Remember my sweet, helpful, Sound of Music obsessed four year old? You know, the one who helps with the baby and lets me dress her up in big hair bows?
Remember that one Sound of Music song "16 going on 17"? Well, these days my darling daughter is often 4 going on 14. I was starting to think that bouncing between sweet child and attitude filled tyrant was solely due to our attentions being diverted to the new baby. However, several friends with four year olds are experiencing a similar testing of boundaries combined with a frustrating desire to be independent even in situations that require help.
For Lydia, these issues come to a boiling point most often when it is critical that something get done in a short defined amount of time. She wants to dress herself, but can't work the closure on the outfit she chose. She gets SO frustrated but does NOT want ANY help! I'm panicking because getting dressed is turning into a tantrum that we don't have time for. She is either headed for complete melt down accompanied by screaming and lashing out or she is about to give up and I will inevitably find her playing (naked) with her toys 20 minutes later.
I realized that all I was doing was threatening, yelling, micromanaging, and taking away privileges. (That's in addition to getting an ulcer, pulling out my own hair, and being late to everything!) I decided that it was time for a behavior chart. I hastily scribbled out a few categories on a piece of paper and started drawing smiley faces for each thing Lydia did RIGHT that morning. It felt so good to focus on the positive AND it was much easier to take away a smiley face for small issues than to constantly come up with appropriate punishments. My kid is sweet and does want to please so it worked pretty well, but it was exhausting to keep up with the chart!
My mom got on board with the smiley face plan by purchasing a pack of four smiley face magnets. When Lydia was at Grammy's house this summer she spent the day earning and loosing smiley faces. I couldn't believe how easy it was. Do the wrong thing and Grammy moves a magnet to the top of the refrigerator. Do the right thing and she moves the magnet back where Lydia can see it. No chart. No counting or tallying. No real rewards. Just the guilt of loosing a smiley face and the pride of gaining one back. I was impressed!
So we got a set of magnets and even a dry erase board for our house, but somehow the idea never really stuck. It worked fine for a while but then Lydia started asking about her old chart and wanted to know how many smiley faces she had TOTAL! She also wanted to know about the rewards beyond just having all four magnets on the board.
Introducing behavior chart version 2.0! I googled "behavior chart" and found several free templates. I opted for a multi-behavior chart that lets us list all the things that are our concerns and then check them off for each day. We ended up with 9 items a day. I decided that 50 good marks would equal a bigger reward. That way, a good (not perfect) week leads to a treat. A rough week will still have some good marks that can carry over to the next week as a running tally. I didn't want it to be all or nothing because no one is perfect and I didn't want her giving up for the week once there was a bad day.
I added small pictures because Lydia can't read yet. We end up catching up every few days and I have given her a few small treats, things we would have done anyways like ice cream for dessert, but told her it was because she had 15 stars on her chart. We have also used it as a counting opportunity. Lydia counts her stars and then writes the number tally for the day. For now it is working, but I have to be the one to do a lot of the work. I do well if I give her a concrete criteria, like having 3 minutes to brush her teeth if she wants a star instead of the judgement call of how much prompting from me to quit dancing and finish is too much and costs her a star. It feels like a lot of work, especially when she IS behaving well, but I know that this is part of WHY she is behaving well. When she isn't behaving, I hope that the chart might help me notice a pattern or a trend. Ultimately, I hope we won't need this, but for now I just hope that I can be diligent. After all, this is as much about my behavior and consistency as it is about hers!