It started out as a joke between my teenage daughter and me: if she did something useful around the house and I thanked her for it, she'd light-heartedly ask me what her reward was. So I invented an imaginary tally system called "special points".
My daughter would take out the rubbish and I'd say something like, "Great job – you get 1000 special points."
She pretended to be delighted, we'd laugh, and then move on.
Special points would come up from time to time, but I thought nothing more of it until my highly competitive seven-year-old son overheard me one day awarding special points to my teenage daughter.
"Why does she get special points?" he asked, clearly put out that he'd been missing out on the opportunity to win something.
So I started including him in special points too. Of course, anything those two were doing, my youngest child, who is five, wanted to be in on too.
My three children would then come to me with ideas of how they could win some special points.
"Can I take the dishes to the kitchen?"
"I tidied my room without being asked!"
"Can I put your shoes away?"
All I had to do was tell them they'd earned 500 special points, and they went away happy. It was like I'd discovered the magic elixir of good behaviour!
Of course, special points are really just code for parental approval, which all children crave. But if they're happy receiving it in point-form, I'm happy to deliver it that way. It seems to cut through and make a difference much more than a casual "good job" or "thanks for helping".
The great thing is, since all three of my children started trying to earn special points, the whole thing has become a massive household contest. And strangely, if one person earns these fundamentally meaningless special points, everyone else becomes super helpful in their efforts to earn more special points too.
I don't keep an official tally of special points, but when they ask I'll tell them they're all very close to each other, around the 20,000 point mark. It's always anyone's game.
My eldest child is well aware it's all ridiculous, but she's somehow just as swept up in it as the other two.
As the special points program has progressed, I have had to introduce some rules, just to save my sanity. For a while there, all I heard about were special points. The children started asking for special points for pretty much everything and it started to drive me mad. And they also tried to distract each other from doing jobs around the house because they didn't want to be outdone in the special points game.
As adjudicator of the special points program – and the go-to global leading expert in such matters – I hve informed the children that they can now lose special points for infringements such as trying to interfere with others' earning of special points, and for constantly asking for special points.
It's all incredibly arbitrary, of course, but who's going to say something? Complaining is sure to lose you special points, and my kids don't want to take that risk. *Insert evil laugh here*
My greatest concern is that one day they'll wake up and realised they're getting nothing out of this special points rort, but until then I plan on taking full advantage of their need to earn them.
I have a car that needs washing and a pile of laundry that won't fold itself.