Monday, July 13, 2015

On Building Better Habits

Habit Training.  Anyone familiar with Charlotte Mason knows that it's pretty much step one of her whole philosophy.  Without first instilling good habits you are pretty much banging your head against the wall trying to educate your children.    But how to train your difficult child?  Believe me it's a question I've been pondering for years.

I finally declared this summer the Summer of Building Better Habits--and by "declared" I mean told no one and made secret and vague plans which were clearly going to be very effective.   As is often the case, and despite my lack of initiative, several books found their way to me at precisely the right time and ended up being exactly what we needed.  One book, Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives offers insight into how habits are created in general, and is especially helpful in identifying your own personal tendencies so that you can create habits that will actually work for you.  The other book, Dr. Barkley's Taking Charge of ADHD offered the perfect framework for creating a system that allows us to pick a few behaviors at a time to reward and hopefully turn into habits (he also has this book which goes into more detail about his system).

I don't love reward systems in general because I find them overly complicated and time consuming and mostly I dislike the idea of using external rewards because I worry that I'm ruining the children's ability to have their own internal reward system by offering prizes.  However, Dr. Barkley says that children with ADHD need the external rewards and they need them frequently so I thought I'd give it a try--goodness knows I've tried everything else.  Now the boys earn poker chips by completing daily tasks and behaving well and then they can turn the chips in for privileges (that they mostly already were getting anyway, sneaky).

Clearly we are very advanced in our habit training since we are beginning with things like "brush teeth" and "no hitting."  The idea is to get the kids doing these things until they become habits and then phase out the chips.  Simple enough.

I'm sure there are much fancier ways to implement this system and I probably could have sat down at my computer and made an amazing printable but I think I prefer this less polished approach.  Our version has more of a work-in-progress feel which is good since the chip values always need tweaking and privileges need to be added or removed depending on interest level (currently the boys are saving up to go to Subway, which is apparently the absolute pinnacle of culinary delight).  This chart is displayed on the fridge and I don't feel the least bit hesitant to cross things off or add things in--which I think is the key to our success.  If I had spent a lot of time formatting it and making it pretty I would probably not want to ruin it or have to walk down to the basement to print a new one because....lazy.

Well let me tell you, this system has been like magic and I didn't need to buy anything to get it going which is important because I don't like buying stuff.  Chris already had a set of poker chips that I have wanted to banish from the house for years, mostly because every time the kids find them it's poker chip explosion time.  I think it's something about the feel of them in your hand that makes them want to create giant stacks and cities and in John's case use them in a game of tornado aftermath.  At least that's what it looks like when he's done.

I guess it's a good thing I never donated them because the boys will do just about anything for poker chips.

All the habits and routines I've tried to build into our days that are always being grumbled about or left undone are now completed quickly and, dare I say it, even fairly cheerfully.

Morning chores (teeth brushed, clothes on, bed made)?  Done.  The ten minute after dinner tidy-up of the playroom and living room that has never once been successfully completed?  Done.  In seven minutes flat.  With minimal complaining and full participation.  I mean, you wouldn't want your brother to get more chips than you because he's helping and you're pouting, would you?

We even took this as an opportunity to start giving allowances which we haven't done before since I could never decide the *best* way to do that without ruining them for life.  Pay for chores?  Don't pay for chores?  Expect them to do things because they are part of the family and that's that?  This way they do have to do their chores but it doesn't feel like they are being paid for them since they are trading chips for their allowance.  It's going well so far and I've even been considering making a separate list of household tasks that I don't want to do that they can do instead to earn chips if they are feeling super helpful--dust the baseboards anyone?

We decided to give them three dollars each (one to give, one to save, and one to spend) and envelopes to put the money in.  They were really proud to take the dollars that they actually earned to mass this Sunday to put in the collection basket.  Paydays are Friday nights (before movie and popcorn time but after the ten minute tidy-up) and the plan is to take them to the bank at the end of the month to put their savings into their savings accounts--and also replenish our cash supplies.  The biggest problem with giving out cash allowances is that we don't actually have cash in the house.

So far so good!  The next phase of the chip program is to take away chips for noncompliance--we'll see how well that goes :)
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