January 1st and New Year’s Resolutions scare me. Such a commitment!  So we are not calling what I am proposing a resolution – instead, let’s call it a game.  I am much more interested in that.  Plus, it is already February – oops, too late for a New Year’s resolution.

I went to hear a speaker when the boys were little, and this psychologist went into great detail about what he called, “The Poker Chip System.” It sounded a little hokey at first but I tried it and it was fun and had some hidden benefits.  I think it is good for kids about age 3 and up but younger ones can do it too, just a bit modified.  It might be fun for grandparents to be in on it as well.  It looks complicated but it is really not.  It just takes a bit of time to set it up but I promise the time you will save later will more than make up for it.

Here is how it works –

First, Mom or Dad has to get prepared with poker chips – plenty of red, blue and white ones – available at Walmart, Amazon, the drug store, etc.  You will also need a clear glass or plastic jar for each of your children.  Each jar should have a big label with the child’s name – the kids can make and decorate these if you like. Now, you are ready for step 2.

Next, you sit down with your children – a family meeting so to speak (my own children will moan and groan at this because my husband was the only one who liked having a family meeting!). With paper and pen, get ready to write. If you have older kids, ask for a volunteer to be the secretary.  The first list is all of the things you expect your children to do – this is pretty dependent on their ages, of course.  For the young ones, you will put things like brushing your teeth, picking up your toys, putting your coat in the closet. But get creative as well, also list things like being sweet to your baby brother, getting something for mommy or daddy in another room, going to bed sweetly without getting up again. For older children you might add getting your homework done or being ready for school or waking up with your alarm clock.  For teens, it could be washing the car, mowing the grass, doing the laundry.  Or how about for a teenaged girl who never wants to do anything with Mom and Dad, put going to breakfast with Dad on the list. I think you get the picture. Once your list is complete (you can always add stuff later) you move to step 3.

Next, you need to put a value on each activity on the list.  Perhaps brushing your teeth is worth 1 chip but going to bed without a fuss is 5 chips.  Maybe washing the car is 10 chips.  You will want to make the value commensurate with the things you are working on specifically or how difficult it is for your child to do something.

Now, comes the fun part for you AND for your children.  You are going to write a list (if your secretary is tired, you may have to take over) of how the kids get to “spend” the chips they have earned. You may need to make a few suggestions to get the ball rolling. For the youngest ones, going for ice cream or maybe you will read an extra book at bedtime might be good options. An older one might look for two hours to spend with Mom, all by themselves, or have Dad play a game with them. As you might imagine, at our house, having the noise, mess and chaos of four boys was enough.  So, guess what the boys MOST wanted – to have someone to spend the night! So that went on the list. I tried really hard to keep things off the list that cost money – like getting to pick out a toy at the store. I tried to gear the list toward activities. But if your child is really motivated by something little like a beanie baby (I know I’m dating myself!) or a trip to the dollar store is something you want to add – do it.  This is your family’s list – make it reflect who you are. Warning: do not put anything on the list that you really do not want or can’t do!

Next is to determine values for everything on both lists.  Brushing teeth might already be a habit so that would probably have a value on the low end like 1-2 chips.  Whereas, going to bed without a fuss may be practically impossible, so maybe that gets a value of 10 chips. If having a friend to spend the night is something you cringe at the thought of, give it a high “price” tag – like 30 chips or more. Get your children’s feedback but really think about how many chips you think it might be reasonable for your child to earn in a week.  Then, consider what they might want to spend them on – you might not have two hours to spend with them every other day!  Also expect the children to energetically work away at first, when the game is fresh and new, to pile up those chips.  It will naturally taper off. You may quickly realize that something you put on the list, like going to a movie, costs too little in terms of chips and a revision is in order. Promise the children that you won’t randomly change the lists or values but that a family meeting will be called to review everything in a week or so.

Last step before the real fun begins.  Post the two lists somewhere everyone can see them.  For little ones who can’t read yet – do the list with pictures – brushing teeth, going to bed, putting toys away – clip art is readily available on the internet, of course.  Place the jars in a highly visible spot where everyone can see them and little ones can reach them or not – it is up to you (plastic is probably better for them). Keep the chips where you have access and can sort of keep track of them.  Stress the importance of honesty and perhaps discuss what might happen if anyone tries to cheat the system. Hopefully this won’t be a problem – but a teachable moment may come your way.  On the flip side, encourage the older kids to help out their younger siblings so the little ones can have the joy of earning chips without your help.

Our kids loved receiving chips and dropping them in their jars and watching their jars fill up. You will have to decide if your kids are old enough/trustworthy enough to get and add their own chips. You don’t want this to be a pain for you, that takes up even more of your valuable time so any way to you can think to make the process simpler is a good thing.

Here are some of the fun hidden benefits.  Not only will you have a break from nagging but the kids will be energized to take on more responsibility. Don’t think of this as bribing – more of an incentive program.  When one works hard at a job, one might get a bonus, right? Your children are learning that good things come from being an active, contributing member of the family.

So, you have white, red and blue chips.  Each should have a different value so here is where the math skills come in.  Depending on your child’s age, of course, explain that white ones are worth one, blue are worth 5, red are worth 10 or whatever. You can decide what color goes with what value. For instance, they could turn in 10 white chips and get a blue one.  Use their chips to work on counting, sorting, etc.

I knew the system was working when, one of Philip’s friends, Andre, an adorable, little, curly haired 8-year-old, looked up at me and said, “Wow, I can’t believe Philip spent ALL his chips to have me come spend the night. I must be pretty special.”

Bottom line: Making good, responsible behavior into a fun game – nothing wrong with that. And they say if you do something 30 days in a row, you will have formed a habit, so maybe that will be happening too.

If you give this a try, please comment to tell me and others how it is going and if you have some special ways your family made the system work for you.  Good luck!