When my wife said, “I think we should take the kids to Disney,” I knew she was right, but I didn’t want to go. The flight alone would be thousands of dollars, and we didn’t have enough to stay at a Disney resort – we wouldn’t be able to come home in the afternoon to rest.
This meant 8+ hours a day, no breaks, five days straight, at one of the most crowded places on the planet, with our three children. We did it. And in the middle of it all something happened that none of us expected.
We told the kids they could have ten dollars a day for spending money, which would roll over to the next day if they didn’t spend it, or they could blow it all in one place if they wanted. This of course meant that my wife and I were constantly harassed by our kids, “Can we stop here and go shopping?” “Can we buy a treat?”
“It’s our money.”
We didn’t want them to waste it, and as good helicopter parents we tried to use this as an opportunity to teach them about delayed gratification, budgeting, general fiscal responsibility, etc.
Three days into the trip, on the long drive home from the park, the kids got super rowdy and weren’t listening to our warnings. I said, “No talking. The next one that makes a sound loses five dollars.” Silence. 2 minutes later one of them started giggling under their breath. I responded, “Hey, I’m serious, I’ll seriously take away your five dollars.”
I’m what some would call a “soft” parent, and everyone in our family knows it. I talk a big game, but follow-through is always a struggle. My wife’s the exact opposite. They lost their five dollars.
The next day, on our way back to the war zone, she said. “If you guys can be nice to each other today, you can earn back some money.” There’s a problem with fighting amongst our kids and we’re always on the lookout for ways to ease the tension. Might as well try this.
Our oldest, and most fiscally shrewd child immediately said something super nice, and way out of character, to our youngest, and by far most sensitive child. My wife gave her a dollar.
I could hear the wheels turning in everyone’s head – “holy shit,” I’m sure they were thinking, “is this real?”
For most of the day the kids would do something nice and immediately turn to one of us and say, “do I get a dollar now?” so we had to find ways to help them understand that this wasn’t going to run like a strip club, that we expected them to be consistently nice. We quickly learned our rhythm and doled out just enough cash to keep the fire going. Our middle kid latched onto this like nobody’s business. She was actually having a good time being sweet to her sisters. Apparently, the idea that kindness is good for everyone is a concept she hadn’t previously considered.
Some say that using money, treats, TV time, etc. to reward good behavior only teaches kids to seek rewards. When we were potty-training our first, we used M&M’s as a motivational tool. Barring the time our dog ate the evidence out of her kiddie toilet before she could get her treat, it worked like a charm. A well-meaning friend warned me, “You’re just teaching her to love treats,” as if for the rest of her life she’d have to eat candy after going potty. Not true. Rewards are powerful if they’re used the right way.
Our middle kid, a month after Disney, is far sweeter to her sisters, and to us, than she was before. Last night, on the way back from their first ski lesson, she said to her big sister, “I hope you had a good time skiing today and I’m sure you did very good.” Super cute coming from a six year old, and way out of character.
And she didn’t ask for a dollar.
We’ve talked to our kids ad-nauseum about the importance and power of kind words, but nothing has worked like the money we spent on the battlefield in Orlando, Florida, early November, 2017. Fighting in general has gone down a bit, mainly because all the kids have a little more trust in the power of kind words. The lesson wasn’t cheap, and the problem hasn’t gone away by any stretch, but we’re farther down the road, and that’s always a victory.
Best $150.00 I ever spent.