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Parenting

Gamifying Toddler Discipline

I’ve been experimenting with a new parenting technique with the my young kids that has been working well for us. I never liked the idea of negative incentives for kids, because I want them to focus on doing good rather than avoiding punishment.

Many video games reward players with an in-game currency that they can earn for doing certain tasks like completing a puzzle successfully. Players can trade these tokens for in game rewards like a new virtual outfit.

Gamification is the process of adding game-like incentives to something that isn’t a game. So I decided to try gamifying the rewards for my toddlers as a way to incentivize chores and good behavior.

Today, Tetris (4) and Coda (2) earn “tokens” (repurposed poker chips) for completing responsibilities like cleaning up their rooms before breakfast or putting away their toys after they play with them.

Once a task is completed, a token is taken from a “bank” and given to them. They then get to place the tokens in their own “wallet” jar for later spending on rewards. Because the jars are glass, they can see how many tokens they have at any given time.

They can cash the tokens for privileges like having a movie night, eating popsicles, or choosing the music we listen to in the car.

The reason I love this concept is that it decouples the reward from the responsibility. Instead of incentivizing good behavior by telling them that they can watch an hour of TV if they clean their room, I tell them they’ll get a token that they can use however they wish.

Tokens can therefore given at any time, not just when a reward is available or desirable. Just like life, when you put in the hard work, sometimes the reward doesn’t come right away.

My kids love earning tokens and they seem to be a compelling enough reward in and of themselves now that they’ve associated them with good outcomes.

I love that the token system teaches them both about doing their part around the house, as well as the value of currency and planning ahead.

I also think it is valuable to hold yourself to the same standards as you set for your kids, so I’ve set up my own token jar. Of course the responsibilities a bit different (ie making my bed) as are the rewards (ie buying something on Amazon for myself), but I find this technique helps me accomplish my responsibilities as well.

Fortunately the kids haven’t caught onto the fact that formerly free features like popsicles are now locked behind a paywall, so I’m coming up with a longer list of privledges and responsibilities for them, and would love to hear your creative ideas!

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