Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Behavior Modification

I do not believe in bribing.  No.  Only terrible mothers bribe their children.  (and mothers whose children are due to be walking up the aisle at church for a choir performance that all of your in-town relatives came to see, those mothers might bribe with something like...a piece of gum or whatever...but I would never do that).

So let me rephrase, I don't like to use bribery as a usual practice with my children.  But am not at all above resorting to it when times are desperate.

What I do like it do is use "behavior modification".

We homeschool.  I love to homeschool.  It's really one of my favorite things.  But it's a given that at least once in a while a child isn't going to want to "do school" today.  Even the best mother/teacher deals with that, I'm sure.  And I'm not the best one, let that be known right now.  So I happen to hear "awwww, I don't want to do schooooool....I haaaaaate reading....moooooom, pleeeeease can we not do school today?"  once in a while.  Or more than once in a while.  But I'm not getting any more specific than that, lest you think I'm the worst mother teaching her children out there.

I don't want to get frustrated.  I don't want to be angry.  I don't want to actually have to discipline for this.  So I have come up with a plan.  It revolves around "behavior modification". 

Before we even start school I get out a certain amount of treats, and I say very sweetly:  "Here are your marshmallows for the day.  You can have all of them when we are done with reading.  Here is what you have to do:  have a good attitude.  sit up.  don't play with anything.  don't whine.  If you do that, you get all ten marshmallows.  BUT, I will take one away every time you don't follow these rules."  And I follow that stratagem.  I quietly separate a marshmallow from it's friends if whining starts.  Then I pull out another one.

I offer lots of encouragement when the rules are followed.  And there is an "earn back" option if the child has been able to change their attitude.  But this works for me.  I want to build a habit of attention and concentration in my little guys.  I don't want to be fighting them to do this.  I want school to be a pleasant time, not a time when Mom flips out and we argue.  So when they're little, I'll do this, and as they build good habits, I'll phase out the treats.

My first grader earns a certain amount of M&Ms per reading session.  Because he is older and has a better general attitude.

My kindergartner responds better to the above method of "earning" his marshmallows.

some general rules:
1.  I keep the "earning" time periods pretty short.  Reading generally takes 10-20 minutes.  They don't have to sit through an entire morning of school to get their treats.  It has to be an attainable goal in their eyes.  And once we've finished reading, it seems like "school" that day is a little easier.

2.  I keep a good attitude.  It's tempting sometimes to get down on the child or frustrated that they're complaining and having a bad attitude again.  I remind myself that this isn't because I'm a bad mom, these are just little kids learning how to behave.

3.  I take lots of breaks and use them for encouragement:  "hey!  you're almost done with reading! then you get to play on your scooter for 15 minutes!"  (the break is not usually connected to their attitude.  as in: "you had a bad attitude, so you don't get your break.")

This method works exceptionally well for some of the personalities at my house.  I don't really need to use it on everyone.  So you may not need a method like this.  Maybe you would never do this kind of thing.  But maybe it's just what you were looking for!

And I don't think it's only for homeschoolers - I think homework time might be made a little more pleasant in some homes, or chore time...

what works at your house?

see the follow-up post:  Behavior Modification, Part 2

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