I have reinvented the button game that I used to use with the kids I baby sat for (where each button they earned was worth a nickel, or 5 minutes of special play time, like x-box). Now, the game is essentially the same, but to help wrap young minds around the concept, they just get the nickels!
Here's how it works: We deliberately give lots and lots of nickels throughout the day to reinforce the behaviors we are trying to work on. The more nickels, the better! They get nickels for doing things without being asked like putting their dishes on the counter, putting their shoes away when they get home, putting their laundry away, getting their socks and shoes on and lining up in their spot when it's time to go (without fuss), participating in clean-up time, doing home-work, taking a bath without complaining and without getting water on the floor, brushing their teeth and my most favorite of all, GOING TO BED AND STAYING IN BED when it's bedtime! Bedtime went from extremely stressful to absolutely beautiful in just one day. They can also earn them to reinforce good behavior. "I really like the way you let Leeann go first, I'm going to give you a nickel for that." It's genius I tell you! Genius. Sheer genius!
Here's the catch. They can also lose nickels. This works especially well because it provides some leverage that wouldn't necessarily be there otherwise. They can lose buttons for things like using bad words, bolting off (we have who's a bolter), getting out of bed, kicking, hitting, spitting etc., or if they have an especially bad or whiny attitude. Basically, anything can be included on this list as long as I first warn them that they'll lose a button if they make that bad choice. "If you choose to not keep your hands to yourself in your car seat again you'll lose a nickel." The ones mentioned above are automatic nickel losers, but the game can be tailored to fit the moment. Likewise they can earn nickels for special projects. "I'll give a nickel to whoever wants to help me clean out the car."
The object of the game though is to help them earn more nickels than they lose. The point is to help them succeed, and help me not lose my mind in the process! Instead of always trying to figure out creative consequences, we can just go back to the nickel jar... and it doesn't have to be a battle. They're the only one that their bad choices hurt. It helps me not to be emotional about whatever is going on, but just to matter-of-fact. "If you make x good choice, you earn a button. If you make x bad choice, you lose one." Period. Besides, I found with the kids I babysat for that they were so fixated on earning the buttons that it curbed most bad behavior, because they were trying so hard to be 'caught' making good choices most of the time.
AND, their rewards for earning x amount of nickels, is getting to spend them on a special date with Rob or I, which is something that we want to do with them anyway. They might choose a trip to the dollar store, or to ice cream, or to Starbucks. Or they might save up for something really cool like a special toy. It's a win-win situation. Perhaps I'm blogging about it soon, since the jury is still out on whether or not it will work well with kids this age... but it seems to be working well so far! Well, Titus seems a little less-enthused, but he still likes getting the nickels. I'm not sure he quite connects how to earn them yet though.
Anyway, it's day 6, and everyone is still happy and healthy and the house is even... well, not as bad as one might expect given the circumstances of the last week! The whole time I've been writing this post all four kids have been coloring without any problems. Hmm, I think that's definitely worth a nickel for each of them!