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November 09, 2008

Paying my kids to get along

8 Until yesterday, I had never paid my kids to behave.  Sure, there were incentives: don't talk during the movie, and you can play a video game on the way out; be good in the store and maybe we'll go out for ice cream.  Still, it had never been so blatant as "Be good and you will get money."  I was firmly against paying for good behavior. I didn't want to raise children who wouldn't be good unless there was something material in it for them.  I want my kids to be good because it's the right thing to do.  But then we had the evening from hell and my thinking changed. 

For months, the kids have been driving me nuts with their bickering.  I've been living my life to a soundtrack of "He's on my side of the car!" "She's making faces at me!" "He took my pencil!" "She's humming while I'm trying to read!" "He took more that I got!" "She poked me!" "He called me dumb!"  On and on it goes.  I used to be dealing with bigger stuff, hitting and lying and breaking rules, and those were easy: I just increased the punishments until they got big enough to be a disincentive.  But any punishment big enough to get them to stop bickering was too big for the infraction.  Because it's not one infraction, it's dozen's of tiny ones.  I have no interest in mediating these minuscule fights.  But I was at a loss as to how to get them to stop without imposing martial law.  Or, as my step-mom said, silence is golden, but duct tape is silver.  It was tempting, but I would never survive prison.  The food looks terrible and I have privacy issues.  I figured it was just something that came with the territory, just part of having more than one child.

Then the other day, from the moment I picked them up from school until the moment they went to bed, they were at each other.  In the car, in the grocery store, back at home.  It never stopped.  It was extremely embarrassing.  I yelled.  I made them stand in the corner.  I took away all of their privileges.  And still it went on.  We all went to bed in bad moods: Pasta Boy mad, Munchkin crying, and me longing for the carefree days when it was just me and my husband bickering.

The next day I decided to try a new tactic.  I told them that whichever one of them bugged me the least all day, didn't tattle and didn't bother the other one, would get fifty cents.  But, if neither one of them bugged me or fought or tattled on each other, they would each get a dollar.  I explained how they would have to work together to not bug each other, and to mediate disagreements by themselves.  What followed was the most peaceful day I can remember in a long time!  There was zero bickering, none!  They each got their dollar and I told them the same deal would be on for the next day.  And the next.  And the next.  Principles, schminciples.  $14 a week is a cheap price to pay for peace and quiet.

This is an original post to NYC Moms Blog. Amy also blogs about parenting in Brooklyn while keeping herself sane and comfortable at Selfish Mom, and attempts to keep one step ahead of the stalkers and paparazzi at  Filming in Brooklyn.

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