Thursday, April 14, 2011

Corks and Caps and Kids

We have a currency of corks and caps in our house. When someone treads dangerously close to the line of bad behavior, my husband or I caution, “That’s your warning. Do it again and it’s a bottle cap.” And sometimes when we see stellar behavior, as in when one sibling actually helps another, you’ll hear us say, “Aww, that was great. You get a cork for that.”

This system is the latest evolution of discipline in our long line of creative solutions to the age old problem of how-do-you-make-your-kids-act-right. It’s very simple really. Each of the kids has a large mason jar in a basket on the piano. Whenever we catch our children doing something good we put a cork in their jar. And whenever we catch our children doing something bad (or neglecting to do something good when the option is there to do, say, their assigned kitchen chore), we put a bottle cap in the jar.

Let me explain about the corks and caps. For this new system we needed something small that we already had lying around. As I’ve explained before I have difficulty throwing out things that can’t be recycled and could one day prove useful. Hence, the caps and corks. The colorful plastic caps from bottles were collected for sorting games for my toddlers, but once they outgrew the thrill of hundreds of small bright plastic disks, I couldn’t give up the compulsion to stock pile them. Lucky for me, the art teacher at the elementary school loves caps and puts them to use in beautiful mosaics. The corks have been collecting since I first attached myself to the man I call my husband. We used to write the occasion and date on the corks, but now we just toss them in a drawer. I have plans to make something useful out of them someday, but that day hasn’t arrived. So corks and caps we have in great abundance. Perfect for the latest parenting endeavor.

When any child accrues 8 corks, he or she may trade them in for a prize (see below). The corks continue to accumulate until they reach 15 corks and then the prizes get even better (see below). After that, the corks get dumped back in to the cork drawer. The bottle caps work a little differently. If a child manages to garner 5 bottle caps, he or she loses all screen privileges (ALL screens) for the following weekend. They may give up 2 corks to remove 1 bottle cap but only until they reach 4, but on that 5th cap there is no escape. (This was a technicality quickly developed by my youngest and wiliest child.) Each Sunday night all caps magically disappear and Monday morning begins with a cap-free jar.

Maybe this seems like a little too much effort, but it sure beats yelling and threatening and then trying to remember what you threatened. It helps us reward the good stuff like running up to shut the chicken coop in the dark when it’s raining, helping your brother with his homework, carrying in the groceries, or doing something thoughtful without being asked. My daughter recently spent an evening helping her little brother (the very same child who that morning she proclaimed she would hate FOREVER!) to master the hand brakes on his bike – 2 corks for that one!

Amazingly, no one has yet earned 5 caps. In fact, the mere threat of a cap usually causes the offender to turn the other cheek. Even I didn’t think this system would work so well. We are six weeks in and all I’ve had to give up is a couple sleepovers and a cherry cheesecake. Mostly they choose the extra time on the computer.

Just in case you’d like to adopt this system for yourself, here are the details on ours. We think it's only fair to spell out exactly what earns you a cap or cork. I’m sure yours might be different, but this’ll get you started.

Expectations - Consequences
1 Treat each other with respect and kindness. Consequences: One Cap  (One warning)

2 Do not hit, kick, or in any way physically harm each other or the pets. Consequences: One Cap (no warnings)

3 No Back-talk or deliberate lying. Consequences:Two Caps (no warnings)

4 No Hurtful Words: “freak”, “idiot”, “shut up”, “hate” or others TBD. Consequences: One Cap (One warning)

5 Get yourself ready for school (fix breakfast, pack lunch, pack up back pack, take vitamins, brush teeth, and remember the things you need to have for the day like sneakers, instrument, etc.)  Consequences: One Cap (One reminder)

6 Do your kitchen chore each weeknight. Consequences: one Cap (one reminder)
7 Take care of your pet (Raisin, Hans, Cody). Consequences: One cap  (one reminder)

8 Put your dirty clothes in the laundry room sorted by color in to the separate bags by Monday morning.
consequences: no clean clothes  (one reminder)

9 Put away your clean clothes the same day they are returned to you. Consequences: No Clean Laundry (one reminder)

10 Do your weekend chore each weekend. Consequences: Two Caps (one reminder)

11 Keep your room reasonably clean and vacuum it once a month. Consequences: No Friends In/out (one reminder)

Five caps in one week: Lose all screens for the following weekend.


1. Doing something nice for someone else.

2. Cleaning something you don’t have to clean.

3. Good grade on a test/project. (eventually clarified to A+ as we were bleeding corks on this one)

4. Feeding dogs

5. Taking care of Kernel [our blind chicken] -clean cage & change water or walk her

6. Helping with barn chores

7. Cleaning up yard

8. Unloading the dishwasher

9. Anytime mommy or daddy thinks you’ve done something deserving of a bonus

10. Writing a letter to a relative (real letter, not e-mail)

When you earn 8 corks, you can choose from the following rewards (keep adding corks to get to 15)

1. pick the movie night movie

2. decide the menu for one dinner that week

3. choose a special dessert or snack for one time that week

4. earn an extra ½ hour on the computer

5. propose a reward for approval

When you have 15 corks, you can choose from the following rewards:

1. sleepover

2. date night – movie, dinner out with parent or friend

3. new book from Amazon or Scholastic

4. watch an extra movie that you pick

5. earn an extra hour on the computer

1 comment:

  1. This is a great idea. i tink I will put this idea to use when my daughter gets a bit older. I am always trying to come up with creative ways to encourage positive behavior.