Fines and fees in a voluntary system?

Sometimes an agreement just can’t be made. You’ve insisted that the child refold the stack of laundry that she pulled down into a pile, and she’s just not going to do it. In fact, she’s already run out to play, and you’re having to either step over the mess in the hallway, or clean up after her.

You might be thinking “So, the logical consequence is what? Take her clothes away? Take her bed away since she doesn’t respect the sheets? That’s unreasonable”. And of course she wasn’t being particularly aggressive, only careless, so even ostracism feels like too much. You don’t want to be mad about it, and you don’t wan’t to have a huge conversation about it over dinner either. You know what your non-NAP neighbors would do: refold the laundry and punish her by taking something from her.

It’s simple, and it’s effective. But there are two problems:

1) It violates the NAP.

We can’t just confiscate property from the children that they have already earned; it’s not ours to take. Do not take or even refuse to give a child something he has rightfully earned (there are exceptions, like in self defense).

2) You don’t want her stuff. 

You’re not being “made whole” for your extra work by confiscating her doll. You’re both angry and feel like you’ve lost.

To solve this, we turn to our voluntary token economy. We’ve recommended having a “store” in the house that you stock for the children to purchase toys and treats. And we’ve recommended paying them in a house-currency to buy things from that store. We keep our currency ledger on a shared electronic note, so the kids aren’t losing little scraps of paper in the couch cushions. (There’s no need for them to carry this money around).

The goal is to set up an agreement by which they forfeit some of that currency in these scenarios.

So the agreement might be “If I make a reasonable request, like ‘please tidy the shared area/item that you messed up’, and you don’t want to do it, I’ll give you one more reminder later, and then after that I’ll charge you to do it myself”.

AGREEMENT is key, as usual. This approach may look a lot like the aggressive approach of simply taking the kid’s property when you’re unhappy with them. The difference is its voluntary nature. In order for it to pass the NAP-test, and for it to feel like a win-win situation, we have to get consent.

Getting consent from your child to charge them in this way should not be too difficult. Like the federal reserve and its notes, we have a monopoly on the system (though we’re bound by the NAP not to defraud). So you can make the entire system contingent on any agreement like this. And this doesn’t need to be a bitter fight, just a conversation:

“You like earning and working for things in the store, and I need a guarantee that the house isn’t left a mess when you go out to play. If you will agree that, under pre-arranged circumstances, I can charge you for work you stick me with, then I’m happy to do that work and continue offering you jobs and making the store fun. If not, I’m reluctant to participate in the system at all, as I’m stuck with all the final risk/responsibility involved.”

If you can understand these concepts, you can explain them to a 3 year old. We’ve done it, we’ve helped others do it, it works.

As for being fairly compensated for our work, being paid back in this currency is reasonable. After all, we spend our time and money to stock the store, and it’s not just peanuts in there. When we receive a handful of our currency back for doing a task for the children, we think “Well, they could have bought a dollar’s worth of stuff from the store, so I basically just got paid a dollar for 3 minutes folding clothes. I’m fine with that.”