Revival of the reward chart!

Although I feel as though my toddler is no longer in the depths of the terrible twos, I did say that we still get the typical toddler behaviour to deal with. Maybe I took my eye off the ball and became a little complacent, but it feels as though this latest phase has really crept up on me. Simultaneously, the reward chart has become part of the decoration of our home rather than a useful tool to keep world wars breaking out. This is not a good combination! But taking a step back and looking at the situation with fresh eyes is easier said than done; I suddenly found myself caught up in a very negative cycle and only stopped when Siena managed to find the limit of my patience.

Our latest challenge is getting ready to leave the house. I plan days carefully. There's a good mixture of things I need to get done and make sure Siena has at least one activity per day, from tumble tots to swimming, and now four sessions of preschool a week. I spend time with her; we are working on letters, phonics, counting, we bake cakes and we have play dates and visit family. There's never a boring day and we normally have something arranged for the morning - I find having a goal for the morning good for us both. It gives Siena something to focus on and look forward to, and we both get out of the house and meet other people. So it began to frustrate me when leaving the house became such an ordeal that it had its own build up.

Being a very 'black and white' type of person I was happy to say that if you throw a tantrum and don't want to go, we'll stay at home, with no TV and no iPad. I felt like I had really tried and I had been patient, but it got to the point that this same act took place every time we went anywhere. I had arranged to take Siena out, either to a place or class I knew she liked and or to meet 'her' friends and she would run off, refuse to get her shoes on, then once they were on, take them off, etc., etc. My husband did not understand this routine (admittedly neither did I). He would either talk very sweetly and kindly to her and she would comply, or he would simply whisk her up and put her shoes and coat on. This unfortunately left me with a screaming, crying, frustrated little girl which in turn tainted the rest of the day with a negative atmosphere (as she doesn't like to be dressed and wants to do everything herself, at her own pace). My view was that I was simply not going to take out a child to somewhere they would like to go after they behaved so badly. It felt like I was rewarding her bad behaviour. Also, now that I'm 17 weeks pregnant with a whole list of pregnancy ailments – one being back ache – I could not whisk her up and just ignore her resistance. Equally, I found myself chasing her around the house to get her dressed....at this point I stopped. This was not right.

Ruled by a two-year-old and not realising how this happened. I'm sure this scenario exists in many homes, whether it's brushing teeth, brushing hair, going to bed, eating breakfast.... like many things in the past, I realised this was a subject that just needed a little attention. I then remembered the reward chart. How on earth could I forget this? I label it highly responsible for the tremendous success of the potty training phase. I knew I would now succeed with the power of the stickers behind me.

After my brainwave, I explained to Siena that she could earn a sticker by getting her shoes and coat on when it was time to leave. I made sure I allowed enough time for her to earn the reward and get the sticker applied to the chart. The night before the relaunch I had to pick off all the old stickers in order for her to start again. She responded well to the prospect but, ironically, it took a few goes to actually work. This was fine. It somehow gave a positive focus during our 'getting ready' rituals and when she finally got it, it was worth waiting for. Days start so much better with a positive focus, it's a self-fulfilling prophesy. She loves getting the praise and, watching her cooperate rather than become frustrated and defensive, I love giving her the praise.

I must add, I've not always been great at giving the stickers at the time of the good behaviour, so this time around I made sure I had enough time and stuck to my side of the deal. I think it's critical to the success of this system, and also in building and maintaining trust with your child. If your words are empty, children soon learn this and personally I feel it's an almost impossible task to undo it.

I know that at some point this new behaviour will become what I call 'expected' and I will no longer reward it the way I do now. I'm sure I'll know when that time comes and it will a gradual change. I know that I don't reward her every time she goes to the toilet but I can't remember how the transition went from new and rewarded to ‘expected’ and not a part of her reward chart system. That said, I do still give her a great deal of verbal praise where I feel it due. If I know she tackled something particularly challenging for her, or did something especially kind for another child when she had the opportunity to respond aggressively, I may call her to me and make a point of specifically explaining to her that what she did was very brave, or very kind. Her response is in turn rewarding for me and normally breeds further efforts to please.

So, this morning we went to our local playgroup and Siena got herself ready, stayed ready, got her sticker and we had a calming positive good start to our day. I just had to subtly swap the shoes on her feet over as they were on the wrong feet. (Why is that? She almost always gets them on the wrong feet. Like a friend said, they have a 50/50 chance, but it always seems to get it wrong!). We arrived and two of Siena's friends also had shoe trouble; one had forgotten shoes, so was wearing emergency wellies, the other literally had 2 left shoes on, from two different pairs. They were all fine with their shoe issues, it didn't seem to hold them back.

So, my lesson learned is, when something feels wrong, it probably is. Try to remember to take a step back and rethink and apply logic. (The action itself is not actually so hard, I think it's the remembering to do it that is hard!). Pull out the reward chart and if you don't have one - invest the time and make or buy one; they are so worth it. I read the other day that each child has a currency. Work out what it is and life becomes easier. Also, a lot of this is in the packaging. Getting a wrapped up surprise present when it's not your birthday is always a good thing, so even if the toy itself is not the most expensive, it's all in the delivery, build up and the reward that goes with it - the child has earned it and they can feel pleased with themselves about that.  

Revive the reward chart and exploit the power that is held within the sticker book!