Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Demerit System

I shook my head in dismay as I went into each of my school-age children’s bedrooms this morning. Each of them had neglected to open their blinds (to let their houseplants get sunlight) and make their beds. The girls had forgotten to pick their clothes up off their floor.

I have yet to find a punishment or reward system that will work to get the girls to clean their rooms. This seems inconceivable to me, as I always kept a neat room when I was a child. I loved to organize, and had always assumed that all little girls did too. My son, thankfully, seems to have a built-in organizational mind and tends to keep his things more or less in order.

A light bulb went off in my head. I sat down at my desk with some paper. “1 demerit,” I wrote, “Bed not made”. I cut a hole in it and put it on my son’s doorknob. For the girls I wrote, “2 demerits. Bed not made. Clothes not picked up.” This gave me an instant sense of satisfaction.

When the children came home, I greeted them with, “You’re not allowed to throw out your demerits.”

“Huh?’ they asked.

“I gave you demerits. They are hanging on your door.”

They rushed up to see. They all burst out into giggles.

None of my children have ever gotten demerits at school. It seems that they are seldom given out, and I always hear about it when one of their classmates gets one.

I, on the other hand, used to go to a very strict parochial school, where I got demerits on a daily basis. Passing notes, whispering, and being late to one’s desk were all causes for instant demerits. Three in a day got you detention. I served my time; as there was no late bus, my parents had to come pick me up late on those days.

“What do we have to do to get more demerits?”

“Does the person with the least number of demerits get a prize?”

As the questions came, I worked out the system out loud. One demerit equals ten minutes of time doing a chore, of my choosing, and most likely of the type they most disliked. The demerits would most likely be worked off on the weekend, but if I needed them to do something on a weeknight and their homework was done, it could be done then as well.

My nine-year-old finished her homework early and I asked her to take the baby while I cleaned up after dinner. She worked off her twenty minutes.

This could work out nicely! I am already thinking of all the things I can get them to do this weekend. I will be sure to let you all know how our new system works out!

Picture above:
Third prize winner of the National Messy Room Contest sponsored by Kodak.

1 comment:

Loren Christie said...

An excellent idea. In my house we use the word "consequence."