The parenting anarchists. Join us! Oh, wait….

Anarchy grunge flag  via Free Grunge Textures | Mom101

I have no system. I am systemless. I am a mom without a system. And I’m only just learning this.

The other day, someone at school asked what system I use to punish my children and I was like uh…punishments…hm. System. Well.  Sometimes we do time outs? It works, but they don’t normally need it. And a couple of times I took away Sage’s doll for the night. And uh… does “turn off the iPad, it’s homework time” count as a system?

The woman looked at me like I was an anarchist. An anarchist raising children in a craven, lawless, God-forsaken household-gone-wild. Next thing you know, they’ll be running the house. We’ll be painting the walls rainbow colors, adopting rabbits, and holding playdates in which we pierce their friends’ noses with a needle and a block of ice.

It’s a slippery slope.

I totally see that when kids are having behavioral problems, or they won’t stay in bed, or they are potty training, you need a system for rewards and a system for punishments. My own kids’ biggest problem right now is that they don’t eat anything.

I did in fact make a rudimentary New Foods Chart once, and we checked off a new food every time my kids tried one. Five new foods tries and they got a little toy.

New foods chart | Mom101

The good part: Thalia tried vodka sauce at one point. Today it is scary and red, but it does give me hope for the future.

The tough part was twofold. First, the idea of me keeping up with any spreadsheet for more than a month or two is laughable; and second, now that the kids are older, Sage would rather have no toys ever than taste something as scary as oh…say, a piece of cheese.

Of course she likes pizza and she likes ricotta all by itself, she likes Annie’s mac n cheese, and she likes tortellini and she likes ravioli–but she does not like cheese, thanks for asking. Which currently takes the number of foods she will eat for dinner down to about four.

If you count ravioli and tortellini as two different foods. 

Which I do.

So I look to my friends who are raising terrific kids to see what they do for punishment and reward systems. Tina tells me about their marble jars, one with each person’s name, and enough marbles earned for doing good things can be traded in for a toy. I know that Kristen Chase doles out poker chips for achievements like sleeping through the night in bed, and they can be redeemed for gaming time. Other people pay for chores, which we don’t do because my feeling has been that my kids should clear their dishes because they’re part of this household, not because they get paid. Plus, if they don’t clear their dishes we will have roaches and that right there is punishment enough.

I also see around the internets that dessert is a big reward/punishment system for families. But I never wanted to do that in any formal way, because I always felt that sweets should just be something you have sometimes. And I still remember Roxanna telling me that she makes sure to call them sweets and not treats, which I love. 

In a way, I really like our total dessert randomness. It keeps the kids on their toes. In fact, sometimes they eat an awesomely balanced dinner in which not every food is beige, plus they have behaved well all day, and I still say, “sorry, no dessert. We don’t need to eat it every day.” Just because I can. 

Then, sometimes, I feel like, eh, Sage ate a whole piece of broccoli even if she held her nose and cried while she ate it so…ICE CREAM FOR ALL!

But it’s not a reward, I remind the kids. It’s just dessert.

Clearly I’m a rewards/punishment parenting system anarchist. No marbles, no poker chips, no consistency. Which seems to have worked so far mainly because I have lucked into fairly well-behaved kids to begin with. (Aside from the occasional epic dramatic freak-outs over whose turn it is to pick the next Frozen song to perform in the living room. As if this is their one and only time to sing Do You Want to Build a Snowman for the rest of their lives.)

So maybe we don’t need something so regimented. Yet. But something tells me, based on the delightful new eyerolls I’m starting to see more frequently from my 8-going-on-15-year-old, and the recent discovery that playing Rayman on the hand-me-down iPad 2 is more interesting than getting in bed on time, that it might be time for me to get with the program.

A system. It’s sounds so…grown-up. I hope I’m ready.

[top photo via]


35 thoughts on “The parenting anarchists. Join us! Oh, wait….”

  1. With food, DC1 can have whatever he wants at snack if he ate a healthy dinner. If he didn’t eat a healthy dinner, then snack needs to be healthy. It’s not really a reward system so much as trying to avoid low blood sugar melt-downs, night-waking, etc.

    Sometimes we tell him he can pick one vegetable not to eat, but he has to eat the rest. Sometimes we don’t.

    Sometimes we have ice cream for dinner.

    1. I like your style.

      I tell the kids, you can’t have sweets if you don’t have enough healthy food in your body first. It seems to avoid the reward language but still lets them know food > dessert. Maybe. Kind of.

  2. Honestly, you probably have the most consistently well-behaved children I know. So it doesn’t surprise me that all you’ve needed to do so far is incentivize them to eat foods that aren’t white.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve instituted a system beyond the “letter grade for the day” plan that I came up with on the fly after Oliver’s third visit to the principal’s office. As a kindergartener.

    Co-opting Tina’s marble plan may only last a week or so, but if it kept me from booking a one-way ticket to your apartment today, then it has already served its purpose.

    (Which reminds me, I need to go out to Michael’s and buy marbles.)

      1. I like the tangible, visual, accruing kind of thing. Loose enough to be easy, specific enough to draw attention to what it’s meant to–a circus atmosphere type system. (I don’t really do punishments, either.)

        1. I am so impressed with it. Also, you have a lot of marbles in YOUR jar, Tina. Shopping trip soon?

        2. It was fascinating to see my kids’ responses when I explained yesterday. The older two were psyched, the youngest was dismayed. But it was his older sisters who explained to him how easy and beneficial it could be. Which speaks to relative maturity and, hopefully, the expectations they’ve already absorbed — even without a specific system in place.

  3. With my nod to Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, “Can I just say something crazy?”

    Every kid is different. You know this, I know this. Many people know this – it’s not “rocket science.” That has always meant (to me) that when giving or taking advice – that’s the first item to consider. Other that what I, I couldn’t tell any one of friends who are newer parents how to sleep train their baby. We were blessed that E was already a great sleeper. And except for a phase here and there of a couple of weeks, we’ve never had to do anything really. I’m not bragging – sincerely. I just use it to illustrate that other families can have all the systems they want in place and it might work great or them – but ultimately, since every kid is different, there’s no magic bullet. I love reading your blog and others to get ideas, suggestions, to see what has worked for others. Might even smash some ideas together to try our own. But as we all know – the true anarchists in the relationship are the children 😉

    It sounds like you already HAVE a system that works for you and your children. Maybe you don’t have it outlined on paper or one that you can spell out the objectives/rules/exceptions – but you have a system. And it’s VERY adaptable 🙂

  4. WOW! As a veteran, here is what I think:
    1. Using food for a reward is dangerous. That happened to me (all A’s, out to dinner etc.) and it made it much harder to NOT use food for comfort or reward in ways that mean being “good” means you are allowed to eat “bad” foods.

    2. The best advice I ever got was “Pick your fights and win.” With that in mind, I was intransigent on certain issues (noncompliance = loss of privileges – like TV or game time) and an “anarchist” on others. And despite Jennifer Senior I ALWAYS answered “why?” with the reason why. I honestly believe that that choice, at least for our family, made all the rest easier. Mutual respect is gravely underrated.

    The idea of concrete incentives was too uncomfortable. Kristen Chase’s game time idea is perfect – “pay” for a privilege. But I’m with you about paying for chores – when you live in a community you are responsible to it.

    Loved the piece Liz.

  5. I grew up in a house full of sweets/junk food as a normal part of the day (when we got home from school), and my mom always credits that for none of us having been too crazy about junk food. So though my tot is just 19 months old, I’m doing a similar dessert/sweet approach as the one you mention above.

    And even though my daughter is not yet two, I’m already starting to get questions like “what kind of discipline do you do?” Curious: which program/system do you think you’ll try if you do decide to do one? (can’t resist the question).

    1. Wait, that means I have to research programs. Work!

      Honestly, I think have always let the need dictate the action. I babyproofed for my own babies’ needs, not based on expert advice about wrapping the coffee table corners and padlocking the kitchen cabinets; my kids never showed any interest in a kitchen cabinet for some reason, so those latches ended up in a drawer after a few weeks of driving me nuts.

      So if the issue becomes eating (even less), or talking back, or cursing, or slacking at school, I’ll have to figure out the right way to correct the behavior. I’d imagine they might all require different tactics.

      What do you think?

  6. Liz-Your girls are extraordinarily well behaved. And they are amazingly gentle souls. In the 8+ years I have been their grandparent, I never once had to even do a “time out”. You have taught them to respect you, us and others through constant communication and example. As a result, they respect us and our word. Communication has been the key with them. Your instincts are great. Never doubt them…

  7. Having a system in place for boundaries and discipline is great even if you don’t use it much. I don’t know if it will help your kids eat vegetables but it helps in many other ways. Including keeping them safe. As soon as your kids are old enough to understand you have to start moving away from discipline and towards self-discipline. The more you can get the kids to do things because they understand that it is the right thing to do, the faster they are going to learn self-discipline.
    If your kids are going to be safe from drugs and overindulgences when they are adults they are going to need to learn self discipline.

    1. Thanks for your comment Adam. Is it possible you’re conflating discipline and self-discipline? The former is punitive action after the fact. The latter is preventative; comes from instilling a values system including self-respect and understanding boundaries.

      I guess I feel like I don’t need to threaten the kids with disciplinary action when I teach them to look both ways before crossing the street. I can just explain that if they don’t, they can be hit. Thus enters the self-discipline part.

      But hey, if you have other info to the contrary I’m open to reading any links you have.

      1. I don’t think I am conflating the two. They are separate concepts. Of course as soon as your child can understand the concept of getting killed from running onto the road that is all that is required and that is when they learn the concept of self discipline. There are plenty of different things that your children need to learn, some of them easy some of them hard. Some of them they can be taught when young and others when they are older. I was just saying that I have found that having a good system in place is handy, and at times makes life easier. It doesn’t proclude you from teaching self-discipline. I am not condemning you for not having one or suggesting that you need to start using one, it seems you have done a good job without one.
        I do think it is a bit socially irresponsible to be preaching this type of parenting, only because most people would not be able to manage what you have done and it just adds to the general confusion around parenting.

  8. I never really had a system. My 8 year old was always so content to go with the flow. He’s been occasionally grounded for extreme situations, but even that has been so rare I can’t even remember why.

    My 2yr old??? Oh jeez, have I even done this parenting thing before? Like ever? This is a whole new ballgame, and im standing on the playing field with a basketball. System? Yeah, he’s systematically proving how much I suck at this whole punishment deal. Punishment shmunishment. Three hours of blood curdling screaming shows just WHO us really being punished, when witholding the Dandy Bush (aka Candy Crush)

    Smh. I could really use a system for learning systems.

    1. Ha, I learned that nothing knocked the “I’m doing great!” smile off my face like having a second child. Good luck with that Amanda. Can I recommend some earplugs?

  9. I don’t have a system either. We reduced computer privileges when my oldest got behind on homework, but she agreed it was a distraction, so it wasn’t really a punishment it was just addressing a problem. My kids certainly aren’t perfect (that would be boring, frankly) but they don’t really do anything that warrants “punishment” so I guess it hasn’t come up yet. The rewards in our home are really random, but nobody feels ignored or deprived.

    I was once out with my kids having lunch and they were all being sweet, and an old lady sitting nearby complimented me on their behavior and said, “You must be very strict.” I laughed because “strict” is not a word I would use to describe any part of my parenting style which is fairly loose. As long as everyone is doing enough of what they should do and being nice to one another I am very hands off, and for us that seems to be working. But I thought it was interesting that good behavior automatically translated into “strict” for her.

    Anyway, glad to know I’m not alone in not having a specific system. I’m sure in other circumstances I might need one. Right now I don’t.

  10. You don’t have good kids by luck. You have good kids because you are a good mom. In addition, you’re not filling them with all the chemical crap that causes a lot of the behavior problems.

    I just had policies. If the kids don’t clean up before they leave, they couldn’t hang out here was one. 3 strikes was the other. If I had to say something 3 times, game over. I rarely had to come up with a punishment. If I did have to, I pulled something out of the circumstance.

    If you raise good kids in the first place, discipline is not a big problem.

  11. Wow, a whole new thing to worry about nearly ten years in, I totally thought I’d made it over the fence.

    We have loose, “This is how our family does it,” because man, if there’s one thing you learn when you hook up with another family, there is no one way that it’s done—so many mine fields of ritual.

    Call it the wing and a prayer system. Because as much as I have tried to be the date book and meal planning chart mom, I am not. Just because my way doesn’t come with a name or a legend of symbols etc, doesn’t make it any less genuine.

    It’s 3pm on Sunday and we are all still in pjs and no one has eaten anything with a utensil yet today.

  12. We did the potty chart and that seemed to work. Other than that, no printables or charts needed. Like you, I don’t plan to pay my kids to do chores. What really works if it gets to that crazy point is to withhold an item or to set consequences and really follow through. Other than that, I think it’s a play-by-play kind of discipline where you really just have to use your senses instead of a chart sometimes.

    I also don’t think I would have the time to manage charts.

    As far as food, so far all 3 kids are awesome eaters, but my then-toddler did give us a freak out when he decided he wasn’t going to eat vegetables anymore. We snuck it in his food a la Jessica Seinfeld’s kids cookbook and that seemed to work.

    Good luck! I hope she eats more than beige! lol

  13. I do time outs and take away electronics of various sorts. Bribery has not worked well for food, and neither has punishment. Our rule is simply I make dinner, and they either eat it or they don’t, but they aren’t getting anything else. I refuse to argue or discuss it. I keep hoping that since they know the rule and I stick to it consistently, they will eat because they are hungry. No such luck. They would rather be hungry.

  14. I’d do really well on your food chart. Although I’d need some storage space for all my new toys.

  15. This is interesting. I am not quite there yet with my daughter but I have no idea if we will be systematic or just fly by the seat of our pants! Or if my husband and I will be on the same page about it all… time will tell. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  16. As a systems-esque organized person, someone who used behavior charts regularly to help kids with major issues as a therapist, and overall a pretty type A, OCD stereotyped gal….I have NO system. HA!

    Every time I set a system, chart or highly orchestrated thing, it BACKFIRES.

    I get so consumed with the system, I forget what my original mission was.

    So, I don’t know….I am going with it. As they get older, what really works when they don’t listen is a simple, “You are seriously hurting my feelings, and I can’t believe it.” Crazy, but it makes my BOYS stop and think about what they are doing.

    As for the eating – my 13 y.o. is “starting to eat like an adult” and will try anything right now, so you got a few more years with the beige stuff.

  17. We did timeouts for a while. And they worked for a while. Now the kids just laugh like hyenas (truly, it’s a cruel, calculated laugh) when we put them in the corner. Interestingly, counting deliberately without any tangible threat is most effective. “I’m counting! 1! —– 2! —– 2 and a half! —– and I almost never have to get to three. Of course, I have years of teaching under my belt and I use my teacher voice layered over my angry mother voice liberally. I consider my children very well behaved hellions.

    I know some parents who use charts and rewards and marbles to great effect. I’m too lazy. But I also don’t have children who need that much guidance. Yet. Maybe adolescence with shake that all up. It would serve me right after what I put my parents through!

  18. I am very fortunate in that I have a pretty well behaved kid. She’s just about to turn 6 and reminds me a lot of your girls, she too has a gentle soul. In the past, we have taken away the ipad or a movie night if the behaviour has gotten completely out of hand, but it honestly does not happen a lot. We also don’t do dessert every night, just because we don’t need to. We do sweets at random occassions, just like you do, although I like what one poster said about having dessert for dinner.,..may have to try that sometime. Granny and Grandpa did it once when they stayed with us and she STILL talks about it, haha.

  19. Ah, to be one of those parents with the sort of self-maintaining need less discipline kids.

    My wild child turned me to self-help books STAT. We do rewards. We are not supposed to call it ‘discipline.’ It’s supposed to be ‘consequences.’

    “Ha, I learned that nothing knocked the “I’m doing great!” smile off my face like having a second child. ”

    THANK YOU. It’s hard to have the wild/uncontrollable/willfull as hell kid and then have the other parents with their ‘we just give her a sticker and she does whatever we say! HAVE YOU TRIED STICKERS.’

    My kid will take your effing sticker and set it on fire right in front of you lady.

    Every kid is different, in other words. Attention all parents: You are probably doing great but if you think you are doing great, believe me, you got lucky!

  20. “My kid will take your effing sticker and set it on fire right in front of you lady.”

    Thats so awesome. My #2 is exactly like THAT.

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