Monday, March 14, 2011


I spent the day today creating what I hope will solve all behavior issues in this house. Cool. I bet you want to know what it is, huh?
Well, I started thinking last week when I went to a home party where a behavior reward system was offered for sale. It was jars with marbles, similar to what my daughter’s second grade teacher does in her classroom - you do good, you get a marble. Once the marble jar is full, you pick a prize. Basically the carrot idea.
Now, having a degree in psychology and almost a degree in education I know that reward systems are used frequently and I also know that they are the cause of great debate. There are several great books out there that explain in detail why reward systems don’t really work. Alfie Kohn’s book, 'Punished By Rewards’ is the one that comes to mind first.
"Kohn, the author of other iconoclastic books, among them You Know What They Say: The Truth About Popular Beliefs ( LJ 8/90), here shows how rewards of all sorts undermine our efforts to teach students, manage workers, and raise children. Although aimed at a general audience, the book is based on extensive research and documented with almost 100 pages of notes and references. The first six review the behaviorist tradition and lay out in a clear and convincing manner Kohn's central argument that "pop behaviorism" is dangerously prevalent in our society. Here Kohn discusses why rewards, including praise, fail to promote lasting behavior change or enhance performance and frequently make things worse. The remaining six chapters examine the effect of rewards and alternatives to them in companies, schools, and the home. Recommended for all types of libraries.
- Mary Chatfield, Angelo State Univ., San Angelo, Tex.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.”
Knowing all of this has not stopped me from using rewards at all with my own children, it is really hard not to. It usually works very well with young children, they love to get a sticker or a lollipop or watch a movie. Rewards can be easy to come up with. So it is very tempting to fall into a trap of always relying on them. I’ll admit that I used rewards with my kids for potty training, although I think I did this more so with the last one. I know the first two kids got a big prize when they went for a week with no accidents, they never got something for each time they went potty. I had seen a friend attempt this and her kid trained himself to let out a little bit at a time in order to rack up the prizes - I’m sure that is not good for a kid physically! I used a random rewards system instead, a reward was given maybe every five or ten times. I often forgot to give one and there was no arguing (worth it just for that!). The final prize was something picked by the child as a celebration of their accomplishments, something they were proud to pick out. not to say this is the way to go, but it did work for us.
It has been a while since the older kids have had any sort of chart for their responsibilities. They had one when they were in preschool and all it entailed was placing a smiley-faced magnet under each task they completed that day before bedtime. There were no prizes that I can remember, but they were excited to see that they had filled in all their smiles.
Recently we revisited the idea of a chore chart in order to keep the kids on task for what they need to be doing each day without my having to scream it at them repeatedly. Every Mom out there knows what I mean. “Seriously, it is almost spring break of your second year of school and you still need to be reminded to wash your hands when you get home???!!!” I have tried to use Dr. Driekurs suggestion of the natural consequence - “If you don’t hurry up, you’ll miss the bus and you WILL be walking today!!!” (his idea is that you make the kids walk just once, with you driving alongside to make sure they are safe, to teach them the idea of why it is important to get themselves ready in the morning). It is a wonderful idea but when I look at my precious little blue-eyed-pouting-lipped little boy I just cannot bring myself to so it.
I saw an article posted on my facebook page about gentle parenting and why gentle parents do not use rewards and punishments. I want to be a gentle parent. I feel that we are gentle parents in many ways with our kids so I immediately decided I had to change the plan. Doing a marble jar was not going to be our thing. I can just picture myself, taunting them with the marbles in hopes of getting them to win the prize because I don’t want to see them not get it. It would get ugly. Just as ugly as having no system.
Instead I went and bought four small wooden plaques and one larger one. I talked with the kids at breakfast and we agreed that a self-assessment system would be our goal. I am in the middle of painting the four signs with our house rules/responsibilities - “Be Helpful” “Be Responsible” “Be Honest” and “Be Kind”. The fifth plaque has the days of the week and each child’s name. They will be responsible for honestly recording how they did each day on the four rules/responsibilities. A smile means “I did great and feel good about this”; a frown means “I know I messed this up today but I will try to do better tomorrow” and a straight lipped mouth will mean “I did some good and some not so good today”. I’m sure there will be days when being honest is too hard, but that is yet another good lesson to be learned.
There may be a surprise movie or dinner out every once in a while when weeks have been particularly good, to let them know how much we appreciate their efforts and recognize that it is not easy.
Sure, we will have to spend a lot of time talking about these values and what things in our daily life are encompassed by each one but I think this will be a good thing and ought to get much discussion anyway. Instead of holding the carrot out in front of them and using the stick when they veer off the course, they will know why they are on the course and what they need to do to stay on it.
Lofty goals, I know. I’ll let you know how it goes. So far today it went pretty well. There was discussion of what needed to get done rather than orders being barked. It felt good for a change and I hope it can stick.

(while I was writing this, Jeremy was watching this: