I’m going to stay on the discipline theme. Last week I wrote about me learning to behave. This week is about helping my children behave. In addition to 1-2-3 Magic (so many of you told me you ordered it – that’s awesome!), here’s how we found the most effective behavior device our house has seen.
“I am so nervous about George’s preschool Thanksgiving performance. I told George if he doesn’t behave, he is in big trouble!” his mother exclaimed to my friend and me.
My friend and I cast sideways glances at each other. Unplanned, at the same time, we blurted out, “is there anything he wants?! What if you offer him that for good behavior?”
Driving home, I replayed the conversation. I heard myself suggesting positive reinforcement to another mom. It naturally rolled off my tongue. It was easy for me to suggest it to her, but I was barely doing it myself.
A few more days, a few more behavior episodes.
At the end of a long day, my husband and I laid in bed discussing it, “I don’t know what else to do.” I said.
“Same here,” my husband sighed.
We were both at the point of giving up. Throwing in the towel and just accepting that our kids, who are generally sweet, loving boys, happen to act like wild hyenas at some moments.
But that’s not ok. That wouldn’t be me just giving up on my kids, that also would be me giving up on parenting. I’m supposed to help them learn boundaries, to set expectations and encourage them to rise to those expectations.
In my mind, I ran through everything we’ve tried:
Time-out: Effective to reset my children’s behavior when they are pushing the limits, but not always a deterrent to stop the behavior in the future. It also didn’t help set clear behavior standards.
Consequences: Taking away toys or prized possessions. Upsetting in the moment. Ineffective in the long run for driving repeat behavior. Along this same line, I’ve even tried a teaspoon of vinegar. Didn’t do it for our kids.
Rewards and Incentives: A fuzzy ball jar and a prize bucket. For good behavior, a fuzzy ball went in. For bad behavior, it came out. The boys loved earning these, picking them out and putting them in the jar. We saw minor short-lived improvements, but this approach lacked consistency. We were driving for repeat behavior, but the behavior to earn the fuzzy balls wasn’t well defined.
Which got me thinking…goals are supposed to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and trackable (yes, I was laying in bed problem solving by applying the SMART goals concept to my 3 year old and 4 year old. It’s really fun inside this mind of mine. Sometimes I wish I could turn it off and just daydream about rainbows and kittens)…
I needed to flip the script on where we’re focusing! Concentrating on punishment for the wrong behavior wasn’t working. We needed to be incentivizing and rewarding the good behavior. We also needed to make the standards consistent and predictable to our children.
“A sticker board!” I exclaimed to my husband’s light snores.
The next am I headed straight to
my happy place Target for poster board, markers and stickers.
Once home, I drew a few sketches and settled on a grid with the days of the week and the milestone activities we expected from the kids each day: getting up (uneventfully), getting dressed (happily), brushing teeth (obediently), eating breakfast (peacefully), etc. For each activity I used a picture so the boys could “read” it.
I purposely mixed in some easier ones in with the harder ones. If they get all their stickers for one day, they get a treat.
After a week, we saw tremendous progress. I feel like a fool that it took this long for me to get this: they love working for their reward. Of course they do – so do I!
At the end of 6 weeks, we got cocky. We didn’t think we needed it anymore. Now another 6 weeks have gone by and behavior has started to slide. We are making more sticker boards!
While the sticker board provides a cornerstone for the activities we expect on a daily basis. We still mix in some of the other behavioral methods we’ve picked up. I started to include them here, but that made this post get real long. And nobody’s got time for that. So I’m saving those for next week (I promise I did not intend for a 3-part behavior series!).
I don’t think I have all the answers (or really any of the answers). And I’m not saying any of this is bullet proof, but this is one of the things helping us. After the reactions to last week’s post, we’re clearly not the only ones trying to crack the behavior code. So why not pass along what’s been working and not working in our house.
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