I guess you all can tell I’m a fan of behavior plans. This latest plan probably isn’t Version 5.0. It may be more like Version 22.3. I tend to use behavior systems in bits and spurts, when we hit a rough patch behavior-wise and I’m at my wits’ end and need something to jump-start our journey back to peaceful living. Sometimes the jump-start comes from a behavior plan and sometimes it is something else, like adjusting our routine or clarifying our expectations. It just depends on the particular issue and the dynamics that seem to be behind it. With behavior plans, we’ll use them for a couple of weeks and then back off. By then things are usually on track again.
I know some parents are not big believers in artificial rewards and consequences (i.e., behavior plans). I always go
for natural consequences first, but a good behavior plan will motivate my
kids when all else fails. I recognize when things aren’t going so well and we need to regroup. A good behavior plan gives me a sense of control and direction
for handling challenges, which helps me keep my patience and my sanity. And, in the end, it creates a much
happier home for all of us, which is what I want of course! I also believe that, when delivered in the
context of love and warmth and good communication, rewards and
consequences can help kids to internalize the expectations for
appropriate behavior and learn that our choices affect what happens to
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that things have been kind of hairy lately. For a few different reasons, I’ve been finding myself irritable and short-tempered – not a fun place for momma to be. And for whatever reason – maybe all of the transitions we’re going through with the end of summer, maybe feeding off my own bad mood – the boys were doing a lot of arguing, bickering, and generally ignoring the rules. Together, this isn’t a pleasant combination! I’ve been doing all of the usual – explain how a certain behavior affects others, remind, redirect, distract, put toys in time-out, put kids in time-out….yell. Ugh. Yell. I hate that one.
So on the fly, I threw together a quickie behavior system. It looks like this:
Fancy, eh? I bought a bag of glass stones at the craft store a couple of years ago and they have proven a worthy investment of $4.
The gist of the Version 5.0 (or 22.3) is that we remove a stone if the kids break a rule. We usually give a reminder, but if the behavior continues, we take a stone. Call your brother a poopy-head? Lose a stone. Throw toys in the house? Lose a stone. If the stones stay above the tape, the boys get a treat after dinner. If they drop below the tape, there is no TV the next day. It is amazingly easy to implement.
I usually try to start positive and recognize appropriate choices, but obviously this system is a bit on the negative side. That may be because I threw it together in a moment of desperation. But also, I know my sweet boys and I knew it would work. And, did I mention I was desperate?
Zip is the kid who asks “How long will I lose this sword, if I whack my brother with it?” He’s the kid who, if the joy of a behavior outweighs the consequence, will simply choose to deal with the consequence. (Hence repeatedly getting in trouble for digging up the playground tiles at school to hunt for bugs underneath). Zip is full of spunk and energy and curiosity, and while simply knowing the rules and realizing how his behavior affects others often helps, sometimes he needs a carrot dangling in front of him. Or a piano hanging over his head. I’ve learned that, contrary to how I thought I’d parent, with Zip consequences need to be big and meaningful – then he steps right up. My friend, a social worker, made a great point: He’s a larger-than-life kid. Maybe that’s why he needs larger-than-life consequences. I think he’s what was called a “spirited child” in the 90’s. It’s one of the things I love about him.
Bee does what his brother does. So if Zip reins in the potty talk and furniture-jumping, Bee will follow suit.
So, yes, Version 5.0 focuses on negative behavior (what not to do), whereas usually I’d focus on reinforcing positives. But it is working. Peace is returning. Those little behaviors that accumulate over the day to drive me crazy are subsiding. No, not perfection. I don’t expect perfection. I just want a little more happy. And I see it! In fact, the kids have stayed above the tape every day!
Another twist on this plan: After a few days Zip asked if he could earn stones. Oops – I guess he noticed the positive was missing! So I modified the jar a bit by starting the day with the stones level with the middle of the tape. Earn enough stones to get above the tape and get a treat. If the level falls below, lose tv. Same idea, just with a slightly different spin. Call it Version 5.1.
I’d love to know if you use behavior plans with your kids. What do you do? Does it help? Join the conversation – share your thoughts in the comments below!