Thursday, October 17, 2013

Old and New Behavior Management Systems for Smiley

I realized that I had not written about behavior management in over three years!

That old essay is now relevant to Gallant, who is almost two-and-a-half.  (He thinks with his hands, I try to restrict his stuff instead of putting him in time out, and reminders are often appropriate but never warnings.)  Those tools are still useful for Smiley, too!

We also still use our mantra of Listening Boys get nice things.

But during the last few years my wife and I have developed a few other tools to help Smiley learn self-discipline and proper behavior.  I'll describe three of them.

Good and Bad Weights

We knew that the behavior Smiley needed to work on most as a three-year-old was following directions the first time we said them.   For a boy his age he was a good listener, but he could still do better.  So, with that very specific goal in mind, we set up a new system.

We purchased a toy balance scale to use as our tool.  It was marketed as a toy to demonstrate addition equalities, but we instead used it for two years for behavior management.

We divided the day up into five parts: waking up through breakfast, after breakfast through lunch, after lunch through nap, after nap through dinner, and after dinner through bedtime.

Each time Smiley listened the first time for an entire part of the day he earned a "good weight" on the right side of the balance.  Once he had ten good weights the balance was emptied and he earned a ticket for twenty minutes of computer time.  (You can see the tickets I made in the photograph, in front of the balance.)

As Smiley grew older he began to notice things he wanted while we were shopping.  I set aside a small box in the hallway closet for this "ten good weight treats".  If we were at a store and he wanted a candy, Matchbox car, or other small treat my usual reply became, "You cannot have that now.  Do you want it as a ten good weight treat?".

Smiley initially always replied "Yes" to that question.  But he soon learned to recognize when an item's appeal was due more to its novelty and presence.  With some parental guidance, he began to consider whether the candy or toy he was looking at was something he wanted more than what was already waiting in the box of ten good weight treats.

The other side of the balance was used for "bad weights".  Any time he needed to be asked twice to do something he earned a bad weight.  This meant he did not earn a "good weight" for that part of the day, and also provided another threat: if he ever had ten "bad weights" then he would get spanked a number of times equal to his age (and the balance would be emptied).

Those spankings only happened a few times.  As any parent of little kids knows, some weeks are just difficult weeks: Smiley got to nine bad weights a fair number of times.  But, unsurprisingly, his listening ears really turned on at nine bad weights--the boy who had been sulky and contrary for days suddenly became a model citizen until he had earned ten good weights and the balance was emptied.  That is what physical punishment should be: something possible but rare that provides motivation for proper behavior much more frequently than it is actually experienced.

After Smiley got used to the good weights and bad weights, we extended the bad weights to also be earned when he broke a house rule he really should always keep in mind.  Like most small children, Smiley would often be so lost in his own thoughts that even common house rules such as "hang up your coat after you take it off, do not leave it on the floor" might need one reminder.  But breaking a few of our safety rules, such as "no roughhousing on the stairs", immediately earned a bad weight.

Dessert Choices

Smiley became aware of candy and began to eat dessert while he was three years old.  We told him that because he was three, after lunch or dinner he could make three choices.

This was not a lot of sweets.  At the time, he only knew about small candies: chocolate chips, M&Ms, and tic tacs.

Now Smiley is five years old.  He gets five dessert choices after lunch or dinner.  He knows about more types of candy, and has a small collection of sweets in one cupboard.  Larger candies are worth two or three "choices".  Eating dessert has become a tiny exercise in using budgeting while shopping to become happiest.

There was a catch: if he earned a bad weight he also lost one of his desert choices the next time he got dessert.

Fill In the Shape Tickets

We needed a new tool once Smiley started kindergarten.  He was away from the house much more.

So I made up five kinds of "tickets".  Doing any of the things on each ticket earns him having one of the ticket's shapes filled in.  One ticket can be spent for 20 minutes of computer time.  Two tickets of different kinds can be spent for something from the box in the closet that used to be "ten good weight treats".

The idea for the tickets came from a Gracie Game Day paper used at his martial arts dojo.  Smiley was given a piece of paper on which he earned filling in stars for being polite (much like the top ticket above) to eventually earn the privilege of attending an extra activity at the dojo.  He so much liked seeing the stars being filled in that I decided to use a similar thing for at home.

I am still wondering what to do for the sixth ticket spot.  Perhaps community help in volunteering and recycling?

UPDATE: After the first parent-teacher conference for kindergarten, we learned about the kinds of homework he will start doing and made up one homework item of our own.  That is now the sixth ticket.

Smiley also asked that we create a Super Ticket that kept track of how many normal tickets he earns.  When the Super Ticket is full he earns something extra-special.  We are not yet sure what that should be.  So far our best idea is to use the Super Ticket as an excuse for the family trips we already take to the Newport Aquarium, camping, etc.

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