Not every parenting method that Amber and I try is successful, and not every parenting method we try, regardless of its success is wildly popular with everyone. We get that. But the parenting decisions we make are all made with the intention that we are doing what is best for Kaitlyn.
We have learned so much about how to adjust our parenting style over the last two years. Since the day we received Kaitlyn’s Asperger’s diagnosis, we have had to evaluate everything in even more detail and greater depth. We have had to adjust certain expectations, knowing full-well that some approaches would never be successful with Kaitlyn, partly because of her Asperger’s. What Asperger’s has taught us is to both make adjustments and to be patient. Every new approach by us signals a new routine for Kaitlyn, and some are received better than others.
I get some of my best ideas when I am out on a run, and the other day was no different. I started thinking about some of the expectations we have for Kaitlyn, and how we reward Kaitlyn for meeting our expectations. While I think we are fair and Kaitlyn is surely not wanting for anything, I was looking for something with a little more substance and longevity to drive home the importance of one area in particular: her behavior.
Amber and I know that we are fortunate to have a daughter who behaves as well as Kaitlyn does. She is usually very polite, and has good manners most of the time. She uses “sir” and “ma’am” like we want her to, and says “please” and “thank you” all the time. We get at least one email per month from her teacher telling us how sweet she is in class, and how thoughtful and respectful she is. Getting her to where she is has not been easy or popular, but it has worked. Of course, that is not to say that she hits her marks all the time, just that she does a wonderful job most of the time.
So I came up with a grand idea, and I wanted to make sure that Amber was on board with it as well. I wanted to come up with a system that we could use to reward Kaitlyn for her behavior on a daily basis, but do so at the end of the year. I wanted to make it something fun and tangible, and something that Kaitlyn could get excited about. And one thing that Kaitlyn gets excited about is money. She loves when she gets money to spend or to put in her piggy bank (she is currently saving up cash to spend on our vacation this summer). Perfect, we would create an incentive system based around money.
Our system is really pretty straightforward, at least at the beginning. Every day is worth a penny. We have two containers on our counter. One is for Kaitlyn, one is for us. Each day that Kaitlyn’s behavior meets our expectations, she gets a penny; each day it does not, we get one. But there is a fun twist in our system. Kaitlyn does not get to keep the pennies at the end of the year; the pennies are symbolic of each day. At the end of the year, each of the pennies in Kaitlyn’s container is going to be worth 50 cents; each of the pennies in our container will be worth $1. That may seem unfair, but the point of the system is not for it to be a zero-sum system; the goal of the system is to reinforce to Kaitlyn that the days that she does not meet our expectations have more severe consequences than the days she meets our expectations have rewards. Really and truly, when I came up with this, I was fully and readily prepared to pay Kaitlyn $182.50 at the end of the year.
So far, our new system is working really well. Kaitlyn has checked every day to see if she has gotten her penny, and it is becoming a way for her to know how well she is doing. I think having a tangible, results-driven system will really work well as the year progresses. I am sure that there will be times where Kaitlyn is none-too-happy with which penny the container lands in, but those times will serve as opportunities for her to learn why she was not rewarded that day.