Somehow the subtleties of relational equity are lost on my seven year old son, Jonah. His brother Ben is two, and lately Jonah loves to pick at every little thing Ben does wrong. And two year old boys do many wrong things. As a result, Ben sees Jonah as his tormentor, and Jonah can’t figure out why Ben gets defensive almost every time Jonah comes in the room. Even worse, Jonah now sees me as his tormentor, for I am constantly on Jonah’s case about how he treats Ben.
Nobody likes this situation, it is totally out of character for Jonah, and the irony is, Jonah LOVES Ben. He and Ben have crazy fun together when they aren’t on each others nerves. Jonah helps wash Ben’s hands and brush his teeth, they play chase around the den, and they made up this game they will literally play for hours where they both roll off the couch together in a blanket over and over again.
In quiet moments, when I talk about it with Jonah, he totally understands when he’s in the wrong… after I explain it to him. But in the moment, he’s just not able to see past being annoyed by Ben’s two-ness. What’s a parent to do? I want Jonah to think twice before voicing his irritation. But he’s 7 and a boy, and stopping to think is not what comes naturally.
Enter cash. My kids know about money. They know that we don’t buy Cinnamon Life unless it is on sale, they know that a Wii is expensive though that’s not why we don’t have one, and they know that if they save their money, they can buy more with the Target gift cards they often get for their birthday.
So tonight I told Jonah, “Buddy, here’s what we’ll do. We’ll start with one quarter in this old mason jar. Every time I see you showing patience and care for your brother, you get a quarter. Every time I see or hear you picking at him, I take one away.”
Jonah’s face lit up like I was taking him to a Predators game. He said, “Dad, that’s a great idea! That will help me remember to be sweet!”
Over the next hour before bed, Jonah earned three quarters and the only words I had for his behavior was praise. We’ll see how this goes over the next few days, but so far, so good.
What would you do in this situation?