When we were first training dogs, one of the things that was said in a puppy class was that you have to “find your dog’s currency and then deal in it.” That currency could be cheese, hot dogs, a tennis ball, positive attention, ear scratches, whatever your dog LOVES. You’ve gotta figure out what motivates the dog before you’ll be able to get the dog to do what you want them to do. The dog has to feel like the inconvenience of performing the command is worth it if they get the reward that they want. Linus’ currency is turkey hot dogs, and Logic needs positive attention with occasional food treats.

I’ve found that this is true for more than just dogs. It’s true for people, too. When I was teaching middle schoolers, homework passes and bonus points were their currency. Kids will SKIP the 5-point problems on a test, run out of time to finish the test, and yet they still will have tried the 3-point bonuses. Makes no sense whatsoever, but it seems to be universal. And you can explain to a kid until you’re blue in the face that the REAL problems are worth more, but if they see the word “bonus” they’re suckers for it.

Helen’s currency is M&Ms and/or ice cream. She will do just about ANYthing for the promise of either of those. If I want her to eat her green beans and she won’t cooperate, I’ll just get out the ice cream and make myself a bowl, and enjoy it just a leeeeeeeeeetle bit too much. And suddenly Helen will inhale the green beans. I don’t do this EVERY time, mind you — I do not plan on having children with weight problems.

My mom found with us that we’d have impeccable table manners if at the beginning of the meal, 5 M&Ms were lined up at each place (including hers and Dad’s). For every manner infraction, one M&M was subtracted from your line (and added to the line of the person who noticed your mistake and voiced it). Occasionally she and Dad would flagrantly mess up on purpose — talking with their mouth full or putting their elbows on the table, just to give us a freebie. But the competition among siblings to keep all five of our M&Ms and NOT let a sib catch us messing up made for some very peaceful dinners:
“Would you please pass the salt, please, dearest brother?”
“Why, yes, my adorable little sister, here is the salt.”
“Thank you ever so very much.”
“You are so very welcome, it was my pleasure.”

Alice’s currency right now seems to be hugs and positive attention, but as she gets more verbal and understands more, it will be interesting to see what really motivates her. She’s a fiend for the M&Ms at the ends of meals now, too, though she doesn’t know why she’s getting them. Mostly, she just gets them for being cute, and for using words instead of grunting when she wants something.

My currency? Do things (particularly around the house) for me and I’ll be your slave. Gary Chapman calls this my Love Language: Acts of Service. I’ll admit it. I’m definitely motivated by that.

Jerry’s Love Language is Quality Time — sometimes all he needs is for me to sit in the same room with him. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we don’t. He just needs me to stop. moving. for. a. minute. and sit down with him. That’s hard for me to do, but when I DO it, the difference in his demeanor is amazing.

What’s your currency, or your Love Language?