I have hypoglycemia. There, I said it. And when dinner is late, I start feeling rather tense. Every little noise really starts bothering me. To make matters worse, if it is close to (or past) bedtime, behavior from my kiddos tends to go downhill. While getting the finishing touches on the food and gathering everyone to the table, I often start to lose patience. My little monkeys can’t resist the opportunity to tease the others waiting at the table. My natural reaction is to start doling out threats, fees, and punishments.
However, a couple of years ago I began noticing a funny phenomenon. Whenever I would threaten my kids, it would only improve behavior just enough for them to avoid getting sent to their rooms. Instead of poking the person across from them, they would start making faces at them or pretend to pick their nose to gross them out and annoy them. Basically, they would see just how much they could get away with before I would make good on my threats.
In contrast, when my husband would walk into the room and see my frustration, he would announce loudly, “Whoever, is well behaved for the next 5 minutes gets QuickPoints”. This irritated me, because the last thing in world I wanted to give any of those kids a reward. They had just been torturing me with their terrible behavior. I very much wanted to punish them.
From Devils To Angels
Interestingly, my husband’s approach was infinitely more effective. All of a sudden, those little rascals would completely transform. They would all be sitting up tall and straight and saying regal phrases like, “Dearest Mother, is there any possible way I could be of assistance to thee at this time?” They would go from little devils to perfect angels in the blink of an eye.
I’ve confirmed this phenomenon repeatedly over the years. Threats of punishment result in only marginally better behavior. Promises of rewards, on the other hand, result in behaviors above and beyond expectations. When my kids are worried about being punished, they’ll improve their behavior just enough to avoid getting in trouble. But when they are working towards a reward, they will improve their behavior dramatically. Rewards were infinitely more effective than punishments.
Fees Versus Rewards
So, when we were creating the Moneypants we were very hesitant to include any fees into the app. We didn’t want the app to be a punishment tool. After all, when parents are angry or irritated, it is just too easy to focus on punishments. However, there is in fact a time and a place for punishments.
For example, what if your son punches his brother who is teasing him? Would it be effective to say, “I’ll reward you if you don’t punch him again”? What if he is so mad that he does it again and he doesn’t care if he loses a reward? Can you as the parent let that fly? At some point, you do need to teach your kids that there are negative consequences to poor choices. In fact, there are rather severe consequences for actions like that once he turns 18 and become a legal adult. What if your son still hits people when he’s an adult?
Furthermore, we found that having effective fees in place helps us as parents avoid inappropriate behaviors such as yelling, threatening, name calling, or hitting when we feel frustrated. For some reason, it really helps to have an action plan already set up to deal with certain problems.
What Works And What Doesn't
Today we are going to talk about using fees with Moneypants. In our home lab, we are constantly running experiments in order to improve and be more effective. We’re going to share what we’ve tried that has NOT worked and what we’ve tried that HAS produced better results.
Keep in mind it is impossible to force any other human being to make good choices. Ultimately, it is their decision. A proud grandfather once related a conversation he overheard between a young mom and her son. The mom said to the boy, “If you choose to eat your vegetables, then you are also choosing to get dessert after dinner. But if you choose to NOT eat your vegetables, then you are choosing to NOT get dessert. What would you like to do?” The mom was introducing her young son to the concept of choice. He had the ability to make choices whether good or bad, but he was also choosing the consequences of those choices.
Likewise, with Moneypants we have rewards connected to certain behaviors and fees connected to others. It is ultimately up to your children to choose what they want. That is up to them. Our focus is finding ways to structure rewards and fees to better encourage your children to make better choices.
So, let’s talk about fees.
First off, it is important to note that in our experiments with fees, we have limited fees to the following offenses: Fighting, lying, stealing, disobedience, and offensive language.
There are sometimes more serious offenses such as endangering the life of yourself or someone else, but we did not include that in this list because it is a bit more serious of a mistake and has more serious consequences.
We’re going to start by listing the fee ideas that were flops, and then listing what alternatives worked out better. Then we are going to go over the steps to administering fees. Who fees should apply to, and ideas of where fee money could go.
The Fee Flops
(What Doesn't Work)
Digital fees were a complete joke. We initially programmed the app so you could mark that your child got a fee. The money would automatically be deducted from that week’s pay. We tried this for well over a year. It was super easy, but completely ineffective. The kids would shrug and just keep at it. Numbers on an app didn’t mean anything to them at all. It didn’t register as a loss because it was money they didn’t have and couldn’t see. There was no detectable change in behavior when we used digital fees.
The next thing we tried was paying the kids their cash on Payday, and then having them hand over the amount of money they had racked up on fees during the course of the week. This was slightly more effective than the digital fees because they realized that fees did in fact cost them money. However, the problem with this approach was that the consequence was experienced so far from the infraction, that their brains had trouble connecting the poor behavior to the fee. Younger children didn’t get it at all. The delay made the fee less effective at curbing the poor behavior.
We had a customer express that she wanted to give her children the opportunity to earn their fees back. We considered this idea and theorized that it might solve some problems. Here is why: If you have two kids who are fighting and you charge them both a fee, they tend to get angrier at one another because now the other person is costing them money on top of everything else. So, the idea was that if you said “Look, I’m collecting a dollar from you both, however, if you go the rest of the day without fighting, you can earn it back!” This approach set up a reward for them right then and there to try and cool down and figure things out peaceably.
We tested this model of fees out for over a year. The results of this experiment? The positive result was that the chance to earn the money back did encourage my kids from continuing the fight. However, there was one big drawback. Somehow this model translated into, “I can hit once today and not suffer any consequences” or, “I can call someone one bad name today”. It was like a free ticket to do something bad or hurtful. Basically, this model made room for “a little bit of fighting”. It became a habit for the kids to fight daily.
Less importantly, it also became a headache for me to keep track of who had earned their fees back. We’ve heard the behavior modification theory: feed the good behaviors and starve the bad behaviors. The flawed model we had implemented was basically throwing snack food at bad behaviors. Just enough to encourage them to continue.
No Pre-Set Amounts
At one point we didn’t have an amount set up for fees ahead of time. Instead, the fee charged depended on how mad Mom and Dad were and how bad we thought the offense was. The fees became arbitrary. At one point we found ourselves yelling, “Just get me ALL your money! I’ve had enough of this!” This approach engendered resentment. It took away motivation because a kid could work hard, have a really bad day, and potentially lose everything if Mom and Dad were having a bad day too. We decided it was a lousy idea to make decisions like that when we were upset.
I have to admit, it is kind of embarrassing sharing all the things we tried that failed. There are certainly some parents out there who are thinking, “Well DUH! Of course that wouldn’t work!”
Similar to not having pre-set amounts, not setting a limit on how many fees could be racked up in one day also could lead to escalation, with the same results. If a person was having a rough day you could charge them $1, and then another and another and another and so on. Within an hour their saved up money could be completely wiped out. This engenders more resentment and kills motivation. It is equivalent to grounding someone for a week or longer. They have little motivation to behave during that extended time.
If you take away all of someone’s money in one day, what are you going to do tomorrow and the next day? You kind of blew any leverage you had in one fell swoop. They can’t lose any more. They also aren’t interested in earning more because you could take it all away in just a day. Unlimited fees quickly backfire.
What Does Work
We found that having the fee take place at the time of the offense was infinitely more effective than holding off until a later time such as payday. The brain was able to make a much stronger connection between the action and the consequence when the fee payment takes place immediately.
Having the offender go get their money bag and hand over cash made the consequence sink in. Unlike changing a digital number on the app, this consequence registered as real, even though technically the exact same thing happened. Just like rewards in tangible cash are more meaningful, consequences in tangible cash are also much more meaningful. (Dave Ramsey, The Power of Hard Cold Cash)
Pre-Defined And Agreed Upon Amounts
Holding a family council where you discuss and decide on fee amounts ahead of time works the best. For example, in our family we charge $1 for the first infraction in a day, $2 for a second infraction, and $4 for a third. The fee amounts double if the misbehavior doesn’t stop. This is the rule our family agreed on that has been set up ahead of time.
This is much more effective than arbitrary fees. When you administer the consequence, the person still feels frustrated about paying the fee. But instead of blaming you, they are frustrated with themselves for making poor decisions. They know this was something they had agreed to and you are just following through as you should. If anything, it engenders a sense of trust and stability. Because the fee is not arbitrary it doesn’t make them feel like you don’t like them or are playing favorites. The fees are the same for everyone across the board.
Furthermore, it helps take the negative emotion out of the situation for you. You don’t have to be angry to administer a fee. You can truly sympathize and be bummed with them, even though you are the one collecting the fee. Having pre-defined and agreed upon amounts ahead of time preserves your relationship between family members, prevents your personal mood from dictating punishments, and puts responsibility for the fee where it belongs.
Sometimes people are just having a rotten day for whatever reason. We found that if someone goes beyond 3 strikes (fees) this is a clue that you need to call time out on that day. We cancel any further activities for that person for that day. Instead we have them stay home. Rest. Read a book. Go to their room, relax, and regroup.
This is probably a good lesson for life. There have been days when I have felt agitated whether from stress, hormones, food allergies, or lack of food, and found myself overreacting to everything. Nevertheless, I have forced myself to complete the things on my schedule. Often, I regret that decision. I have personally made some really stupid decisions and damaged relationships because I didn’t know when to call a timeout for myself. I should have just canceled my plans and taken a nap, or taken a break to eat, read my scriptures, called my mom, etc.
If you aren’t doing well, take the time to regroup. Think of it as therapy, self-care, or rehabilitation. You can teach this skill to your kids. By capping the fees at three and after that canceling activities, you are actually teaching your kids to take time out to troubleshoot and regroup when they are struggling. Capping fees also prevents fees from going overboard and taking away future motivation. Capping fees is a mercy rule that can potentially teach kids to recognize when they need to step back and physically or emotionally regroup.
Making Fees Permanent
Instead of offering kids the opportunity to earn fees back, we found that it was a better lesson for them to realize that fees are not negotiable. Instead of justifying a little bit of wrongdoing in their minds, they instead think twice before committing an infraction when they know they won’t be able to wiggle out of a consequence. It is a hard lesson, but it does a much better job of changing future behavior.
Keep in mind that you do not want your child to be in the habit of hitting, lying, stealing, using offensive language, or being disobedient to parents. Nothing good will come from those things. If these behaviors aren’t corrected now, your kids will experience the harsh consequences society has in place for those who never learned those lessons growing up. In the real world, there is often no tolerance for even one mistake in these arenas.
Think of the people who have lost their once successful careers because they made an offensive remark. Paula Deen, James Gunn, and Roseanne Barr come to mind. Think of teens who ignore their parents and try out drugs and alcohol and the heartache and loss of opportunity that follows. Think of the person who has lost their marriage or got charged with domestic violence because they never learned to solve problems without hitting. Think of the people who have lost their jobs and reputations due to stealing. By making fees permanent, you communicate to your kids that there will be guaranteed consequences connected to poor decisions. And your kids will be more prepared for the real world.
Using Fees Sparingly
Focus on setting up rewards for good behavior. Constantly use quick points and Job Jar to recognize and encourage good behavior. Rely on fees as a last resort, not a first resort. Decide in your family exactly what things need a fee attached. For everything else, simply allow the lack of a reward to be the consequence.
Rewards do a much better job of bringing the best out of people. Think of the difference between a free country like the United States and a communist dictatorship. The United States is a land of opportunity where creativity, honesty, and hard work are generally awarded. Yes, we have punishments in place, but the emphasis is on opportunity. People tend to rise above their circumstances and go beyond what you would expect when they live in this environment of opportunity.
In contrast, in countries where there is little opportunity and the governments rely primarily on fear of punishments to get the desired behavior, the results are less satisfying. People tend to do the bare minimum to avoid trouble, but they aren’t as motivated to be their best and go beyond expectations. This is simply human nature. Punishments can and should exist. However, focusing on rewards is what helps bring out the best in people. Use fees sparingly. Focus on rewards.
Case Study: Breaking The Habit Of Hitting
Our little 6-year-old son who we’ll call “Bubba” was born a football player. Bubba was packed with testosterone and wasn’t scared to tackle and wrestle boys bigger and older than he was. Most little kids don’t pack a lot of power in their hits, but this rotund little boy could. It is certainly not a bad thing to know how to hit and defend oneself. However, it is a problem if you also try to solve all your problems that way and don’t have self-control NOT to hit. So, we needed to find a way to help Bubba stop hitting whenever he felt angry.
The first thing we did was put this goal on his daily habit list. Every day he went without hitting he got rewarded.
This helped, but not enough.
Next we started charging him fees. However, pretty soon poor little Bubba was losing money quicker than he could earn it, and he was starting to get discouraged.
We responded by having Bubba explain to us what the correct alternative to hitting would be. We discovered he had no idea what to do instead. So, we came up with some alternatives to hitting. We went over the “Five Steps To Being A Peacemaker”. That really helped. Bubba would proudly come upstairs and explain to his Dad that he had just solved a problem WITHOUT hitting at all! However, his temper still often got the best of him because he was simply in a bad habit. But at least he now knew what to do instead.
Finally, we decided to set up one extra reward. Anyone who went the entire week without getting any fees could watch one episode of a TV show on Friday night.
With this reward in place, Bubba went from having ten fees in a week down to just two. Each week he could start with a clean slate and try again. Bubba felt good about his newfound ability to solve problems.
When Bubba gets a bit older, we will let him play sports like football that give him an outlet for all his testosterone. We will set up the rules that we did for our other son who loved tackle football. You can only go to practice and participate in games if there is zero hitting at home. We know from experience that this rule works very well for little boys who adore tackle football.
How To Collect A Fee
Step 1: Ask Questions
The first step to ask the offender, “What is this fee for?” My husband always does this, and it would honestly kind of annoy me because it seemed unnecessary and tedious. However, even though it was extremely clear to me why the fee was being administered, it is genuinely surprising how often kids think they are getting the fee for some other reason.
If you want a fee to stop a certain behavior, it has to be clear to the person paying the fee WHY they are paying the fee. Maybe point to your family rules and show them which rule you are enforcing. Always confirm that they know why they are being charged a fee.
Step 2: Express Love And Encouragement
Let the offender know you do not like collecting the fee and you would actually prefer they kept their money. Express love, encouragement, and goodwill towards them. It is important that your kids know you love them even though they are getting a punishment.
Punishments can be interpreted as someone caring about the well-being of someone else. But punishments can also be interpreted or mean “you don’t like me”. It is important to clarify.
For example, when I was a kid, I rarely got spankings (I only remember getting three spankings ever) and they were reserved for only very serious wrong doing. Not only did the spanking hurt, but my feelings were hurt too. But then my dad would always give me a big hug and say, “I love you Hannah. I don’t like giving spankings. Please don’t do that again, Okay?” That changed everything, knowing that my parents still loved me. The hurt feelings disappeared immediately, and I was filled with a desire to do better next time. Always let your kids know that you love them.
Step 3: Teach Alternatives
If possible, use fee collection time as a teaching moment. Ask the offender what they could have done instead. Ask what they think might help them overcome the problem in the future. See if there are rewards you could set up that might help them in that goal if it is a chronic problem. This is really helpful because it gives your family member a chance to troubleshoot. They also feel like you are there to help and support them instead of just condemning them. You are on their side.
For example, in the story of little Bubba, we taught him steps to help him deal with his anger, so he could avoid fees in the future.
We taught him the following basic steps for dealing with a problem. We affectionately call them the “Five Steps To Being A Peacemaker”. You can download it by clicking here.
- First, tell the person how you are feeling (upset, angry, frustrated, etc.)
- Next, ask for what you would like. (“Could you please stop calling me that name?”)
- Next, suggest an idea for another game or activity that would be better.
- If the problem still continues, leave.
- If the person follows you and won’t stop, then go get mom or dad.
Knowing what to do in the future helped little Bubba feel empowered. The series of children books “Help Me Be Good” by Joy Berry are incredible resources for teaching kids what behaviors, manners, and actions to adopt and why. For example, they actually helped me as a parent learn how to define/explain what exactly qualifies as “tattling” and when it was appropriate to tell on someone else.
Where Does The Money Go?
This is actually up to you the parent where you want fee money to go. It could simply go back to the family safe to be used for future Paydays. However, collecting a fee and keeping it for my personal money actually helps me stay calm when there is a problem going on. I feel like I am getting paid for the mental stress and time the problem costs me. Granted I usually spend the money on the kids or my family.
For example, my husband and I both have the personal goal on Moneypants to take one kid on an outing per day. So, we usually use any fee money collected to supplement our outings with the kids. I have also used fee money to sponsor my efforts to put together a home library with all my favorite books for kids and teens. I collected series like “The Indian in Cupboard”, “Harry Potter”, “City of Ember”, “Little House on the Prairie”, and so on. My 12-year-old son got excited when I bought a pile of awesome books from Goodwill. When he realized that fee money was paying for it, he said, “That’s a great idea! Our fee money is going towards something that is good for everyone.” I think he felt like the fees were even more fair.
What About Parents Who Break The Rules?
When I was about 6 years old my family had decided in our family counsel that a lick of hand soap was going to be the consequence for calling names or using bad language. Soap was commonly used for this purpose back in the day. See “A Christmas Story”. And quite frankly, it worked. To this day, I definitely think twice before using bad language or calling names!
Soon after our family counsel, I was giving my mom quite a bit of trouble one day and I simply wouldn’t stop. Finally, in frustration my sweet mother lost her temper and exclaimed, “You are such a BRAT!” My jaw dropped in shock and I solemnly chided my mother, “You called me a bad name. We talked about that in family counsel. You have to get a lick of soap!”
My Mom Licked The Soap!
My mom was fuming, but to her everlasting credit she let me sanctimoniously give her a lick of horrible tasting soap. My mom didn’t say a word to me for the rest of the day, but I felt very much like justice had been served. My mom never called me a name again! Later when I got my own soap licks for saying things I knew were against the rules, I was well aware that even my mom had obeyed the rules. I certainly couldn’t argue with my mom after making her lick the soap. The rules applied to everyone.
Likewise, if you the parent lose your temper by maybe yelling, swearing like a sailor, calling names, or hitting, or you say you take something that doesn’t belong to you without asking, you should likewise pay a fee in cash from your personal money. It should either go back into the family safe to be used for future paydays or you can pay the fee to your spouse.
It is sometimes infuriating because like my mom experienced, it was me her daughter who was the one acting up who should have gotten a punishment. So, there is a sense of injustice and frustration. However, if you suck it up and apologize for your behavior and pay the fee, it helps you in the future avoid saying or doing things you later regret such as hitting, swearing, or name calling and instead deal with the problem appropriately and quickly.
Nip It In The Bud
I noticed that personally, having had the experience of paying fees helps me remember when my kids are pushing my patience to act quickly to nip it in the bud. Because I know otherwise, I am risking losing my temper and I will be the one having to pay a fee.
I will say, ‘Oh, I am losing my temper because you are disobeying me again. I shouldn’t be allowing this behavior to go on. I am going to charge you a fee, so I don’t lose my temper and have to pay a fee myself!” This is good because you the parent are setting a better example for your kids to follow. It helps you remember to nip things in the bud and deal with problems before you get to the point of losing your temper.
Fantastic Fees Conclusion
And there you have it! These are all the things we have learned about charging fees thus far. In summary:
- Use fees sparingly and instead try to focus primarily on rewarding.
- When you do charge fees, make fees immediate, pre-defined and agreed upon.
- Have fees paid in cash.
- Make fees permanent but cap the number of fees per day.
- Have fees apply to everyone, even parents.
- Always reassure your kids that you love them even when you are collecting fees.
- Always clarify what a fee is for and help your child come up with a plan to avoid that fee in the future.
Those are currently the best tips we have for making fees more effective at helping change behavior. If you have any extra tips about how to administer fees even more effectively, please share your ideas and experiences below!