“Are you ever so excited you can’t close your eyes at night when you go to sleep?”
I overheard Will ask one of his friends this question. He was rhapsodizing about the upcoming pizza and bowling party after church on Sunday. He had worked hard for the privilege of going to the party and he was excited. In my own opinion, the fact that he had worked for this special treat, made it all the more thrilling.
At the beginning of April, Nadia Swearingen-Friesen spoke to our MOPS group about a book she has written called Sticks. Have you heard about it? It’s a method she and her husband came up with for teaching their four children responsibility and the value of work and delayed gratification. When she began talking through the simple idea of Sticks, a lightbulb began to glow in my brain.
“This is what I’ve been looking for!”
I was so tired of the messes and the nagging and feeling like somehow I had missed something in the manufacturers guide to raising boys. (Mine seems to be missing, by the way.) I knew there had to be a way to find peace for our family, teach our kids about responsibility, and have a clean home.
The concept is a simple one: Each boy has certain tasks assigned to him to do EVERY day. Each task is written down (and drawn out in stick figures for my pre-readers) on a Popsicle stick. The sticks are kept on a table in our kitchen along with a plastic cup designated for each boy. When the boys finish a task, they put that stick into the plastic cup. If they accomplish all of their tasks in a day (as they should), they earn a sparkly GOLD Popsicle stick. (Cue “ooohh…aaaaahhh!”) When they work hard and earn ten gold sticks, the boys can exchange them for a small toy from my fancy box of surprises, a special outing, their favorite meal fixed at home, or a special date with dad or mom.
It was important to me that Justin and I both be on the same page with this idea; I wasn’t going to be the sole enforcer. So we both read the book—it’s a quick read. We agreed on the tasks for the boys and even on what they could earn. It’s my personal opinion that for something like this to succeed in the family, both parents have to be on board. I’m so thankful Justin was keen on this idea too! I have to add here, that Justin was instrumental in creating the gold sticks. Next group craft project: Macramé!
Nadia talked about how when she and her husband presented the idea to their kids, they presented it in the light of “You are bright, strong, capable kids! You don’t need us to nag and yell in order for you to do the everyday things you need to do. This is a tool to help you keep on track and the special gold sticks are an incentive for hard work!” She said that after they explained how it all worked, the kids immediately jumped on the idea and raced to finish all of their tasks right away. I thought that was probably a once-off thing and I’d have to do a little more work to convince my kids.
I was wrong. Happily wrong!
We explained the rules to the boys after dinner one evening a month ago in a similar manner. Almost before we were finished, they ran off to do everything on their sticks before bedtime. It was a miracle! Justin and I sat quietly and listened in wonder:
Sam: “I’m going to go tidy my room now. Tidy, tidy, tidy.”
Will: “Mom, can I brush my teeth now and again before bed to get my stick for today since I didn’t brush my teeth this morning?”
Sam: “I’m going to take your plate to the sink now, ok Daddy?”
Will: “What can I do to help you?”
It was a miracle—it is still a miracle. Now it hasn’t been easy going every day. They are kids after all. And I do have to remind them about their sticks in the morning and encourage them to get started. But it rarely takes much effort to get them going. They love earning that gold painted, glitter-covered stick every night.
So, what is on their sticks?
We kept it simple. Each boy has nine tasks. As those tasks are mastered, we’ll add to the sticks or tweak them to keep them age appropriate.
- Brush your teeth morning and night
- Get yourself dressed
- Make your bed
- Tidy your room
- Clear the table after meals
- Play with the cat
- Help Mom or Dad (the catch-all stick)
- Play outside (Or play a board game/do a puzzle in bad weather)
- Read/look at books for at least 15 minutes
- Clean up the toys in the play room
There are days when the boys are stubborn, especially with cleaning up their toys in the playroom. They will move like molasses in January and whine and grumble. And it breaks my heart when I have to tell them that, by procrastinating, they’ve run out of time and they won’t be getting a gold stick. Their tears are real and my temptation is to say, “Oh, ok. You tried. Here’s your gold stick anyway.” But I have to hold firm. I don’t do my children any favors by teaching them that a job partially done and with great lamentation is worthy of a prize. That brand of “compassion” cheapens the prize and defeats the purpose of the sticks.One of the by-products of this method of teaching is that my kids will learn a work ethic. They’ll learn the value of working hard, even if they don’t particularly enjoy the job. Even when I hear: “Picking up Legos is ruining my life!” (ah the drama of a 5-year-old). The point is, we are raising the boys to become responsible, helpful, caring adults. And it starts now—not when they’re sulky 15-year-olds.
The real prize, for me, is seeing the joy of accomplishment on their faces as they finish up their sticks for the day and earn that golden prize. They take out all the gold sticks they’ve collected and count them carefully, chattering about what they want to trade them in for. At this early stage, my husband and I have to be on top of things—Will and Sam aren’t yet at a place where they automatically start working on their sticks each morning. I am believing in faith that that day will come. Even so, Justin and I have both noticed a change in the boys’ attitudes. They are more eager to help—beyond earning a stick. They have even suggested a few more sticks to add! The boys have told their teachers at school and their friends all about their sticks—they’re truly excited about them. They’re learning responsibility and an appreciation for cleanliness!
Ahhh…the sigh of a happy momma.
If you’re interested in learning more, check out Nadia Swearingen-Friesen’s book “Sticks!” on Amazon: Sticks! A Practical Way to Reduce Stress, Improve Discipline, and Create the Family You Want