

3. No ‘fun’ chores are allowed on an individual’s list.

4. Tokens will be a dollar apiece.

5. When to take tokens will is the tricky and undecided part. For instance, I want David to stop leaving his shoes in the middle of floors/halls/stairs/etc. But he’d go negative if I took tokens away whenever I tripped over his shoes. Erin does a once a day inspection, but that won’t curb the shoes in the middle of the floor issue if he picks them up at the end of the day. I may have to work my way up on this one.

So far, my tentative task designations are as follows:

tidy bedroom: dirty laundry sorted in the hamper, clean laundry and toys put away, bed made
no socks or shoes lying around downstairs
hang his towel up properly after his shower

tidy bedroom and bathroom (my stuff)
no socks or shoes lying around downstairs
dinner mess cleaned up and the dishwasher running

tidy bedroom and bathroom (his stuff)
no dirty dishes floating around the house
(still thinking about #3. He wants tidy garage, I’m not sure if that’s enough on the daily radar.)

This project will actually tie in nicely to our Civics curriculum this year. We will be focusing on good family citizenship, and working together to keep the house picked up and livable is a good project! The rest of August is a dry run, to get us used to the individual tasks and checking each night, then we’ll start in September.

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3 Responses to Token Effort

  1. Foxfier says:

    Do you each have clean laundry baskets? That would be good for adults to do.

    Who takes out the trash?

    Having “A Place” for shoes that are down stairs might work, although you might want to make “finding a loose shoe” a dime fine instead of a dollar.

  2. Bill Dwight says:

    Regarding #5, if you’re willing to go the “electronic token” route, then you can accommodate “going negative” easily and teach the lesson of working one’s way out of a hole. You can also teach him the concept of managing an online account. Disclosure alert: I built an online system for managing a family economy over at FamZoo dot com – I’d love to get your feedback. -Bill

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