Should My Kid Buy My Affection with Chores?

Or should I just keep handing him twenty dollar bills?
Publish date:
August 27, 2012
parenting, kids, adhd, apps, technology, chores, iPhone

I can think of a bunch of phone apps that don’t exist but should: one that reads my mind and auto-dials my favorite pizza place when I’m too lazy to cook; one that knows when I’m about to make a bad financial decision and delivers an electro-shock or something; a Shazam-type app for finding out where strangers on the street got their shoes (this idea courtesy of a friend, I can’t take credit for it).

But file this under “things that probably don’t need to be digitized:” Choremonster, an app that helps parents to track their kids’ chores. According to Choremonster, you can reward your kids with “anything from hugs to money to a camping trip.” Holy crap, you guys, hugs. Because your kids should have to buy your affection, right?

Even without the sort of scary suggestion that my son would have to take out the garbage to know he is loved by his mother, we can file this app under “things that unnecessarily complicate my life.” OK, I admit it does look pretty cute, but how practical is it? I tend to think if you’re going to have a list of chores for your kid, it should be right out in the open, like stuck to the fridge, so that you can emphatically point at “clean the litter box” the next time your (my) seven-year-old whines about wanting a $50 LEGO set.

We already have a system in place for Oliver that works pretty well for us. Rather than give an allowance, we do the marble system, a cumulative reward system. I didn’t invent it; I read about it on the ding-dang Internet. It can be effective for kids who have been diagnosed with certain forms of ADHD, because it not only rewards for completed chores and good behavior, but there are also consequences for bad behavior.

Our system works like this: We have two jars, labeled “yes” and “no.” (Oliver named the jars, since this is his thing; we want him to own it.) He starts out with 100 marbles in the “no” jar, and each time he completes a household chore or has a good week at school or is on his best behavior, he places a certain number of marbles in the “yes” jar. Different things have different marble/point values. Like, brushing his teeth and getting dressed without complaint are only worth 1 marble each, since these are things he is supposed to do every day anyway. Taking out the trash, setting the table, watering the plants, and doing dishes are worth more.

If he talks back, argues, complains, gets in trouble at school, acts rude, misbehaves or engages in any other kind of unacceptable behavior, he has to take a certain number of marbles out of “yes” and put them back into “no.” We have specific point values for each thing.

When he gets all 100 marbles into the “yes” jar, he gets $20 and I put $10 into his savings account. It takes him a couple of months to do this at my house, because he’s here half the time, and he has the same system at his dad’s house. So, on average, the little dude is getting about $40 every couple of months to spend however he wants. We don’t buy toys for him anymore; we expect him to use his marble money for that.

He’s saving up to buy this crazy LEGO set that costs $400, and the kid is committed. He saved every LEGO mailer from the past year, and he flips to the page where the Superstar Destroyer is pictured and stares at it for like an hour right before bed. He just reached 100 marbles again at my house, and I handed him a twenty dollar bill, thus making his freaking week.

I find it helps to limit outbursts and undesirable behavior, because he knows that he’s going to lose marbles for it -- he's learning to stop and think about his actions. It also encourages him to help out around the house to earn marbles faster. And he knows that if his behavior is exceptional, I’ll give him bonus marbles at the end of the week.

Honestly? If we did something like this within an app, all he would do is ask me repeatedly if he can play a game on my phone. It’s too distracting. Plus, with a physical representation of his behavior right in front of him, it’s easy for him to see how close he is to making a bunch of cash money.

I don’t know, am I completely off-base here? Is this really a brilliant idea and I’m just being old and set in my ways? And should I make Oliver mop the kitchen next time he asks me for a hug?