The Happy Face, Vacation Money System (AKA Teaching Good Behavior and Money Management Skills to Preschoolers)


My kids have been a little bit punchy lately.

When it comes to using “tricks” for effective parenting, I am TOTALLY CLUELESS. Up until now, my M-O incorporated a combination of timeouts and bribery (apparently a parenting no-no!). However, as my kids get older and they learn to game the system, timeouts and bribery are no longer effective.

I was lamenting about this to a friend and she stated the obvious that wasn’t so obvious to me. “Use a reward system.”

I looked at her, probing for more details.

“You can do anything – stickers on a chart, cotton balls in a jar. Whatever it is, reward only good behavior, do not punish bad behavior, and provide a visual cue to the child on how well they’re doing relative to their goals.”


And so was born our “Happy Face, Vacation Money” system; a system that (I think) incorporates several points of learning: 1) behavior; 2) basic counting and math; 3) money management. I’m sure some parenting expert will balk at all of this as being inappropriate but hey…it’s working.


Teaching Good Behavior

Our chart has several categories and for each category my kids achieve successfully, they get one happy face. Happy face categories include:

    • Get out of bed without complaining
    • Had a good day – this category was not well thought out when I created it and it ends up mostly being a “bonus” category.
    • Listened to Mommy and Daddy
    • Got along with your sister/your brother – uhhh, yeah, right!
    • Ate my growing food – they can get up to 3 happy faces here; one for each meal. They are required to at least try everything I give them to get a happy face.

Teaching Basic Arithmetic / Math

At the end of the day, I make my kids count up happy faces. On an ordinary day, they can get up to 7 happy faces (they can get “bonus” happy faces if they’re extra good). If they have anything less than 7, I ask them what’s missing, and if they got more than 7, I ask them why.

“I got 8 happy faces today.”

“How did you get 8 happy faces?”

“I got one extra happy face for being ready for school early.”

– or –

“I only got 5 happy faces.”


“I didn’t eat my lunch, and I didn’t listen to Mommy. I am missing 2 happy faces”

“How many happy faces would you have if you ate your lunch and listened to mommy?”


(Yes, I know that we do not punish bad behavior, but I want to reinforce what they can work on tomorrow.)

Teaching Money Management

I don’t yet know if this will work, but it’s worth a shot. For each happy face they get, my kids get a coin. Each day, after we have dropped the coins into their clear plastic jars, we count it all up. In a few weeks, we’ll be going on vacation to a very popular theme park and I have told them that they will be able to use their money for whatever they want to buy. As part of this, I keep reminding them of the following rules:

    • If you spend too much money on the first few days, you will have no more left over to spend for the rest of the vacation.
    • If you buy something that you don’t want later, we can’t take it back. Think carefully before you buy.

My daughter already kind of gets it.

“Mommy, I really want to get a (theme park logo) pen. How much money do I need?”

“Probably about one dollar and fifty cents.”

“If I buy a pen, how much money will I have left over?”

“About nine dollars…” (Yes, my kids already have $10.50 in their jars!!! My mistake was that I started with quarters…now I’m on nickels!)

“How much is cotton candy?”

“Maybe about two dollars.”

“So, with my money, I can get a pen AND cotton candy?”

“Yes, sweetie.”

“And will I have money left over?”

“Probably, yes.”


I have no idea if this is all considered “good parenting” – I’m sure some parenting expert will find some fault in my ways – but it really is working. My kids get excited every time they get a happy face and they work hard to make sure they get 7 (or more) happy faces, they rejoice at the plunking sound of the coins dropping into their jars, and they are looking forward to spending their OWN money on something fun.

5 thoughts on “The Happy Face, Vacation Money System (AKA Teaching Good Behavior and Money Management Skills to Preschoolers)

  1. This seems like a great idea. How old are your children? I have an almost three year old who I have been trying to reinforce positive behavior with.

    1. Hi, Shannon! My kids are almost 4. Up until about 3 months ago, timeouts were still somewhat effective. Now they’ve figured it all out, haha! Good luck with figuring out a method that works for you!

  2. This is a great idea! So glad it’s working for you. I too am pretty clueless when it comes to this kind of stuff (creating rewards charts etc.) I recently thought about creating a reward chart to work on a few things but my husband didn’t seem to keen on the idea. We’ll see! I like how it reinforces the positive behavior without punishing.

Share Some Comment Love

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s