Saturday, June 1, 2013

Behavior toolbox: 26 ways we keep on track

I don't know how anyone else's kid is, but mine requires a multifaceted approach to discipline and guidance. I will try something and it will work great ... for awhile. But then it loses its effectiveness and something else will have to take its place.

With enough techniques I can kind of rotate things in and out. Now this doesn't mean I do it efficiently and intentionally all the time, but if I keep a lot of things in my brain, I will come up with something when needed.

I find that what works best is a rounded approach. We do some natural consequences, choices when possible, encouraging independence, practicing expectations and outcomes, lots of rewards, punishment like loss of privileges or time in his room, charts and schedules, earning of "treats", etc.

I see my disciplinary toolbox as my parental Whack A Mole for problem areas in Brady's life. I was really surprised with how many I use when I sat down and thought about it!

Here's a list of some of the things we do:

1) The Prize Store

         My all-time favorite is The Prize Store. I can never say enough about how good this has been for us. It is our primary motivator.

2) Other rewards

         He has to earn the right to play his Vreader or DS on the bus through responsible choices. They're expensive games, so he has to show responsibility before taking them out into the world. He can earn other special things along the way. Today he did great in Walmart and got $1.50 for the game room when we were done. Hey, that's how life works, right? You do good at work, you get a raise!

3) 1-2-3 Magic 

         This link describes 1-2-3 Magic. I still use this, but it works best for more simple immediate requests.

4) Natural consequences

         For example, he refuses to wear long pants on a hike and gets scratches on his legs; he throws a toy, it breaks and we do not get a new one. You make a choice and there are consequences, sometimes not-so-good ones and let me tell you, he remembers that the next time. 

5) Key-word phrases 

         For us right now it is Yes, sir, and yes, ma'am. This sign of respect is a great code word and trigger for his behavior. But he won't always do it or remember to do it and so sometimes I remind him.

6) Down time for us both

        Sometimes the best answer is for him to spend time in his room, especially if he is arguing a lot. The amount is dependent upon the infraction. Or if he is refusing to take responsibility for something, I say he should stay there until he understands what he did wrong. Today it was, "When you are ready to behave like a big boy, you may come out." What do you know, in 5 minutes he was dressed and came out with a totally different attitude. This gives him time to get it together.

7) Timers

        That beep signals transition time and has worked wonders since he was about 2 years old. Though as he gets older, clocks (below) becomes more of the go-to time signal.

8) Clocks 

         Done brushing teeth in 5 minutes or no stories at bed (we have clocks in EVERY room, easy digital ones he can read quickly). This may seem harsh, but some nights if we don't do that it - seriously! - takes 20 minutes, not because he's brushing his teeth that long but because he's playing around. For example, getting dressed after bath the other night. After 10 minutes he calls me and says real quiet, "I was pretending to be a ninja and kicked my underwear into the bath water." Sigh.

 9) Choices

         If I can give him some alternatives to choose from during our day - where to go, when to go, what to eat, what to wear, what to play - I will. We all like to have a little control, don't we?

10) Independence

         Encouraging independence. He has responsibilities and chores, earns an allowance. He contributes to the family and has an important role. We also try to make it possible for him to do as many things as he can for himself (see link above).  

11) His own battles

         Along with independence comes letting him solve some problems on his own so he can learn how to problem solve. I list some of those battles at the link above. 

12) Minor privilege loss

         If he throws a fit about turning TV off, no TV the next day at all. If he won't get out of the bath, no stories at bedtime. Kind of natural consequences or Love & Logic there. This had an unexpected cool side effect. One week he lost TV and first earned back only Discovery, National Geographic, Weather Channel and Animal Planet. Thus was born our family's new love of the show, River Monsters! 

13) Major privilege loss

         We reserve this for biggies and it's only used 2 or 3 times a year probably. If we're having a really bad week that is spiraling out of control or a lot of disrespect with us and teachers, he loses TV, DS, computer, dessert, peanut butter (it's a BIG motivator to earn this back), allowance, prize store and has a half-hour earlier bedtime. With good behavior he can earn 1 or 2 back daily. So he can see positive results quickly and he usually works hard for it.

          I tell him, "I will always love you and provide food, clothing, shelter, all the things you need. But these other things, these 'treats', you have to earn." When we do this, it is almost like a reset. We go back to the beginning and he gradually remembers what it takes to get life back to where it was. This is no fun for anyone, but there are times we do it and he learns from it.

14) Practice makes perfect

          Practice. Practice. Practice. And also role playing. During the school year we practice a lot: walking in line, sitting in our seat, raising our hand, motions for school program, how to behave during transitions or unexpected chaos. Whew.

15) Keep what you can the same

          Structure and routine. This wards off a lot of problems, including things like our shoe chart, which negated our daily morning battle.

16) Prayer

          I don't use this enough, but I need to pray when we're in the midst of a problem to help redirect us both. I will try harder to remember. When I do, we both stay more calm. And I find the routine of going to church is good for all of us.

17) Hold hands

          Along these lines, which I also forget, is to hold hands even when times are tough. You stay connected and you both remember how much you love each other.

18) Atta Boy

          Keep things positive whenever you can. Tell them what's good about them. What they do right. "Catch" them doing the right thing. Give a bonus, surprise unstructured reward when they do something right without prompting or make a great choice. This helps us so much.

19) Learning tools

          Books to help with specific behaviors or problem areas or life changes have been really wonderful for us. I'd also recommend Little Critter books and Berenstain Bear books.

20) Food and water

          This seems like an unspoken rule, but sometimes when Brady is acting up I suddenly realize he's probably hungry or tired or bored or thirsty. Even though he's 7 he doesn't always recognize these things immediately. Keep them well rested and fed. I know my own behavior gets worse when I'm hungry or tired!

21) Work as a team

          Encourage team work. You can tell your child, we're trying to achieve X, how can YOU help that happen?

22) Find something to be grateful for

          Encourage gratitude. Even when he's suffering a consequence. I say, well at least it's only this and not that. Or, you'll earn X or Y back tomorrow, I know you can do it. Or at dinner, balking at a new food, "Well, at least it's not the worst, peas!" And show him the things you're grateful for, even if he hasn't made the choices you want. "I'm so thankful you were honest with me and I appreciate that. But this is why what you did was a bad choice..." If you think of it, you can even tell him how the consequence will make things better. But of course they won't believe it for years!

23) Mix up the week

          Deal with hyper-focus on one thing by structuring your week and letting them do one different favorite thing every day. That way he doesn't zone out on one particular thing. Keeps us all healthier and happier!

 24) Warnings

          Probably not everyone agrees with this, but I almost ALWAYS give Brady at least a 5 minute warning before it's time to go, time for dinner, time for bed, time to get off the computer, whatever. Just that little bit of time to get his mind around what is coming makes a WORLD of difference. If we've experience a problem in the past with a particular thing, I will warn him: "Remember, if you do X, there will be consequences."

         And when it's time to leave some fun place, if he still throws a fit, this is my consistent response every single time, "Brady, I will never leave you somewhere. Ever. But I am walking to the car now. If I get there and you aren't with me and I have to come back and get you, there will be consequences. And they will be..." A lot of times I tell him what will happen. He believes me enough that it almost always works.

25) Take the time

         Life is busy and full and it's hard to stop and spend that one-on-one time with a kid. But it does help with behavior issues and strengthens the team mentality. We're in this together, the good, the bad and the in between. Our adventures are such a blast and I work hard (but don't always succeed) to carve out time together every week. But I always keep working at it, working and working, and in the end it happens more often than not.

 26) Pick your battles

         Like I mentioned the other day, be sure you know what you are saying "No" about and why. If there's no reason to battle, really, then let it go!

         I will always try to prepare Brady as much as possible for what he might encounter in life. I know life won't do that and other people won't. I know some people think I should just be tough. Give rules and enforce them. But they don't know my kid. 
         It's not that easy, not for any of us. We go through so much rough stuff, I want us to keep it smooth whenever we can. And I believe these things we do are teaching him in a safe, slow and steady way what he needs to learn to cope in this life. In the end, that's what really matters.

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