How Chickpeas Made Me a Better Parent

Parenting in the summer is way harder than parenting during the school year. The kids are spending just a *little* too much time at home, if you know what I mean.

When it comes to parenting,  my default instinct is to punish. “If you don’t get your pajamas on, you’ll lose your story!” “You’re going to miss your chance for breakfast!” “If you don’t get in the car right now vacation is CANCELLED!” Not only does this not work very well, but you run the serious risk of losing all of your parental power. Most threats are completely idle bluffs and don’t stand up well to being called. The more your bluffs are called, the more the kids realize that you actually have no power in the first place. The whole parental authority thing has less basis in reality than the U.S. economy. Aside from that, who wants to be that guy who’s yelling all the time?

Instead, Sara came up with a strict chickpea policy. Every time the kids do something “good”, a dried chickpea is moved from the chickpea supply over to the “ice cream” jar. Once they get 100 chickpeas, they get ice cream.

As far as motivation goes, this works okay for Ollie, but works really well for Evie. She reaaaally wants that ice cream, and tries very hard to be helpful. I wish she wanted to be helpful for its own sake, rather than for external validation, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

I put “good” in quotes up there, because it is very loosely defined. On the theory that success breeds success, we’ve just been trying to give them chickpeas for ANYTHING. I really think this is the key. I mean, why not, right? It’s not costing you anything, and you do want to encourage ALL good behaviors, right? Said thank you without being prompted? Chickpea. Let your sister pick first when you really, really wanted to pick first? Chickpea. Cleaned your room, helped fold laundry, and went 5 minutes without a fight? Chickpea, chickpea and chickpea. It really does seem like there is a snowball effect: the more chickpeas they earn, the more they want to earn them. (Along those lines, henceforth ice cream will be obtained at only 50 chickpeas. Success breeds success, right?)

The thing is, it’s more than just motivating the kids. This chickpea thing actually puts me in a better mood. It makes me think more positively; I find myself searching for good things to give chickpeas for instead of focusing on the bad things. This just naturally puts me in a better mood, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it makes me a better parent.

When I was a kid, my mom had a complicated system of marbles. There was a list of tasks which could earn you marbles, and a list of rewards you could “buy” with marbles. 5 marbles to pick from the prize bucket, 10 marbles to skip out on your “job” (i.e. mom would wash the dishes that night), 20 to spend the night at a friend’s house, etc. I remember this very fondly. Perhaps as time goes on we can elaborate on our system a little.

For now, though, we’re keeping it simple. And yes, the kids have earned their first ice cream!

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