Saturday, December 19, 2009

"Behavior Bucks": what's working, what's not, and what I'm going to do about it

Classroom behavior is an issue with my younger son, and in order to combat this and simplify the monitoring of it, I developed a system I call "behavior bucks". What I did is print up three colors of fake money using one of many printouts easily found on the internet. I printed them up on card stock so they would be sturdy, as I expect I will be using them for some time.

There are three colors: orange (bad), green (good), and gray (exceptional). Not my first choice of colors but that was what was in the multi-color cardstock pack at Staples. I gave these to the teacher, and she 'pays' Noah at the end of the day whatever is appropriate.

If Noah brings home a orange buck, he is grounded to his room until dinnertime and cannot leave the house after dinner. If he brings home a green buck, he is not grounded and is free to roam, after his homework is done. If he brings home a gray buck, then in addition he gets a special privilege, which we determine according to our schedule for the day.

This works for the teacher because it is easy for her to implement. She doesn't have to spend time emailing me or reporting to me the antics of the day, which I cannot really interpret because I don't know what is normal and tolerable at this age (he's much too active to be perfect) and it also depends on who else is disrupting class as well.

I like it because it puts the behavior transaction back between my son and the teacher; I am just the enforcer of consequences. I don't care exactly what he did; misbehavior means consequences and that's all I need to know. Bring home an orange buck and you're grounded. Sometimes he goes easily, and other times he argues and puts up a fuss, insisting that someone moved his pin down or whatever other excuse he can think up as to why it wasn't his fault. I just tell him to bring home a green buck next time (while he's on his way to his room).

Well, I thought it would work because he hates sitting in his room, but he has managed to bring home mostly orange bucks lately. So I am wondering, what am I doing wrong here?

I checked out a book from the library, The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child: with no pills, no therapy, and no contest of wills. This guy promises me practical advice that I can use, based on science and research, and at about a third of the way through the book, he's got my attention. He's talking about point charts, and he has a different way of doing them that you really have to read the book to understand. Not that it is all that difficult, but I don't want to write it out all here, and this is a book worth reading which can probably be checked out at your local library.

One of the thing he says research supports is that incentives and rewards work better than punishments. Not that he believes there should be no punishments or consequences, but more that things will work better when there are positive rewards for progress. These rewards most times are simple, such as praise and encouragement, a high-five or a hug.

So it got me to thinking about why behavior bucks isn't working, and I have come to the conclusion after reading this far that the reason is that it is solely punitive, and there is no incentive really in it for him, other than not being grounded.

Now, I am one to say that behaving in school and getting his work is done is his primary responsibility, and I am loathe to reward what he should be doing in the first place. But as the author points out, do I want to be principled or do I want to get the job done?

Rats. I want to get the job done, and I have to admit that things aren't working, so I'm going to have to try something new. Besides, he assures me that I won't have to do this forever, just until the desired behavior takes root.

This has had me racking my brain as to what I can offer for a reward that isn't food (weight control is an issue) and isn't going to cost me anything (budget is an issue). I have settled on taking him to the local skatepark, as I have decided I can sit at the skatepark for an hour in order to have more peace in my life. It will be my reading time, or maybe, better yet, there is Wi-Fi there.

I can adapt Kazdin's point chart method to the point chart system he advocates, allowing him to 'buy' time at the skatepark, in addition to not being grounded. (Kazdin also advocates a way of working the point chart that will end up with a larger prize at the end, which has yet to be determined. Again, you'd best read the book.)

Now, I must wait until school starts again to implement this and see if it will work. I will post an update in January; meanwhile, over Christmas vacation, we're going to take a few trips to the skatepark and check it out!

"Week of Firsts" - My best idea for peace among siblings

I am a problem solver, and when it comes to the bickering between my two boys, I try and look for ways to the reason for the bickering. This idea I implemented years ago to eliminate a portion of the bickering between them, specifically, who goes first.

Sometimes they both want to go first, sometimes they want the other to go first, and oh boy, did the bicker about that. Trying to keep track of who went first the last time on the various tasks involved was too much for my addled brain, so I came up with the idea of the "week of firsts".

I marked it all out on the calendar, alternating weeks, and whomever's week it was, they were first for everything, good or bad, whatever. You shower first. You get to press the elevator button first. You get tucked in first. If there's an argument, consult the calendar. It is interesting how the calendar solved so many arguments....

Now that they are older, we have progressed to "Month of Firsts" because we have coordinated this with chores, which change on a monthly basis. As my kids are approaching the age of being able to sit in the front seat, I will use this for the front seat issue as well.

It has eliminated at least a portion of things they bicker about.

But don't worry, they'll find other things. :)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Lunchbox Pita Pizzas

In our search for interesting things for the kids to take to school in their lunchbox, these have become a hit.

"Lunchbox Pita Pizzas"

Pita bread
Pizza sauce
Shredded Mozzarella cheese

Easy. Spread pizza sauce on pita bread. Top with Mozzarella cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Let cool completely.

I then cut them in half and wrap them in tin foil in an attempt to keep them a little crunchy.

The kids have nominated this their most favorite lunchbox item. I tried them and I think they are pretty lousy, but then again, I think kids will eat basically any cheesy tomatoe-y bread-like substance, especially when given the choice between that and peanut butter sandwiches.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

An "Abundance Swap" - What a great idea!

I don't know if any of my friends would want to do this, but I think it is a great idea! It's called an "Abundance Swap" and the premise is simple:

Just find 3-10 quality items in your home, shop or office that someone would enjoy as a gift... fun, useful, interesting or beautiful items, new or in really good shape that aren't important to you anymore. "Quality" doesn't mean "expensive." It means well-made, worthwhile, likely to be valued. Price doesn't matter. The gifts should be unwrapped items that someone would enjoy.

Abundance Swaps have been gaining momentum across the nation as citizens become more conscious that 25% of America's waste is produced between Thanksgiving and New Years alone. Not to mention the extra financial burden most Americans undergo struggling to make ends meet. As shoppers learn to tighten their belts unlike ever before many are beginning to realize the value of "repurposing" unwanted items sitting forgotten in their closet corners.

I heard about this in this article from This swap has been an annual event for seven years now in Nevada City - which I am nowhere near. But I wonder if I could set something up like this for next year.

I found this article which explains how to set one up: How to host an eco-friendly abundance swap It feels too late for this year - I simply do not have the energy, but I'm going to think about trying this next year for sure!

Blessing Chain Update

Sunday night, we made our first "blessings chain". The evening went very well, although at first the kids complained of being tired.

But then I brought out a bowl of paper strips and talked for a minute about how blessed we really are in this family, explained the task was to write each of your blessings on a strip of paper, form them into a chain, and the person with the longest chain would win the right to choose the board game we would all play.

Boy did the kids come to life! It was nice to see everyone in a contest to see who could be more 'blessed' than the others. After we completed our chains (used up all the paper strips I had made - even had to make more during the event!), we all shared what we had written. Everybody had one or two that made us all go "oo yeah", such as "No one in our family is disabled", "I am not alone in this world", "I live in America", and more.

Joshua was the winner by far, and he chose the game of Sorry! which we all played. We had pudding with whipped cream for desert. And the blessing chain will go around the outside of our Christmas tree to remind us of all the good things we already have.

It was a great evening and one we decided would be come our own holiday tradition!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ze End of Ze World

Another one of my all-time YouTube favorites (disclosure: does contain foul language):

The Mom Song

This is one of my all-time favorite YouTube videos:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Responding to mean teasing: Advice on how to tell your child to respond

It seems to me that my kids are having social difficulties these days, so I have set off to find practical ways I can help them. This blog will be a log of the ideas I have had, and updates on how I think they worked.

The following comes from the book, "The Unwritten Rules of Friendship: Simple Strategies to Help Your Child Make Friends" by Natalie Madorsky Elman, PhD, and Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD. I checked this book out from the library, and it's a gold-mine of practical information on how you can help your child who is having friendship issues. It has profiles for nine different types of children, with practical advice and exercises for each.

So here's what it says about how to respond to mean teasing:

Look teaser in the eye with a bored expression, then look away.
Walk away slowly.
“Yeah, so what’s your point?”
“Tell me when you get to the funny part.”
“Grow up!”
“Tell someone who cares.”
Roll your eyes.
“Who cares what you think”.

If you’re with other friends, or if you have some friendship with the teaser, you could say “Cut it out. I don’t like it when you … “

“I’m telling.”
“I’m going to tell my mom.”
“You’re going to get in trouble.”
“That’s not nice.”
“You hurt my feelings.”

The "Blessings Chain"

Now that our kids (age 9 and 11) know the truth about Christmas, I have decided that this year we are going to have a different Christmas season. Instead of focusing on the joy of receiving (something my kids excel at), we're going to work a little bit on the joy of giving, and on being thankful for all of our blessings in our lives.

I have come up with an activity for the latter goal which I hope will become a family tradition. I call it "the blessings chain". This Sunday, after we decorate the tree and after dinner, I am going to hand each family member (including myself) 25 small construction paper strips. I will also have more strips available in the center of the table.

The idea is simple: on each strip, everyone is to write down a blessing in their life. For something to be considered a blessing, it must contribute something positive to your life, such as "sunny, warm days" is a blessing; "a glacier on Mount Kilamanjero" is not - well, unless one has hiked up to it, or can prove some sort of connection. The person who creates the longest chain of blessings will win a prize (I am thinking this will be the right to choose the board game which we will then play immediately afterwards.)

We'll all share our blessings on our chains and then hook them together and put them around the outside of the Christmas tree so that we will remember all season long how truly blessed we are.