Thursday, November 09, 2006


Talk to me about rewarding good behaviour

Today's parenting dilemma is behaviour modification through the use of rewards. Is Dr Skinner in the house?

We seem to have painted ourselves into a bit of a corner with the use of rewards as an enticement to encourage Tristan to eat his dinner. Over the last few months, we have encouraged him to eat "a few more bites" with the reward of a treat after dinner. Lately, the treat has been a piece of Halloween candy. Before that, it was a few gummy bears or a lollipop or some other candy. (Thanks to Beloved's sweet tooth, we almost always have candy in the house.)

In general, although I have some qualms about giving the boys (because you can't give to one without the other) candy every single night, I don't see too much difference between a small piece of candy or five smarties or the equivalent and say, a piece of pie or cake or a bowl of ice cream that an adult might have for dessert.

Except, now Tristan sits down at the table, looks at whatever is in front of him, and before taking a single bite asks, "How many bites do I have to eat?" The whole treat/reward thing gets mixed results, I'd say.

And yet, I'm thinking of implementing some sort of chart system to see if I can get some improvement on some other areas. Again with the dinner table, we cannot convince Tristan with any amount of cajoling, reminding, hollering or threatening, to stay seated in his chair for 10 minutes in a row at mealtimes. He squirms, he pops on and off his chair, he clatters his silverware, he plays with the salad dressings or condiments or whatever else he can reach, he fidgets, he clowns to make Simon laugh, and half the time he just stands in front of his plate, picking through whatever he deigns to eat. If you've been there, you know - there comes a point when you're just so tired of fighting the battle that close enough is good enough.

So I was thinking of drawing up a chart with four or five daily behaviours that I want him to work on. I'm thinking: "eats dinner", "sits at table nicely", "cleans up toys before bedtime", "puts shoes/boots on rubber mat" and "puts clothes in hamper". Some of these he's quite good at, some not so much. At the end of each day, we'll review to see if he got a yes or a no in each box, and at the end of the week, we'll figure out some sort of reward for all the good behaviour.

Since he's really interested in the computer lately (he loves the games on the Peep and the Big Wide World site), I'm thinking one minute of computer time for each yes. Or, maybe making up a bunch of slips with different rewards on them like a candy treat, a dollar store treat, a new book, computer time, choose a DVD from the movie store, etc, and letting him pick from a jar.

I also picked up a box of 100 stickers from Disney's Cars movie, which has actually supplanted Thomas the Tank Engine as the coolest thing on wheels at our house lately, and was thinking I could either use the stickers in lieu of the yes/no in each box, or use a sheet of stickers as one of the rewards.

BUT - and isn't there always a but? - I have a few niggling concerns. First, I can't really see how I can implement this for Tristan without doing something similar for Simon. Except, Simon is not-quite-three. Separate charts? Maybe.

Second problem: the same problem we have right now, that the behaviour is performed solely for the treat, and not for the sheer joy of being a pleasant child and not incurring mommy's considerable hormonal wrath.

Third problem: I fear spoiling them. We don't need more stuff, especially with Christmas and two birthdays within the next four months. I wouldn't mind weaning them of their candy jones, either. Any ideas for non-stuff, non-sugary rewards?

Fourth: this whole thing seems a little uptight to me. I rolled my eyes when the teacher suggested we do something like this to monitor Tristan's behaviour in class - and yet, it's working. In fact, I'm tempted to send a note saying I don't think we need to continue anymore. So yes, even though I rolled my eyes at the idea, props to her because it has seemed to work. Tristan tells me right away, before I even check his bag, on the days he gets all smiley faces from her, and it's obvious it matters to him. But how long will that last?

Anyway, this is very much an attempt for me to sort out my own convoluted thoughts on the subject, but I thought I'd do it via the blog just to see if any of you have had any resounding successes (or noteworthy failures) using a chart-based reward system. Ideas, opinions and suggestions are welcome!