Monday, April 11, 2011

Changing Direction and Shaping Behavior (Even I Did it!)

I thought all hope was lost when my then 5-year-old started Kindergarten last fall and his behavior tok a turn for the worse. It wasn't long after he started that we were receiving dreaded notes home and special meeting requests from his teachers.

Even a deep dive into the recent changes in our family couldn't explain the behavior. His father and I had worked so hard to keep things as "normal" as possible even after the divorce and it became increasingly frustrating to be unable to identify a cause. That is until one day when opportunity presented itself in a way that I would have never imagined.

We were at a jewelry store getting a ring resized, when my son began wandering around the store looking at the contents of the various display cases. It wasn't long before he asked for me to come over and it was then I was shown the answer to all my prayers. There inside the glass case was a leather cuff bracelet that you would imagine a hardcore rock star wearing during a concert. After he took it upon himself to ask the clerk to try it on, he fell in love with it like no other inanimate object he had ever seen.

It was such an unlikely object for a kid his age to get excited about. In fact, the store clerk was so taken aback by his reaction she discretly motioned that she would make note of the item in my file. Although, I suspect her practice of notating client's records developed more out of the need to keep track of the engagement ring preference of a guy's girlfriend and not the kid who just fell in love with a "bad ass" leather cuff bracelet!

Long story short, the light bulb went off and an extravagant bribe was born. I introduced a weekly point system through which he could earn points based on his behavior in school. The results were instant and instead of inciting trouble at school, he became a leader and a help to his teachers.

This dramatic change in behavior amazed his teachers and it didn't take him long for him to earn the prize. Although, as it turns out, by this time he had lost intrest in the original designer leather cuff bracelet by King Baby Studio and instead found one online that he preferred.
Oh and I should mention that it only cost $10!

In the end, the whole exercise made me realize that it wasn't about the bribe or resulting prize (I really got off easy for only $10!), but it was about my active participation in the process. He enjoyed the daily build-up to sharing his accomplishments of the day with me and the reaction that his positive behavior brought. At the end of the day, he just wanted me to pay attention. Lesson learned.

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