Back in January I came across a website that talked about using training cards to reinforce character or habits that parents may wish to instill in their children. The idea intrigued me and I immediately thought this would be a helpful addition to our household’s child training.
The 12 boys that live with us during the school week work off of a daily point system, so we are some what accustomed to tracking behavior throughout the day and monitoring privileges based on earnings. However, we had never done this formally with our own children. We identified some specific areas that we felt needed some attention in our kids’ lives and daily habits and thought these cards might help all of us focus on those areas and encourage each other toward growth.
This system has worked far better than I had anticipated. Much of the benefit has not come from the actual card use, but rather from the conversations that have sprouted as a result of the cards. We have talked about encouraging each other to good works, recognizing our own weaknesses, surrendering these areas to God’s control, accepting responsibility for our actions, controlling our emotions during disappointment, and many other areas of character and spiritual development. One issue that I have stressed is that we are not building habits to earn cards, but to glorify God. Obviously, the tangible card is great motivation to a young child, but I want them to remember that the card is not MY focus, and that we want the habit to grow beyond the card’s reinforcing power.
How the system works:
Each child has an envelope with cards representing their goals for the day. Ours are broken down by our routine (getting yourself ready, morning chores, midday chores, Bible time behavior, evening chores, cleaning up after breakfast, cleaning up after lunch, and putting school books away) and also character (they all have a follows instructions card and then they have one unique to themselves – no complaining, no criticizing, keeping your belongings put away). I made the routine cards tan and the character cards blue to distinguish them.
On the inside of our pantry door we have a more detailed list of what the cards represent. For example, getting yourself ready means bed made, breakfast eaten, clothes on, and hair and teeth brushed. Following instructions mean they look at me, say, ‘okay’ respectfully, do the task right away and check back with me. Throughout the day if I child does not complete a task, use a social skill or exhibit a character quality I remove that card from their envelope, with a brief explanation as to why.
The more cards they lose throughout the day, the more reduced their privileges become. We have a list of what they can or cannot do based on the cards they lost that day.
I have also started giving bonus cards when I see a child go out of their way to do a good job or to help others. If they do very well on some chores, they get another tan card to add to their total. If they exhibit great kindness to someone I add another blue card to their envelope. If they end the day with more cards than they started they get to stay up a little later than usual.
Each morning we count the cards from the previous day, record it on our calendar and start the day with a full envelope. I think she recommended doing this at the end of the day, but the morning has worked much better in our routine of things. Overall, this takes about 5 minutes each day to maintain. It took me about an hour to start it up because I had to decide what to put on the cards, print them off and figure out a system that would work in our house.
We also took a few weeks to ease into this. The first week I took away cards at appropriate times and we talked about what was going on A LOT! Their card count did not effect their privileges that week. The next week the cards were tallied daily and their privileges ebbed and flowed based on their point totals for the day, but we did not establish long term goals.
Now the kids have set goals for bigger rewards than just daily privileges. One daughter wants to go out for ice cream. If she maintains a 80% average for 10 days we will do that. My son wants to go do a special activity with Dad, after he earns an 85% average for 15 days. We work together to set the goals and an appropriate ‘cost’ and the kids average their scores to see when they will earn them.
Obviously, this is not for very young children. It works very well for my eight and ten year old kids. The six year old does fairly well, although she does still need reminders to check her cards and lists, and help finding averages. I use it with my four year old more in the character department, and her chores are much simpler still. The two year old has another year or two before his envelope will be active.
This has worked well for us so far. It gives us a simple way to hold everyone accountable for their responsibilities as well as something concrete to encourage them in character development. I keep it very positive and each day brings a fresh start. Next week we plan to add another card to each envelope to continue to give them new goals. We take Sunday off from the formality of the cards, but much of the routine holds true as they grow more and more accustomed to starting their days in that way.
I had tried making my kids control journals (ala Flylady), but it just never clicked. This system has really brought more consistency and regularity to our home routines. The expectation has always been there, but this is a format that has just turned the light bulbs on for them and motivated them. It is exciting to watch.
It does take a little organizing to get it started, but I definitely think it is worth the effort.