If you have more than one child, then you know that brattiness is contagious. It can even be transmitted to the parents, if we are forced to do too many repetitions of “stop that!” and “you know you're supposed to do your homework first” and “don't interrupt” and “STOP THAT!” In an attempt to reinforce good behavior, discourage bad behavior and remove ourselves somewhat from the Drill Sergeant roles, Lance and I developed a way to control bratty conduct that ended up becoming one of the kids' most cherished family tradition: House Points.
The Harry Potter stories were big then, and all six kids would sit agog, begging for “just one more chapter!” every night. The oldest were suave high-schoolers and declared themselves too cool for this particular project, so we had a Family Meeting one night with the young four and declared that from now on (as far as their behavior was concerned) they were no longer Bender, Red, Sassy and Jack: they were Slytherin, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Gryffendor.
I kept a notebook with a page for each day and a column for each House. They earned Points by:
Doing their chores without being told;
Getting up on time;
Doing homework without being told; and
Earning “Room of the Week (see below).”
“Room of the Week” was another competition, this one developed to combat the Bedrooms Smelling Like Feet Syndrome, and high-schoolers were not permitted to opt out of this one. Every Friday at 5 p.m., the parents would inspect the bedrooms for neatness and cleanliness and award the cleanest room the coveted Room of the Week status. The winners not only got a House Point, they got to display the “Room of the Week” plaque on their door and choose the movie we'd watch on Pizza Night.
Lance and I could also award extra House Points at our discretion for above-average behavior; we very rarely had to deduct points, but that was an option, too. Without doing anything extra a kid could earn 3 points a day; the key to the plan was that they had to do it WITHOUT BEING REMINDED. (This was a life-saver for me – it's astonishing how many “reminders” a parent can ease into, until it gets to be so much work for you to get a kid in motion that it's tempting to do whatever-it-is yourself. This would deny the little darlings their chance to develop into happy, productive, responsible adults; besides, I certainly didn't throw those gym clothes under the bed.)
After the Room of the Week ceremony we'd gather in the dining room to do House Points. We'd add up the totals for the week and then out came the moment the kids had been waiting for: I'd bring out the Treasure Chest. This was an actual treasure chest, and we kept it filled with items we collected that we thought would appeal to the age group. We looked for things that were sparkly, fancy or just a little out of reach for someone on a weekly allowance. (We also stocked a case or two of different types of snack foods, but they didn't go in the box.)
Each of these treasures had a “price” tag on it showing how many Points it cost. Candy and small prizes were 1-5 Points and mid-range prizes cost around 20 Points (about what you could make in a week without trying too hard). There were also coupons for bigger-ticket items like a one-kid outing with Mom and Dad, laser tag passes or movie tickets. Whoever had earned the most Points during the week got to choose first.
This was great in several ways. Not only did the mere mention of “House Points” make a kid straighten up and fly right, the prize hierarchy taught even the first-graders to budget, to save for what they wanted, and occasionally even to cooperate when they pooled their Points to get a big prize. Mostly, though, it was a way to add some fun to the dull task of doing the chores; it also cut our Parental Yelling Time down to about one-quarter what it had been.
Kids are naturally competitive, so you may as well use the force for Good. Having them compete, not against each other, but against their own prior performance may be that Spoon Full of Sugar you're looking for to help make the medicine go down.
Besides . . . who can resist a treasure chest?