I mentioned in my previous post that I would tell you the most effective tool I have used in producing positive change in my four-year-old. Today I am making good on that promise.
I cannot take credit for the idea. Diane Moore, in her book Parenting the Heart of Your Child gave me the idea. (I sang the praises of her book in a previous post.)
In her book she talks about how to mature your children - what tools you need to concentrate on giving them so that they can move on the higher levels of maturity (from the selfish "it's all about me" stage, to a "it's all about us" stage, and on beyond to a "it's bigger than me" stage). She readily admits that many adults never do progress through these stages and can be stuck in the me-focused stage. Know anyone like that?
Anyway, there are two "handrails" you must give to a child to move across a bridge from the "it's all about me" stage to the "its all about us" stage. Those handrails are consistent consequences and random rewards. And they should be introduced in that order. Consistent consequences are given to starve a child's hope that they can 'get away with' poor choices. Random rewards "feeds the good hope that 'I will receive a reward because of my good decisions.'" (Diane talks about why consistent rewards are not nearly effective as random ones. Again, I encourage you to pick this book up and get the details of what I am talking about.
So, it was time for me to give my four-year-old the second handrail: random rewards. And Oh, how he embraced it! There are lots of ways to do it, but in our house, I came up with "The O Award." I catch one of my children doing something that I would like to see more of and I look at them in the eyes with my mouth in the shape of an "O" (as in "OH WOW THAT WAS GREAT!!"). I then tell my child exactly AND SPECIFICALLY what I caught him doing and reward him with an "O" shaped candy. One life saver, or one marshmallow, or one jelly bean (yes, somewhat less O-shaped, but never-the-less effective).
I remember when I first started doing these with my oldest. I wanted him to show more kindness (patience) to his younger brother. The first time I did it he was about four years old also, and he was BARELY being A TINY bit kind. But he caught on to it like wildfire. After that O Award, he hunted down ways to be kind. And I randomly rewarded him for it. It was like magic.
But I was unprepared for how magical it would be with my sweet and sassy middle child. He was blown away by the reward, and he immediately did a one-eighty. I mean you have never seen a kid change their approach to life so fast. And it is obvious to me, in light of what I am learning about hope, that he needed something to hope in. He gets in trouble a lot, and so there was previously a LOT of starving of the hope that "maybe this time I can get away with it." He's the kid that, when one morning we were too tired to get up when he did we let him get in our bed with us for 10 minutes. EVERY MORNING FOR THREE WEEKS that kid woke himself up earlier than usual to see if maybe THIS TIME Mom and Dad would say yes again. We never did say yes again, but it took the threat of a spanking before he was willing to give up.
Now, after introducing the O Award, he is constantly praising his little brother, very often hopping up with a "yes Mom!" the first time I ask him to do something, and frequently asking "are you gonna go 'O' ? Cause I obeyed quick-i-ly. Didn't I obey quick-i-ly?" "Yes little man, you did. And you never know when the next O Award will come, so keep it up!" I have given him more O awards in the past couple of weeks than I remember giving my oldest in a year. But that only goes to prove once again that these two kids are different (oh so different) and I must respond to their little personas in kind. No cookie-cutter parenting here!