For a while now I’ve been thinking about the best way to encourage my kids to move to the next level with their behaviour and the way they think and act. To be fair to them (particularly JJ who is obviously no longer a threenager), they are generally good boys and can be sweet, loving and thoughtful. However we do have plenty of meltdowns – often when tiredness or hunger kick in, but there are certain issues which do come up time and again and it can be really hard to negotiate with a small child when they decide to be stubborn!
I’ve thought about the idea of reward or behaviour charts before but it wasn’t until this weekend that it suddenly felt like the right time.
We have begun to visit our local recreation ground often – nearly every day some weeks now the weather has improved so much. That’s great and I have no problem with it, however there happens to be a lovely café down there which sells delicious home-made ice-cream and the kids have developed a taste for it. At £2 a cone/cup however, it’s more than I’m prepared to shell out every single time we pop down there and I’ve had to put my thinking cap on.
I began telling the children that if they wanted an ice cream they would have to use the money from their piggy banks which they have been doing on occasion, but that’s now beginning to run out. I devised the tailored reward charts as a way for them to earn a weekly £2 pocket money which they can then choose to put towards an ice cream at the weekend if that’s what they want to do.
These charts work on several levels: they will hopefully allow me to tackle a couple of areas where problems often arise – sibling sharing being a biggie; they will allow me to introduce some very basic household chores; the creation of the charts is a fab collaborative craft project which gets the children invested in the concept; and they very gently introduce the idea of earning your keep – the value of money and how gratifying it can be to receive positive feedback and be rewarded for it.
I read up a bit on different ways to tackle the project. Some, (such as Jo Frost ‘Supernanny’) suggest that you include the concept that achievements can be rescinded if your child behaves badly but I go along with other commentators that this is essentially a ‘reward’ chart – a way of promoting good behaviours and not a way of tackling negative ones.
I decided to stick with five ‘tasks’ for each child because I don’t want to overwhelm them and I’m hoping that the tasks are simple enough that JJ at least can tackle all five every day. His tasks include getting his own breakfast (cereal and an Actimel), sharing nicely with his little brother, doing at least one good deed a day, helping with the washing up after dinner and eating up his vegetables every day!
I have had a harder time narrowing down EJ’s tasks although they also include sharing and letting his brother alone when he asks for some ‘quiet time’! I want to encourage a slightly less demanding start to the bedtime routine and I’d also like him to start down the road to a little more independence in areas like getting his clothes on and off in the run up to starting school.
At the time of writing we haven’t put EJ’s chart together yet and I’m not sure whether he will respond to it in quite the same eager and invested way that his big brother seems to have done but from what I’ve read, between the ages of 3-8 is the best time to do this kind of thing and EJ turns four in July.
As a mother of boys I really want to begin introducing concepts of shared responsibility around the home at an early age and this seems like a good first step towards that although I do worry that tying any kind of household chore up with monetary reward may encourage a work ethic but not, ultimately, empathy and selfless participation in family life.
The ‘chores’ I’ve chosen (and those I wish to tackle elsewhere as well) are less ‘jobs’ and more things which encourage the children to take responsibility for themselves, the mess they create, the meals they consume, the rubbish they generally shove into my hands – it’s all the very early stages of self-awareness and an awareness of what others do for them and the time and work that goes into everything from cooking a meal to planning a day out, to getting everyone from A to B within a deadline.
I’m also going to try and be as realistic as possible about this. It may not work. The children may get bored of the chosen tasks and the novelty will inevitably wear off. Despite all of these possibilities I still believe that this is the beginning of positive parenting with a plan and not just on a wing and a prayer. Ideas can be tweaked, new tasks can be devised if/when the old ones become second nature, and if nothing else it will encourage the children to just think about the consequences of their actions a bit more.