Being a good dad and a cool dad doesn't have to be impossible. Just get creative. It's illegal to bribe a police officer or politician. But your kids? That's 100% legal – especially if they don't know you're bribing them. We actually do it all the time.
“Finish your green beans or no dessert for you, young man.”
“Clean your room and I'll drop you off at Stephanie's. Deal?”
“One more C in Biology and I'm banning all iPad use for a month.”
And so on. We do it because the giving/taking away function of parenthood is the most effective leverage we have to guide our kids into a brighter future.
The problem is I don't want my role in my kids' development to always revolve around chastisement and consequences. Authority isn't nearly as inspiring as challenges and encouragement. I want to proactively teach them how to work for a prize, compete gracefully (but fiercely) whether they win or lose, and develop an appetite for the delight that comes from achievement.
In light of this, I designed a few competitions to get my kids developing good habits. The bait? Money, baby. You probably have a little extra coin laying around the house, Dad. Instead of a new video game for Mikey, consider making him earn it through a little personal development.
Presenting: The Kid Olympics, Brought to You by Dad.
Event One: A Journal a Day (1 month, $50)
Journaling is the perfect tool for everyone, and you probably need to call it “journaling” instead of “writing in your diary” or most boys won't participate. Think about it: Introverts need to get their thoughts out desperately. Extroverts need to acknowledge their thoughts and slow their minds down a little bit. Challenge your kids, no matter their disposition, to one journal a day next month. Miss a day and they're out. $100 cash to each kid who makes it.
Event Two: Rubik's Cube Challenge (1 month, $50)
Being smart isn't about what you know, it's about what you have the gumption to figure out with the tools at your disposal. I learned to solve a Rubik's Cube in two days, but not because I'm brilliant. I learned the moves, and your kids can, too. Give them a month to learn the moves on their own and $100 cash to each kid that can solve it for you. Want a little extra incentive? Have a race. The fastest Rubik's Cube solver gets an additional $50.
Event Three: Pizza Night's Best Homemade Pizza (1 Night, $25)
Suppertime used to be a sacred institution, and I miss that. I don't want to make my kids quit soccer and ballet to make it every night, but I would like to infuse at least one family supper of togetherness into the hectic family schedule sometimes. Here's the plan: gather all kinds of exotic pizza ingredients, instruct the kids to be creative, and cook as many mini-pizzas as you have kids. At the end let democracy choose the winner for the best homemade pizza that night. $50 cash to the winner! The best part? We can schedule this monthly for some guaranteed family fun and bonding.
Event Four: A Book a Month (1 year, $100)
Education is free if you think about it. As soon as a child can read, he/she can start diving into the wonders of stories, life, and the world. You may object with “my kid doesn't like to read,” but don't believe that for a second. It isn't true. I love to read, and every anti-reader I've met has been converted into a voracious reader once they found the right books. We're all interested in something, and there are 200 books out there on what you're into, guaranteed. Start with these for your kids: The Hobbit, Ender's Game, The Hunger Games (slightly graphic), The Princess Bride, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Neverending Story, and for more options check out this link. $200 cash to the kid who reads 12 new books that year.
Event Five: Longest Streak of Flossing Daily ($50)
This is probably a competition we should all enter. I won't say it will make flossing fun, but it will get your kids' flossing done. $100 to the kid who flosses once a day for the most days. Caution: your kids may collaborate and designate a “winner” after 6 days, then divide the winnings equally amongst themselves. Don't be outsmarted.
Event Six: Tamagotchi Face-Off (2 months, $50)
I remember my sister sobbed so hard she couldn't breathe...the 7th time she killed her Tamagotchi. This annoying toy from the late 90's still exists. But annoyingness aside, Tamagotchis teach responsibility, attentiveness, and commitment. For only $25, kids will competitively learn how to care for something that depends on them, even if it is virtual and rather ridiculous. $100 to the kid who can keep his/her Tamagotchi alive for two months. No resets!!
I could go on and on with fun, family competitions.