Four has been… It’s been a challenge. I mean, the other years had their challenges, too, but this was the year Kendall moved beyond simple tantrums into full-blown negotiations. The kid has opinions and plans, y’all. STRONG SET IN STONE ONES. And he’s not going to take no for answer. He won’t even take “No, if you do that one more time you’re going to time out,” for an answer.
I’ll be honest, there’s been a lot of yelling. From all of us. And I’m not going to guilt myself into feeling bad for ever yelling at all because that’s just life, and it’s who we are. Sometimes yelling happens. But I can do better. Everyone in this house can do better. So we’re trying.
This week, I started a system with Kendall where he can earn rocks for anything from getting ready for school on time, to playing nicely with his sister. We use them to reward him for trying the food we have for dinner, and for leaving the playground without a fit.
The idea is he has to fill this entire jar with river rocks (2 bags, purchased from the floral section of Hobby Lobby). Once he gets all the rocks in the jar, he gets the coveted prize taped to the front of it. Right now, it’s a Zelda (Link) costume he’s been asking for for ages. We try to be pretty generous about giving out the rocks, but here’s the hitch…
He can lose them, too. Hit your sister? Boom, you just lost a rock, buddy. Make us late for school because you’re throwing a fit and won’t dress yourself or let me help you? Say goodbye to another one.
So there are 3 levels of play here. You do something awesome, you get a rock. You don’t do that awesome thing? Hey, your call. No rock for you. You do something unacceptable, you lose a rock.
I tried something similar when he was younger with pennies or something. I can’t remember if there was a prize, but I remember a lot of people telling me that you should only reward the child, never take away the rewards when they behave poorly. So for years I’ve tried the “focus on the positive” approach with him. I’ve tried not giving his negative behavior attention. I’ve tried ignoring.
It’s not working. It’s simply not enough for him to be ignored when he does something “bad.” Timeouts are useless. Rewarding only the positive seems to… fuel his bad behavior. I can’t really explain it other than to say this kid knows how to work someone. He will make an EXCELLENT lawyer someday.
Meanwhile, he has to see that there are tangible consequences to his negative actions. So taking away a rock and putting it back in the pile that he can try to earn rocks from seems fair, and effective. I mean, in real life, if you behave poorly, you lose stuff. You lose friends, you lose assignments, you lose jobs. I’m okay with teaching that lesson early for this kid.
You know what? It’s working. It’s only been 4 days, but it’s been a fantastic improvement so far. No more arguing about stuff. You don’t want to get dressed before you watch TV? Then you don’t get a rock, AND you don’t get TV. You’re going to keep yelling at me about how that’s not fair? You lose a rock. 5 minutes later, he’s dressed without a fight.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I focus on the possibility of losing rocks. I try to enforce and reward good behavior, and wind up giving him about 10 rocks a day, and he’s losing about 3 a day at this point. But, I’m not afraid to try out something a little beyond strictly positive reinforcement because you know what? It’s 100x more positive an experience than all of us losing our cool with each other on the regular.
I’m not claiming this system would work for everyone. Obviously, you know your child best. Just wanted to share something that, for the first time in a long time, seems to be working ok for us.