Using Poker Chips in Lieu Of Money as Reward
By Dr Ruth Peters, Clinical Psychologist and Author

Little kids, little consequences, bigger kids, bigger consequences. That seems to be the key when using negative and positive consequences to motivate children. And, as children grow into their tweens you need to be even more creative, especially if you have more than one youngster to discipline and motivate. Let’s take a look at some imaginative rewards at your disposal to help motivate kids to behave and to act responsibly.

Kids love earning money and these basic suggestions may help. First, try having them earn a daily allowance based upon attitude, (politeness, compliance, cooperation), and behavior, (chore and homework completion in an accurate, cooperative, and timely manner).

Use colored poker chips in lieu of actual money as reward for having a “good day,” (not too many attitude check marks and enough credits for completing chores). For instance, the son can receive a blue chip and the daughter a red one equaling a dollar each. This way, no one is motivated to “borrow” each others chips since they are color-coded.

I would let them spend them as they liked, but only allowed to cash them in once a week so they must save, at least, until the weekend. The only way that an allowance works is to be careful not to arbitrarily buy them items without taking their chips in exchange.

They need to consider whether the magazine or movie DVD is really worth it. If you hold out and have them make their own purchases they will eventually learn the value to a dollar. And, giving a check mark for rudeness or loss of credit due to not completing a responsibility is an easy answer for almost any discipline dilemma.

You don’t have to negotiate, ponder, or be creative in the moment — just give the “bad check” or the “good credit” as the day progresses, and keep track on a calendar.

Kids love to be entertained and hate to be bored, and that’s why electronics usage is so valuable. And, these are privileges, not “givens.” Watching television, playing computer or video games, watching movies, or listening to the radio or CDs all fall within the realm of privileges. Do not forget about “communication” — use of the telephone, cell phone, instant messaging friends, or web surfing, (within parental guidelines), are fun activities to be earned, not just given as part of the child’s day.

Also take a look at some of the activities the family likes to engage in as a family. Perhaps some can be earned and used as rewards. Renting videos, picking the restaurant to go to for dinner, taking in an amusement park, bowling, miniature golf, attending a concert, or even baking creative concoctions are all fun and can motivate kids to take their responsibilities seriously.

Children can earn white poker chips to save up for these larger, (not daily), privileges. You may choose to let only the one who earns the privilege engage in the activity, or you may wait until both have earned enough white chips.

Think outside of the box — how about Wednesday Waffle Night in exchange for some white privilege chips? Or, extra time up on weekends, (or 15 minutes on school nights), with the parents may be enticing. Exclusive parent time in which the youngster determines how the hour will be spent with the parent like bike riding, rollerblading, or playing board games are great. Sleepovers are big favorites, and should be earned not just allowed because the weekend has arrived. Ask the kids — they are the experts on what they’d like to earn.

You’ll never be at a loss for a consequence if you have attitude demerits and chore completion credits at your fingertips. The creative part occurs when determining the value of the poker chips — but that can be devised in a leisurely manner with the kids when you don’t have time constraints or drama on your hands!

Copyright © 2006 by Ruth A. Peters, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Dr. Peters is a clinical psychologist and regular contributor to the “Today” show. She is the author of Laying Down the Law: The 25 Laws of Parenting to Keep Your Kids on Track, Out of Trouble, and (Pretty Much) Under Control (Rodale), Who’s In Charge? A Positive Parenting Approach to Disciplining Children (Lindsay Press), Don’t Be Afraid To Discipline (St. Martin’s Press), It’s Never Too Soon To Discipline (St. Martin’s Press), and Overcoming Underachieving: A Simple Plan to Boost Your Kids’ Grades and End the Homework Hassles (Broadway Books).

Do you work with older children? How do you discipline older children?


  1. Oh my gosh this is such a good idea. I care for teens and tweens and it’s so hard to find any info for nannies of older children. We have this whole allowance/chore chart thing that’s just a disaster. I will send this idea along to the parents. It’s great. Thanks!Nanny Annnie, Vermont

  2. Although I don’t care for teens anymore, years ago I did and I had read in your Be the Best Nanny Newsletter that we should let teens help determine their rewards and punishments. It worked great. All you do is sit down with the kids and talk about behaviors they do that adults don’t like and ask them what they think a fair punishment would be for misbehaviors. It worked great! Thanks,Insomnia Nanny, New York NY

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