House Points

In our house we work hard to promote good behavior through positive reinforcements (like giving treats to a dog after it does a trick) more often than through negative reinforcements (like saying, “NO. Bad Dog” and whapping it on the nose with a rolled up newspaper). Some time last year I came up with a new system which we now call “House Points”. And similar to the points system at Hogwarts, we award the kids points when they exhibit good behavior. But there’s more. Each point is worth a penny, and they can save up their points and use them to buy virtually anything they want (within reason).

OK, I know what you’re thinking. “Aren’t you just bribing your kids to be good?”

Yes. Yes I am.

But let me explain how this system evolved. It started at a time when the boys were having a particularly hard time getting along. Every interaction ended in an argument. We were growing weary of scolding them for this behavior and looking instead for a way to reward them when they demonstrated good behavior. So I came up with what I called, “Good Brother Points”.

Any time I saw one of them being kind to the other one, or unselfish with the other one, or doing a good job of listening to the other one, I gave them some points. And when one of them made a poor choice I would say something like, “That was an opportunity to earn some Good Brother Points by using your words to ask for that toy rather than just taking it out of your brother’s hands.” They never lose points. They are just made aware of when they missed an opportunity to earn points.

The system worked OK at first, much like getting sticker rewards in the classroom. But the novelty of earning “points” was wearing off. That’s when I brought money into the picture. Usually, if I have any loose change in my pockets at the end of the day, I will find random spots around the house to leave them like the Easter Bunny leaving eggs. If the kids find the coins, they get to keep them.

One day I decided to use the change with the Good Brother Points. At the end of the day I went to Chandler’s room. “Chandler, you earned 15 Good Brother Points today. You made a lot of good choices with your brother. I’m proud of you.” I gave him the coins and his eyes lit up.

Now you might say, “You shouldn’t have to PAY your kids to be good.” And yeah, you make a good point. But what I was really doing was paying them to build up the habit of always thinking about how they can be unselfish and kind to others. I could just lecture them and give them time outs and other punishments for their selfish behavior. But that doesn’t give them incentive to be unselfish. It just gives them incentive to not get caught being selfish.

Eventually we expanded the concept from “Good Brother Points” to “Good Citizen Points”. Now they could earn points for anything they did to help out around the house or to help another person. If they take their plates from the dinner table to the kitchen sink on their own, that earns them some points. If they show gratitude for something without being prompted by a parent, that’s points. And the truth is, it has been working. With gentle daily reminders, they are on the lookout for opportunities to earn points by being kind and unselfish. Slowly but surely, they are making unselfish thinking a habit.

Now let’s talk about the money. My wife and I keep a shared note where we basically have a ledger for their House Points (Good Citizen Points were rebranded as House Points because…HARRY POTTER). Basically, it’s like a bank account for the kids. We also add in any birthday/holiday money they get from relatives. Then, whenever we are at a store somewhere and inevitably one of them says, “Can I get that?” We say, “Let’s check your House Points and see if you have enough.” If they have enough, we let them get it (within reason). If they don’t have enough, we let them know they’ll have to keep saving up for it. No argument. If you have it, you can spend it.

I like this because it is teaching them to think about the value of things. Our little one is Spendy McSpender. He wants to buy everything he sees. We try to help him think through his impulse purchases so that he doesn’t have buyer’s remorse, but ultimately that’s a lesson he needs to learn on his own.

The older kid is our little Scrooge McDuck. Over the course of a few birthdays and holidays he has saved up over $400. We’re actually encouraging him to put his money to good use and not just hoard it forever. I pray he never comes asking for it all at once. “Sorry Chandler…our money isn’t exactly liquid at the moment.”

So that’s the House Points system. There are still plenty of times when we resort to punishments and consequences or just straight up using our “outside voices” with them. But this system gives us a way to encourage them on a daily basis to think about helping others. And as a result, I’ve seen them do kind and unselfish acts without expecting to be rewarded. Hopefully a day will come when we won’t need the House Points system and they’ll forget all about the hundreds of dollars I owe them.

The Seeds We Plant

When our children are very young, we parents will use just about any trick we can come up with to motivate them to do what we want. For our first son, the easiest method was to make everything a game or competition. Chandler didn’t want to stop playing to go to the bathroom, but if I said, “I’ll race you to the potty” then ZOOM he was off in a flash. He enjoyed winning these little games so much, I could get him to do just about anything.

Eat some broccoli? Broccoli eating contest!

Brush your teeth? Teeth brushing contest!

Wash your clothes? Wet T-shirt contest! Wait…no. Not that. Never that.

But with the younger kid, competitions were much less enticing. Maybe it was because Parker always had a bigger brother to compete with and it always felt like the odds were stacked against him. But with Parker, if I said, “Race you to the potty,” he’d say, “You win!”

So with Parker I switched gears to playing the game of “Defy Daddy.” Things like, “DON’T YOU DARE EAT ALL THOSE VEGGIES.” And then he’d giggle mischievously as he ate all those veggies.

“Parker, don’t you DARE go to the potty right now. That would really bug me.” And then he’d giggle all the way to the potty and give me a play-by-play commentary of everything that he was doing.

So here’s the thing. The seeds we plant at a young age grow to become giant trees.

Chandler, who is 9-years-old, is now FIERCELY competitive in everything he does. In some ways this is wonderful. He has a passion for sports, especially soccer. But he is also driven to be a great student, and he loves strategy games such as chess.

However…he also has ZERO chill. The kid must win all the time. It doesn’t matter how trivial or silly the game is, losing is not an option for Chandler. This means he can’t just let his little brother win at something (the way I always let him win at games when he was that age) and losing at even a simple game of Go Fish can cause a meltdown.

Parker, who is 6-years-old, is now devilishly defiant. A positive aspect of this development is that he has become a very independent kid. If he wants a cup of water, unlike his big brother who will call for it like a royal heir to the throne summoning his butler, Parker will simply go to the kitchen, get a cup, and use the stool to reach the water dispenser at the fridge.

However…he also really loves to do the exact opposite of what I ask him to do. That’s our dynamic now. We are always at odds. Everything is a Daddy vs Parker battle. AND…he’s now old enough to know when I’m trying to trick him into doing something.

“Parker, don’t you DARE clean up all those toys.”

“OK, Dad. I won’t.”

“Oh…I mean…please for the love of god clean up all those toys.”

The boys are still young and these traits are not uncommon or unmanageable. But left unchecked, they could continue to grow and get out of control. With Chandler, I’m working on fostering his love for playing games while tempering his competitive side by teaching him that it is OK to lose. It is OK to fail.

For Parker, I am working on encouraging his independent personality while also reminding him that listening to others and getting help from those more experienced than us can be a very good thing. Sometimes I feel the need to “put my foot down” and demand that he be more obedient. But more often, I work on making him feel heard and valued so that he doesn’t feel like he has an opposition to fight against in the first place.

The moral of the story is, if you have young children be careful what methods you use to motivate them. And as those seeds grow into trees, be prepared to do some pruning.

State of the Union – 2019

It has been a while since I’ve written on Improvising Fatherhood, so I thought I’d give a state of the union address to catch you all up to date on what is going on in my world.

The boys are now 9 and 6 years old.

Chandler (9) is fully dedicated to soccer. He still wears a Portland Timbers jersey every day and is playing on a club soccer team. Chandler is in third grade and loves school. He just finished competing in the Oregon Battle of the Books.

Parker (6) is fully dedicated to making giant messes in his room. But those messes are the result of his creative masterpieces. Give that kid some paper, tape, scissors, and a little free time and he’ll create something amazing. Parker is in Kindergarten and loves school too. This summer he’s excited to play baseball for the first time and I’ll be his coach.

I (38) have been performing more comedy than ever. At the Curious Comedy Theater I’m performing almost every week. I am also co-producing a family improv show twice a month at the Curious Comedy Theater that gives kids a chance to get up on stage and perform with the improvisers. Last summer I got to perform in 3 improv festivals in Portland, OR, Chicago, IL, and Austin, TX, with my improv partner Kyle Stebbins doing our unique format, Forward Slash. I have a few other things up my sleeve that I’ll reveal later in the year.

Ashley (?) is still the amazing partner and mom she’s always been. She runs the family business TINT with her mother, where they provide online classes for teachers to earn ongoing education credits. In the last few years Ashley and I have become OBSESSED with escape rooms. We have completed 44 escape rooms together and successfully escaped 42 of them (but one of those losses does NOT count because of operator error…don’t get us started!).

So that’s how we’re doing and what we’re up to. How about you? Leave a comment and let me know what’s going on in your world.

Still Improvising Fatherhood

Welcome to the Improvising Fatherhood reboot. BAM! We’re back in business. Same characters played by the same actors but now instead of being hosted by Tumblr we’re hosted by WordPress. You probably won’t even notice a difference. But it’s there. Oh it is there.

I’ve been dormant for a while just lollygagging around doing NOTHING (except for raising two kids, working, and performing comedy every week). But now I’m back and ready to party like it’s 1999 and by that I mean…BLOGGING.

Because I’ve moved Improvising Fatherhood away from Tumblr to WordPress, all my old posts can be found in the patented “Improvising Fatherhood Archive” AKA www.improvisingfatherhood.tumblr.com. But as I get this new version Improvising Fatherhood up and running I might re-post some of my best posts from the old site.

Whew! I think that’s all for now. This blogging stuff is exhausting. I’m gonna have to build back up my stamina.