Kids' privilege coupons help keep the peace

Jul 18, 2014 at 9:42 a.m. ET

It's frustrating to be a child. Adults are always telling children what to do, and they 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 such as whether you get to stay up an hour past your usual bedtime.

I 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 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:

  • 2 coupons for "A day with Mom doing anything you want"
  • 4 coupons for "Pick a game to play with Mom"
  • 4 coupons for "Double 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"

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. The kids 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. 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.

Read a similar story, "The End of Sibling Squabbling" from Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Multitasking Mom's Survival Guide.

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