PracticalDad Discipline:  The 25 Cent Solution

One of the purposes of discipline is to teach a child self-control; that good things can come from mastering oneself.  Folks who are older – some of us anyway – can grasp the intellectual concept of delayed gratification but that’s difficult for a child who lives in a world of the physical here and now.  One way of helping them grasp the concept of self-control is to pay them for good behavior with spending money when the goal is reached.

I was reminded of the technique while talking with the mother of two boys, one of whom is in middle school and the other in upper-elementary.  The premise of the 25 cent solution is each child is promised a set amount of money at the end of a defined time period and any violation of the rules is met by a 25 cent reduction in the promised amount.  In the case of the mother’s boys, each would receive $5 at the end of the day if they didn’t get called on an infraction.  In her case, the infraction pertained to either one smacking the other which is a common complaint for those of us with boys.  He looked at me funny so I smacked him!  He called me a name so I smacked him!  I am not adopted (smack)!  You are too (smack)!

It’s a technique that we’ve used on a few occasions as well, but only on longer car trips when the kids are in close proximity that invite border incursions akin to those practiced by the North Korean Army.  It’s honestly not something that I would use as a disciplinary technique on a daily basis for several reasons. 

  • First, the kids have to learn that decent behavior is something that is expected of them – and everybody else – if we’re to have a functioning civil society.
  • Second, rewards should really be for something exceptional and not commonplace.  Yeah, I shaved this morning!  I deserve a beer.
  • Third, there simply isn’t enough money to meet the growing expectations of aging kids who become more jaded with each passing year.  The first grader might be happy with some post cards and a souvenir pencil, but the eighth grader is holding out for an iPod.  The last time that I checked, the Federal Reserve was only providing liquidity to large banks and not to parents of kids with champagne tastes. 

There are instances however, when it’s a valuable tool.  In our case, we  used it on long car trips when keeping hands to one’s self really was a feat of self-control.  Additionally, the kid knew that the money would be earned and could be spent as he or she deemed fit with no input from us unless it was wholly inappropriate.  This meant that we wouldn’t have to listen to constant begging for souvenir money and allowed the kids to allocate their resources as they saw fit.

Here are some guidelines for using the 25 cent solution if you want to consider it.

  • Decide in advance what rules are to be followed and explain them clearly.  These might include don’t hit (or even touch one another in our car), no bad language, no throwing objects, no teasing/namecallling and whatever else you deem important.
  • All judgments are final and non-negotiable.
  • If one of the kids is an instigator, the second complaint about the instigator (Dad, I smacked him because he keeps poking me with his foot!) means that the instigator also gets dinged with the 25 cent solution.
  • It’s helpful to have a small pad/pen with which to keep a tally each time the child gets dinged for a quarter.
  • Specific situations – having to pull the car over – lead to double penalties for all children.
  • Expect arguments during the early stages but things will improve as kids and parents learn the intricacies of the solution.

It’s another tool in the disciplinary toolbox and an effective one at that.  It can help maintain some order for a period in the family’s life until the kids are old enough to truly control themselves and trips are enjoyable just because, well, they are.

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