Friday, February 22, 2008

Behavior charts are the “daddy’s belt” of the 21st century

Take yourself back a few dozen years. Go back before the parenting manuals and magazines. Go back before political correctness. Even go back before the invention of the refrigerator. And while you’re back that far, imagine that you’ve done something really bad, like cut off half of your sister’s hair or tied your baby brother to the tree out back.
What did your mother do? What did she say? Did she threaten you with…dare I say… a STICKER???
Chances are she didn’t mention a sticker, and chances are there was mention of a paddle, a switch, or the infamous “daddy’s belt.”
Whatever the threat was, your eyes got wide, your mouth closed, and your hands probably went straight to protecting your backside.
I personally received one “licken” as a child that still stings my mind like it stung back then. Of course I deserved it. When she found me jumping off the couch over her coffee table, my Grandmother scolded me and warned me (OK, threatened me) not to do it again. But working in what I thought was stealth mode, the minute she went off to do the laundry, I resumed my jumping fun.
Boy, did she give it to me. And guess what? I never jumped off that couch again. My lesson was learned and from then on I knew she meant business. My Grandma tells me now that it hurt her more to give that spanking than it did me, but I’m sure I didn’t think so on that fateful day.
Fast forward about 25 years, and me, champion coffee table hurdler, am blessed with a son who has inherited my superb furniture jumping gene. He also has the backtalk gene, the I’m-not-listening gene, the not-gonna-eat-it gene, and the generally-mischievous gene, all of which he must have inherited from someone other than myself.
And in today’s world, the whole concept of spanking has been so socially pooh-poohed that it’s really not an option for anyone pretending to be a good parent. What we are left with are tools like the time-out and the new fangled behavior chart.
My family has used the time-out technique. I think my son spent half of his third year sitting on the bottom step, “thinking about what he’s done.” Now that he’s four, he’s still acting on that generally mischievous gene and jumping on the furniture, so I have recently had to resort to something new. Something contemporary. Something mind-boggling.
The behavior chart.
A lot of my friends have devised elaborate charts that they hang on their refrigerators -- spreadsheets that graph behavior, both good and bad.
In the “positive reinforcement” method, children are rewarded for doing good things, like finishing their veggies or not pounding on a sibling. Smiley stickers are lined up until the child accumulates enough that he or she wins some prize for, let’s face it, doing things they should be doing anyway.
In the “negative” method, the kids get their charts filled with stickers for doing things wrong, like not finishing their veggies or pounding on a sibling. Once so many stickers have been earned, something gets taken away, such as television or computer games, things that, let’s face it, do a good job entertaining our children so that they stay out of trouble.
With my son, I have tried both versions of the behavior chart, all to no avail. I find myself in a fit of rage, yelling at him and threatening him with a “bad boy sticker” and I swear he laughs at me just a little bit. And I can’t say I blame him.
I’ve come to the conclusion that while it may work for others, the behavior chart just isn’t for us. I really don’t know what an alternative is and what will end up working in our family.
Other than my Grandma, that is.

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