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!

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