If you’re a parent, you probably have had a few struggles with your kids – chores, behaviors, homework, and expectations. They all weigh on parents and kids alike. As parents we know what we need and want our children to do because we have the knowledge and maturity to see the bigger picture. Our kids, however, feel the pressures of our expectations without always fully understanding the consequences or the logistics behind them. While it might seem logical to us, sometimes we need to bring it back to basics for our kids.
Behavior modification charts are just one easy way to give kids tangible, simple ways to replace negative behaviors with positive ones or to build a better set of behaviors where none existed. These charts can be found all over the internet, created by you the parent, purchased at the bookstore, or simply drawn at the kitchen counter. The premise behind these charts is that when children display undesired behaviors, the charts serve as a way to tangibly reroute children to better, more desirable behaviors. Charts do what the mere words of parents cannot. They serve as visual reminders of and sometimes motivation for positive outcomes. They put the child in charge of the outcome, teaching responsibility and self-monitoring skills.
Today my battle as a parent was over music practice. My son, who requested and received private music lessons this year, has been waning on his attitude for practices. I didn’t want to bribe, cajole, or threaten the loss of lessons in order for him to understand that he needed to practice. Honestly, I didn’t want the battle, but I desperately wanted to find a way to encourage him to practice without whining his way through it. My answer was to create a simple behavior modification chart, and I presented it to my son with some very basic, but essential steps included.
- I clearly and simply explained that music lessons require music practice. Both need to be done without whining and with positive energy.
- I showed him a blank paper Christmas tree which I had just cut from an 8.5×11 sheet of green paper (of which he wasn’t very impressed).
- I explained that the tree represented the piano. It was blank without his practice.
- I gave him a set of Christmas stickers and told him that every time he practiced his assigned song, with a positive attitude, he could use a sticker to decorate the paper tree. Bad attitude = no stickers.
- I asked him to explain back to me the expectations and the “rules” for decorating the tree. When I knew he understood the approach, we hung the paper tree amid the other Christmas decorations that were beginning to creep throughout our house.
Fast forward 2 hours and I was the proud displayer of a paper tree that is 75% decorated and a son who is prepared for his music lesson in 2 days. He is also looking forward to adding more stickers tomorrow. Did my simple behavior modification chart really do all of that? Yes.
Behavior modification charts need key ingredients to work and achieve the desired change you are seeking with your child. Experience had taught me that if I left out certain components, the only thing I would be certain of was starting back at whining through music practice.
- I knew I needed to find a way to stop the whining over music lessons, without resorting to bribes, threats, or consequences that would be difficult to fulfill. The goal was positive practicing.
- I chose a behavior modification chart that I knew would appeal to my son. He loves holidays, loves decorations, and likes order. A blank, undecorated tree screamed for adornment. I didn’t even need to place any other rewards on the completion of the tree – the completion was his personal motivation.
- I clearly explained the goal and the reason for the goal, then asked him to repeat it back so I knew he truly understood it. We talked about what constituted whining and why that wasn’t part of the plan.
- I had to remain consistent (and still do). Each time he played I had to make sure he took a sticker and added it to the tree. Even though he needed no reminders this time, it was my responsibility to make sure he knew I meant what I said.
Even though this is a simplistic example of the power of behavior modification charts, it is an accurate example of how children can be drawn to these methods for reaching goals of attitude change. As my older son watched his younger brother suddenly go from whining at the piano to excitedly sticking a glossy ornament on the paper tree, he shook his head and said, “Seriously?” under his breath to me. I smiled. Seriously. I know this version would never work for my attitude struggles with teens, but I’ll take the small rewards as I can get them.
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