Do You Know Your Child's Currency?

Josie Josie Josie…that girl, I tell ya. She turned 4, started pre-K, and reverted back to a temper tantrum-throwing monster child with a biting tongue and a stone cold attitude. Seriously, you ought to see the look on that girl’s face when she’s “not happy at you.” It’s priceless. (I’ve actually tried several times to take a picture of it, but as you can imagine, that doesn’t go over very well. She either hides and screams or loses her game face altogether.)

All to say, that what was working a month ago in discipline is no longer working. None of the time-outs, swats, or soap-in-the-mouth tactics are viable. They have absolutely zero impact on her resolve. But it got me thinking – I need to figure out what her currency is. What’s the one thing I can use to cut her bad behavior off at the knees?

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See, her currency has changed in every season. In potty training, M&Ms, cookies, and stickers were of no help…but once I realized that she was obsessed with eating snacks out of her own baggie, I threw 5-6 mini marshmallows into a Ziploc and just like that, she was a regular ole potty pooper.

In her screaming-before-bedtime, won’t-stay-in-her-big-girl-bed phase, it was locking the door, or the threat of it. I could not reason with the screaming girl until I told her that her consequence for disobeying the rule of leaving her bed was for me to lock the door. As soon as she heard that, she literally never left her bed again. (Also, I will note that I didn’t even have the power to actually lock her door, because the lock is on the inside haha!)

So here we are, with a sassy pants 4-year-old whose currency is….(drum roll please)…her princess dresses. One sassy remark gets one taken away. Go ahead, girl, keep it up and you’ll lose them all. And if I run out of princess dresses, I’ll start taking your regular dresses and you’ll be forced to wear a shirt and pants (the audacity!). But guess what? It’s working. Hallelujah. (Plus, she’s now more adjusted to her new Pre-K schedule and back to taking afternoon naps, so she’s an all-around happier girl).


But she’s also got another currency too. A much more important one. The way she feels most loved. Just like we all do. I’m not sure if it will always be this way, but this girl’s love languages are Quality Time and Words of Affirmation. Disciplining with these is a lot tougher than using princess dresses. It’s more emotional for both of us.

The Words of Affirmation one is a little easier, because my hope is that by praising her for her good behaviors, she’ll lean more heavily into those. And of course I’d never withhold encouragement or kind words from my girl as a form of punishment. But that pesky Quality Time is a heart-breaker. It’s the hardest to follow through on. BUT, anytime Josie is misbehaving during bedtime routine, not listening or stalling, she first loses her bedtime books and then her privilege of having Mommy or Daddy lay with her.  The hard part is that not only is that NOT a motivator to her behavior change (although it really hurts her feelings), it hurts me because my favorite part of the day is laying with her in bed because she’s contained, calm(er), and usually sweet and chatty.

I’m not sure where you find yourself as you’re scrolling through this post. Maybe you’re at your wits end with tantruming toddler. Or a kid who refuses to do his homework. Or a potty training boot camp dropout. 

No matter your current kid-struggle:

  • Find the currency of the season. It could be anything from princess dresses to marshmallows. But figure it out and follow through. Admittedly, I’m not perfectly consistent at discipline, but I am getting better. Plus, I want my kids to know that when I say something, I mean it, and I know my follow-through is what’s going to make that stick.

  • Fill ‘em up on the currency that matters. Figuring out the way your kids feel love and safety in your home is so important. My guess is that some of Josie’s behavior issues can stem from an imbalance in the way her bucket gets filled. If we’ve got a busy schedule with too much running around and not enough playing, reading, or snuggling with our girl, we’ve got a problem. If we’re distracted, disengaged or downright lazy, we’re probably not noticing all the wonderful ways we can shower our little one with deserved words of affirmation (and I say deserved because I’m pretty anti-participation trophy type “love”).

  • Teach them YOUR currency. Yeah, mamas have a love language too. And helping your kids understand how they can love you best is a pretty smart idea that just now dawned on me. In fact, today I was explaining to Josie that one of the ways I show her Daddy that I love him is through *trying* to keep the house clean. So what does she do? She cleaned her bedroom AND her playroom – completely unprompted! Now, I just need to tell her that my love language is physical touch, so I’m going to need a lot more hugs and kisses.

If you don’t know your love language (or even what I’m talking about), check out this site and quiz. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never read the book, but have taken the tests and have also just used my brain and past experiences to come to my love language conclusions. There’s also an adventure for kids to discover theirs here.

So, what’s the most ridiculous currency your kid has ever had? How did you figure it out? And what are some ways you pour into your kids that matter most?

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Lisa Graft1 Comment