December is a hectic time in our house. Not only do we have the Christmas craziness to contend with, but we also welcome Sinterklaas, and celebrate our son's birthday. I grew up with a January birthday, and received a few more "this is your Christmas/birthday" gifts that I would have preferred, so we try to keep each event separate. Throw in another gift-giving occasion and it's easy to see how a certain little boy can have a hard time protecting himself from a bad case of the gimmees.
This past December, D was newly four, and old enough to understand delayed gratification, responsibility, rewards and consequences. In addition to introducing the December List (which I need to write about in a future post) for him to write down the items he'd like and learning how much they cost, we also started using reward and consequence jars.
The basic idea we want to impart is that he always has a choice. He can make a right choice or a wrong choice. That is up to him. When he makes a right choice, there may be a reward. And when he makes a wrong choice, there may be a consequence (we didn't want to use the word punishment or discipline). Most importantly, if he make a wrong choice, he can still choose to seek to make it right. (We made the above printable for his room to help him remember).
This was a super easy project to do. The hardest part was coming up with creative rewards and consequences that would be meaningful for our son. We purposely avoided chores as consequences because we are teaching him that helping around the house is just part of being in a family. We don't want him to see chores as punishment. D loves trains, cars, space, books, technology, and time with mommy and daddy, so our list corresponds to these things.
The first consequence I wrote down was "grace." As a family of faith, I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to teach D that grace is getting something better than we deserve. The first time D pulled the "grace" card, we had a great conversation about God's grace and it really hit home for him. It stuck with hi when we were on vacation and we didn't have the jars with us. He made a bad choice so I said, "I think you'll need a consequence for that." He got really quiet for a moment, and then he said, "I choose grace!"
As a general rule, we aren't rewarding with food, although we do have a few food-related rewards below. Rewards are given when he does something above our expectation, without asking to be rewarded for it. For example, if we are at the store, and without prompting, he holds a door open for a mommy with a young child.
Our list of rewards includes:
- play a game with Mommy or Daddy
- stay up an extra 15 minutes at bedtime
- 50 cents for the save jar
- do a special project
- make cookies with Mommy
- go to the toy store (this does not mean getting something, but just to look. He has to save up for toys. He enjoys looking a toys and writing down what they cost so he can save up).
- have a safe dessert
- do a puzzle together
- go to the library together
- pick something from the save box (we have a box of toys, books, and small items that we can use for gifts in pinch, but also that D would like. They are things I pick up on sale for no particular occasion).
- watch a movie with popcorn
- read an extra book at naptime or bedtime
- 15 minutes on the iPad
- "just the boy" car ride
- 'Jama walk. (This is when he gets all ready for bed, but before he goes down, we take a walk around the neighborhood with him in his pajamas)
Our consequences include:
- no space shuttle for the rest of the day
- no tv for the rest of the day
- bedtime at 7pm (his normal bedtime is 8pm)
- one less book at nap/bedtime (we normally read three)
- no trains for the rest of the day
- no blocks for the rest of the day
- no using Mommy's iPad today
- 15 minutes in your room alone
- 50 cents from the spend jar to share jar
- no Legos for the rest of the day
- give away a book (this is his least favorite)
- extra chore (because we are trying not to associate chores with punishment, this tends to be a special project that wouldn't be on a chore list, like putting away 10 items that are out of place)
- no cars for the rest of the day
Another general rule we followed is that a consequence only lasts a day. A day is a long time to a preschooler. We are teaching him that God's mercies are new every morning, and so are mommy and daddy's.
I cut up the strips, folded them tightly, and put them in the corresponding jars, which I labeled "rewards" and "consequence." Our smart boy started noticing when me and his daddy made good and bad choices because he wanted to get peeks at what the other strips said! He also started doing good things without being asked, but then said, "Do I get a reward now?" It only took a time or two of us reminding him that he doesn't get a reward if he asks for one, so now he's much sweeter about being helpful.
For the most part, the jars are working out well. He does have a bit of the same stubborn streak that Niels and I both had, so sometimes he just chooses a consequence when he really wants to do something we've asked him not to do. That's clearly frustrating to us, but for the most part, he is understanding the correlation between his choices and the results of them, and his behavior has improved.
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