Reward systems are often useful in motivating and disciplining kids, a task which requires endless parental creativity and energy. A tool or idea may be working perfectly, then seemingly overnight, it’s fallen flat. Our family’s stone reward system started very simply years ago, and over the years it has been reinvented and continues to be an effective parenting tool.
We started with a package of smooth stones from the craft store and three clear tumbler-sized votives. Having a translucent jar helps the kids to see their progress and letting them select the stones is an easy way to get them instantly involved and on board when you unveil the new plan. When we caught a kiddo doing something worth rewarding, they got to put a stone in their jar.
Listening the first time, getting ready for school on time, making your bed, helping your sister, all earned a stone. “Ali, great job coming the first time I called you. Thank you, go put in a stone.” The new system forced my husband and me to look for the good in the kids and to focus on the behaviors we wanted to encourage instead of ranting about those that caused us frustration.
A positive off-shoot started to bloom. As soon as we rewarded a stone to one child, the others were immediately aware of their actions and altered them to work toward earning a stone, too. Eventually, we had to install a “no-ask” policy, the kids couldn’t do something nice then ask for a stone, it needed to be awarded not requested. Another heart-warming, unanticipated side effect was that the kids started to tell me about the good deeds of their siblings, “Mom, Anna deserves a stone, she just helped me clean my room.”
When they filled their jar, they would receive a larger reward which they selected ahead and cut out or drew a picture of to illustrate. The goal reward doesn’t have to cost anything, you can decide what genre of rewards works for you, some ideas are a special hike alone with one parent, a book or small toy, a night out for ice cream or the privilege of choosing a special dinner and dessert.
After a while, the stone system in it’s original format slowed down and needed revamping. The kids were older and had new interests, now each stone earned counted for 5 minutes of computer time, no stones, no computer. We also put some restrictions on how many stones they could use at one time or in one day. You can adapt this to fit your family’s values. It worked so well, and my youngest was learning her five’s times tables as she counted out six stones to watch 30 minutes of TV.
Eventually that system, too, wore itself out and money had became increasingly more valuable to them. We hadn’t ever been really great about an allowance/commission routine. We had check lists and chores which the kids did with varying degrees of efficiency and reliability, they got paid based on work done, but no payment system seemed to stick for us (daily? weekly?) and there were jobs they did that got no payment, they just were expected to do things as members of our family. So last year, we merged the two concepts. Now when the kids do their list of jobs they are paid in stones, each one worth $0.25 and I pay them at the end of the month. No work = no stone = no money.
Their list of jobs includes anything that can be measured in a definitive way: Did you do it or not? Even small children can be expected to set the table, empty wastebaskets, unload silverware from the dishwasher, carry out recycling or help wash vegetables for dinner. We also include daily habits on our lists, things like emptying then hanging up your backpack, practicing piano, and being on time for the bus all earn a stone.
The kids love counting up their stones at the end of the month and I’ve never missed paying them since we started this new reward system, which teaches them about on time payments, a lesson I was missing by being inconsistent in prior allowance/commission methods. I still have them throw in some stones for kind acts, prompt listening and self-motivation (I love rewarding them when they do something without me needing to remind them!)
The stones can also be the perfect solution as a consequence for undesirable behavior. I’m big on disciplining in a timely way with loss of privilege or a negative consequence that fits the offense. Sometimes things need an acknowledgement that they were wrong or not acceptable but a grand punishment isn’t warranted, I find that asking them to take out a stone for a specific reason is very effective, they care about their stones and it’s meaningful to them to lose one.
Make it your own, get creative with jars, colored stones, try different containers for each child or color-coded stones. Start out with a set of guidelines for your reward system and work with it, give it a chance, but be open and willing to sit as a family and change it up when it’s no longer serving it’s purpose. Get the kids involved in brainstorming the details.
Who knows how long our current formulation will last, but considering the variety of reward systems we’ve tried over the years, from sticker charts to allowance plans, this stone reward system has had the longest life, with effective results as it’s adapted along the way.