Human motivation has been studied for years by psychologists and marketers. The findings consistently show there is no doubt incentives work. The biggest challenge is finding the right mix between the cost of the incentive and the motivation it will provide. Is the incentive beneficial enough, or subjectively worth enough to convince someone to change their behavior in the manner you want? And will your incentive cost you more in time, effort, or money than the benefit you’ll receive? Not easy questions to address. Everyone has different buttons. 

What truly is interesting is that cruise ships have discovered most people have pretty low standards when it comes to incentivizing. During a recent sailing on a Royal Caribbean cruise, we witnessed several people doing embarrassing things only to be rewarded with a $5 trophy, or worse, a keychain. Obviously, many people are typically quite imbibed during a cruise experience, so they’re more apt to do things they wouldn’t normally do, so that’s an important consideration.

However, low cost trinkets, when presented in a positive manner, do seem to garner participation. We’ve found that the sillier the reward, the greater the desire. One of our most effective rewards were small rubber emoji balls that shot out a tongue when squeezes. The kids loved these things. It was amazing how quickly the chores were done when these were presented as rewards.

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Regarding chores, the bane of any child’s existence, it’s difficult to convince children that one of the primary responsibilities of any parent is to teach them how to care for their own home. Additionally, it’s always a great precedent to involve all members of your F.U. to participate in the care and maintenance of your current home. Rewards are great, but ideas run thin eventually, and money runs out in most fams. We needed a better way to involve our kids in chores.

At work, one of the managers had a large whiteboard installed behind her desk. She’d write tasks and responsibilities on the board so everyone could see who did what, and how things were progressing. I noticed workers competing to get things done faster. Although it wasn’t intended, her visual aid became an employee motivation tool. Despite all the digital scheduling tools at her disposal, to this day, she still uses the plain old whiteboard to track all her projects.


I thought this might work in my own home! My kids, like most, were quick to cast blame and engage in guilt tripping. I thought if I could post their chores and responsibilities somewhere everyone could see, it might incentivize my kids to get things done quicker. We called it a “Star Board.” We bought a huge magnetic whiteboard and drew four columns – the leftmost with the name of the chore, and the last three with our kids’ names. When someone did their assigned chores that week, they’d receive stars proportionate with the difficulty of the chore. Mopping the floors was worth five stars, loading the dishwasher was worth two, and so on. We would also award stars for “doing right things” like cleaning things up that weren’t necessarily your chores, or paying compliments, helping a sibling with homework, or something else that required common sense to create positive behavioral patterns. Stars could be traded for movie gift cards, cash, vacation experiences, or other cool things.


Our Star Board was a smashing success. Until it wasn’t. Once the kids got jobs and earned their own money, they expressed that it was OK to handle dirty dishes at a restaurant, but handing the family’s dishes were grotesque. Definitely a SMH moment. Point is, they learned what’s expected from a civilized member of society, and that can’t hurt in the relationships they’d experience as an adult.