Tickets: a good tool for us

A few months ago I first mentioned the ticket system we've been using.  It has been working really well for us, so I'm going to share a little more about how it has worked in our home.

A recent picture of our fridge
The ticket method originated with John Rosemond.  Here is his description of the way the system should work:
List no more than three specific misbehaviors on an index card (e.g. throwing tantrums, refusing to obey first-time instructions, being mean to the dog). Those are the misbehaviors you are targeting for elimination. Post that list on the refrigerator. Using a magnetic clip, clip a certain number of ticket-shaped (e.g. 2 inches by 5 inches) pieces of colored construction paper to the refrigerator, above the target behavior list. The child begins every day with, say, five tickets. Every time she produces one of her target behaviors, the parent points that out and removes a ticket. The first four tickets are “free.” They are the child’s “margin of error” for any given day. When the child loses her fifth (last) ticket, she spends the remainder of the day in her room (first reduce the room’s entertainment value) and goes to bed at least an hour early. As the child’s behavior improves, losing fewer and fewer tickets per day, reduce the margin of error gradually, but to no less than two. Or, keep the same number of tickets but add more target behaviors. Eventually, eliminate the system altogether.
We began this system with our 5-year-old, then added tickets for our 8-year-old, then added tickets for our 9-year-old.

We began by sitting each child down individually and briefly discussing the behaviors we were specifically working to change.  Then we explained the system: they would get so many tickets per day (we did 3 tickets for the older kids, 5 for our younger).  Each time ___{insert identified misbehavior here}___ happens, we will remove a ticket from the fridge, then when the tickets are all gone, this (see below) is what will happen. 

I was hesitant to send a child to their room for the rest of the day, as John Rosemond suggests.  Um.  That seemed so-- extreme.  I feared that it would result in a huge battle with a yelling/crying child in their room all day long.  And it would be a battle I would have to face alone (since Mark is at work), and I didn't really want to be dealing with that all day on top of everything else that goes on around here.

So in the beginning-- which we'll call Phase 1-- we said when the tickets were all gone, the child would have to go to bed one hour early (thus missing daddy's evening read-aloud time, which is a highlight in our home.)  This happened only a few times until we realized that this wasn't much of a punishment.  One hour early simply meant that the child would fall asleep one hour early (rather than the "I'm missing out due to my behavior" thoughts we hoped would occur), and of course- thus waking up an hour earlier the next morning, which isn't always super handy.  So we launched Phase 2, and that's where we've stayed.  When the specified amount of tickets are gone, the child spends one hour in his/her room, immediately.  I set the timer.  Then the child gets one more ticket after that.  If he/she loses that ticket, they need to be on their bed for the rest of the day.  The on-their-bed-for-the-rest-of-the-day deal has only happened with one child, and only three times in as many months.  And it has not been the traumatic event I thought it would be. 

We're now down to three tickets for even our youngest (5-year-old) child, and we aren't using tickets for our 9-year-old anymore.  The behaviors that we began the system for are definitely improved.   I've been thankful for this system in our home!


  1. Hi! Thanks for telling us about how this is working out at home! I have wondered about adding this type of behavior training into our home at times. I think it would be extra helpful in during a season where you are trying to recover from some bad habits that have fallen into place- during a long illness or pregnancy etc. One of my concerns, and maybe you can address how you feel about this, is that the sending to the room, even for the shorter hour during the day rather than the rest of the day could possibly delay the opportunity for reconciliation between you and your child. I guess it depends on how you work it. Amidst the crazy at our house, with some of that chaos coming from a few kids with behaviors that routinely push my buttons, I would sometimes really like to send a child to their room for the rest of the day but maybe without the right attitude from me. Well, I'm rambling here. I'd love to know what you think!

    1. I see your concern, Rebecca.

      Adelia is the child of ours that most often ends up on her bed, though- as I said- she's only done the "rest of the day" thing three times, and maybe the hour every other week or so over the past few months.

      I've found that she is much MORE willing and able to have any sort of reconciliation talk after she's settled down and had some time of quiet. The time away diffuses the emotion of the situation, for her and for me.

      I should say, here, too- and I think this is important: that it's not like she's banished in anger to her room without any interaction from me. When she's on her bed, I will often poke my head in and tell her I love her and miss her, and she just plays quietly on her bed. (And she plays quite happily in there- so I've often thought that she also needed that time away from her own temptations to push siblings buttons.)

      I hesitated in posting about this at all, because I'm sure there are holes, and surely we haven't thought everything through, and while it's worked for us, it may not work for others. But what I like is that it is a tool I can use in addition to those we already use for discipline. I like it that the system is set up to give grace- not just one ticket, but a few, and for the purpose of working on this *one thing*. So it hones in on one behavior at a time, and that's easier for little minds to grasp, I think. So it's character/habit training, really.

      I don't even know if I've responded to your question but those are my thoughts, and it's now breakfast time at our house.

      Love to you and yours, Rebecca. May God give you grace and wisdom in leading your little ones.


  2. Love this idea, we may try it here. ;-)

  3. Stacy, do you think this would work with my daughter Eleanor who was 4 in May? Or do you think she is too young to comprehend cause/effect of her behaviours?
    Right now she gets "time outs" and they don't seem to be making an impact - she's just really angry still when she has to apologise at the end of the time out.
    Thanks for your thoughts

    1. I'm thinking and praying through your question before I respond. And I want to talk to Mark first. But I won't forget you!

    2. Mark here, replying with Stacy beside me to give input.

      I don't know Eleanor (but I'm sure she'd be a delight to know), so I can only give input based on all four of our kids who were once 4 and, mostly, the one who still is. We don't do the ticket system with Audra, mostly because she has generally had a teachable spirit and hasn't needed repetitive correcting throughout the day. Generally, a stern word is enough to correct her.
      I think that 4-year olds totally get the cause/effect of their behaviors. We always start early in teaching our kids self control, never assuming that they're "too young" to get the cause/effect. They learn cause/effect when they're babies: they cry -- they get food.

      If time-outs aren't making a difference, perhaps they don't really give Eleanor enough of a consequence to make her want to turn away from bad behavior. If so, this may work. The nice thing about this system is that it really reduces the confrontation in correcting. The child sees their tickets -- they see that their actions result in tickets going away -- and they know that when tickets are gone they're on a long time-out. The parent is not the one pulling punishment out of thin air, they're just following the explained program. When there's an infraction, there's just a quick ticket pull and a gentle reminder that there's only x number of tickets left.
      Anyway, I ramble, but to address the issue of her being angry ... we don't know, besides this: Pray. God will give you the wisdom you need as parents to address her anger.



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