28: Privilege Coupons
28: Privilege Coupons
Successful enterprises are usually led by a proven chief executive who is a competent benevolent dictator.
It’s frustrating to be a child. Adults are always telling them what to do, and kids crave some control over their lives. As the 19th century writer Josh Billings said, “To bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself once in a while.” In other words, imagine what it feels like to have no say over your life, even for little decisions as to whether you get to stay up an hour past your usual bedtime. After years of skirmishes with my kids over the little things, I realized there had to be a better way for us to coexist with me in charge but with the kids feeling like it was not a total dictatorship. So I decided to make it a benevolent dictatorship.
I had always found that my kids behaved better if I gave them some control over the things that didn’t even matter to me, such as how they styled their hair or what clothes they wore. My daughter could wear her brother’s pants to school with her pink shirts, and my son could wear a red cape to nursery school for an entire semester if that made him happy. My theory was that if I let them make decisions about the unimportant things they wouldn’t feel the need to rebel about the things that mattered, such as doing their best in school or avoiding self-destructive behavior.
One Christmas, when they were preteens, I surprised the kids with homemade coupon books. I took their most requested privileges, made coupons for them, and stapled them into a little booklet that included:
1 coupon for “Shopping spree at the mall”
2 coupons for “A day with Mom doing anything you want”
2 coupons for “Have a party for whatever reason you want”
4 coupons for “Pick a game to play with Mom”
4 coupons for “Double your allowance this week”
4 coupons for “Triple your allowance this week”
4 coupons for “Get candy while shopping with Mom”
5 coupons for “Order pizza whenever you want”
12 coupons for “One can of soda whenever you want”
12 coupons for “Stay up one hour past bedtime”
12 coupons for “Watch one hour of TV on a school night”
12 coupons for “Watch one hour of TV on a camp night”
In the early years, I included coupons like “Have Mom read a book to you” and in the later years I included things like “Get a ride for you and your friends to the movies.”
The kids loved their booklets. They presented me with a coupon whenever they wanted to exercise one of their privileges. They had power, we had peace, and we could spend more time enjoying each other instead of negotiating. They learned how to budget their TV time; they chose when it was really important to stay up late; and they learned to view candy and soda as occasional treats over which they had control. After all, they had to make those coupons last an entire year until the next Christmas.
I continued to give them their privilege coupons through their middle school years. I think it was one more contribution to making them the responsible adults they are today. They still talk about those coupons and how much they liked them, and I won’t be surprised if my grandchildren end up getting coupons from their parents too!
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