Welcome to the Club

Or... Club Penguin, Potty Training II and Good Behavior Incentives

Austin's and Ruthie's penguins all dressed up.
Austin has been obsessed with Club Penguin since his 9-year-old cousin, Kalyana, introduced it to him. Club Penguin is an early social networking site for kids (typically age 8-10). Austin isn't too into the social aspect, but he loves the games. For the past 5 months his whole world has revolved around this website.

At first we played only the free games. One of the games was a lengthy puzzle-solving mystery. I really got into this one with him and we had a blast working on this game together for a couple weeks. (It took me back to my childhood. When I was about 8 my dad and I played those old school computer mysteries together - the kind that say: "You walk into a dim room. There is a small window on the east wall. On the floor you see a flashlight. What do you want to do?" We played several of those games together over the course of a year. Then as a teenager my entire family played similar games together (with graphics) such as Myst, The 7th Guest, and Shivers. Those games are a huge reason why I went into Computer Science as a profession).

The control room for the Penguin Security Agency.
Scene from our favorite mission "Clockwork Repairs."
In the game we were secret agents trying to track down the notorious polar bear Herbert P. Esquire with the help of G's cool spy gadgets. There were 10 mini-games that combined to make the whole. After we solved that game, there were still dozens of other video games on the site where he could earn coins to buy items for his penguin. He also created a penguin for every member of our family and earned several items for all of us. Ruthie soon got in on the act too and plays almost as much as he does. (I chuckle to think of all those 10-year-olds unknowingly networking with a 3-year-old).

This was all back in May. When school ended in June, the kids were anxious to do more with their penguins and wanted to have memberships (at $8/month). I was simultaneously anxious to take advantage of the summer-time to wean them off of night-time pull-ups. So we struck a deal. A week without bed-wetting would earn them each a membership. Best $16 I ever spent! Night-time potty-training turned out to be a breeze. After 2 weeks they were both doing great. (FYI, I tried last year with Austin, while I was pregnant with Summer and it was a miserable week of no-sleep for both of us. Hence I decided to put it off until the next summer when I wouldn't have to worry about poor sleep affecting his school behavior or my tired pregnant body. By the time we finally got around to it, my little deep sleeper's brain was far more ready to deal with night-time disturbances. Ruthie, on the other hand, is a much lighter sleeper and had been taking naps in her underwear for several months. Even at the age of 3, she actually picked it up much faster).

Of course, now that the kids have their memberships, we're entrenched. The kids love their $16/month penguins. So we've struck another deal. They have to earn their memberships each month with good behavior points. This is an idea I got from someone else and it has worked extremely well for my kids - especially Austin.

Here's the system we currently have in place. We have a set of poker-chip "tokens". I set out a few tokens every day before dinner. They can earn more by: cleaning up after themselves, doing their assigned chores with a good attitude, doing extra chores, keeping their night-time underwear dry, staying in their chairs during dinner and being reverent during prayers. They can also loose tokens. Austin looses tokens if he touches Ruthie's hair (hair is his comfort item, but it often leads to him pulling Ruthie's hair). Ruthie looses tokens if she talks in a whiny voice (since she's only 3 she first gets one or two warnings to "talk like a big girl"). They both loose tokens if they don't go to timeout when told to. Token loss sometimes results in a melt-down, which is painful to deal with, but they actually don't loose tokens all that often. And it has been very rewarding to have Austin spitefully tell me, after loosing a token, "Fine! Then I'm going to stay in my chair at dinner and put my plate away and keep my underwear dry and get lots of tokens back!" That'll show me.

Between lunch time and dinner time the kids can spend their tokens. Each token is worth 10 minutes of computer or TV time. Or they can turn in some tokens toward earning their club penguin membership for the next month. Sneaky Mr. Austin has figured out that he can piggy-back off of Ruthie's screen time by watching TV with her and then playing computer games afterwards. Oh well. This system is still far better than having an all-day TV free-for-all. Screen-time is typically close to 2 hours a day these days (what a reduction from our 8 hour days when I was pregnant!)

So it's not like this system makes my kids perfect, and you kind of have to have an OCD personality to maintain it, but what I like about this is 1) it has helped me be less dependent on TV, 2) it has given me a way to give positive feedback to my kids that matters to them and 3) it encourages chores which I think is good for kids. I don't know if this will last forever, but it's certainly an idea worth sharing.

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