Last Spring, we took a family trip to Mississippi to visit Dee’s grandmother and extended family. We drove with our 4 kids, including our 8-month-old twins. It was quite an undertaking trying to plan and pack for that trip (but we did make it through and had a great time!). The day we were leaving, I was trying to get the last things packed and make sure I was bringing everything we would need and my Accidental Parenting kicked in yet again.
The three little ones were napping, but I had a very excited 4-year-old following me around asking me lots of questions and wanting attention that I didn’t have to give right then. So, out of nowhere, I said (in a very excited tone), “Karis, let’s see how many Big Girl jobs you can do before we leave!” Every time she helped me with something I would write a number on our kitchen chalkboard and I made a big deal out of how many numbers she was getting. I titled it “Karis’ Big Girl Numbers” and she surprisingly loved it and was very motivated to keep getting numbers.
The last hour before we got out the door went much smoother, but more than that, I saw how well she responded to positive motivation. Even as a first grade teacher, I struggled with extrinsic motivation of candy or stickers. I don’t love the idea of kids getting something or asking for a little treat every time they do the right thing when it’s what they should be doing anyway (enter Chris Rock’s voice in my head: ”What do you want, a cookie?!?”). However, children definitely need motivation (as do I) and recognition (as do I).
We are actually still, a year later, using “Big Girl Numbers” for Karis. Here are the “rules” for how we use them:
- Karis gets a number written on the board for doing “Big Girl” things – being kind/helpful to her siblings, cleaning up without being asked, responding quickly and happily to instructions, accepting answers without arguing or complaining. Basically it’s the things she needs to work on and we change what she gets a number for according to what she needs motivation for in her behavior. It’s not a set list.
- Only Dee or I can put up numbers. She can’t ask for a number or she doesn’t get one.
- When she gets to 50, she gets a treat of some sort. We let her choose between buying something or going to do something. We try to stress the “Big Girl” part and let her get something or do something that our little ones can’t have – paint nails, a small toy, go on a date with one of us.
Letting her work to 50 has been good motivation. It’s an achievable goal because sometimes she’ll get a few numbers in the same day. But it’s also big enough to give her something to work toward. She calls it her “50 Prize” and she thinks about what she will choose for her prize a lot. But even with the prize at the end, I see her get the most pride from the recognition for doing a good job. Another side benefit is working on recognizing and writing numbers almost every day.
Now I’m not really sure how long we’re going to keep this going since I didn’t really have a plan for it in the beginning. And I don’t know if I’m going to start it with the other kids. More Accidental Parenting in play here – I guess I’ll just let it happen and see where it takes us.
What do you use to motivate positive behavior in your children?
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