Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I guess it's in my nature to experiment with different ways of doing things, so sometime ago I tried to find out how well material reward would work in motivating the kids--not just for chess, but in general. It started harmlessly enough: Richie and Alyssa were showing signs of disinterest in chess. In particular, they started being reluctant, I would even go so far as to say resistant, to chess lessons with Michael. Since I had already committed to paying for the lessons I had to come up with some way to get them to participate. Of course, most parents will know the temptation of the quick fix: bribery. I offered to take the kids to Wal-Mart to buy one small toy each if they did their best during the lesson. Before I knew it everything, and I mean *everything* we wanted them to do came with a cost. Chess lesson? Small toy from Wal-Mart. Brush their teeth? A coloring book from the bookstore. Kumon homework? Build a toy airplane for them. Go to a tournament? Unlimited Wii game-playing for a night.

Of course I didn't think much at first, I mean, we give them those things anyway, so I thought I was getting a free lunch. But gradually I realized that they were purposely behaving badly or refusing any request to try to entice some sort of "good behavior reward" out of us. Clever little buggers.

So I did what any good panicked dictator does in this situation: I massively debased the currency! I drew a grid of forty squares on a piece of paper (one for each of them), and found some ink stamps and told them that if they did one good thing they would get one stamp. And after their page was full I would take them to Wal-Mart to pick out a small toy of their choice. This slowed down the flow of goods considerably, and I think it made them look forward to the reward more. They were very excited about the new system. They began carrying their stamp pages around with them and constantly asked if something they did was stamp-worthy.

Do I feel bad about bribing the kids for things that they should learn to do as responsible individuals (like homework, or cleaning up their toys)? Maybe a little. But I guess I'm just pragmatic.

It's worked so well, I'm looking around for some stickers which I think would go over very well indeed. I wonder how many stickers it costs to get my car washed?

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