Sunday, May 3, 2009

Getting kids to do what you want -- without nagging

Here's a picture of one of my favorite parenting tools: the clip system. I learned this from my son's 2nd grade teacher. It's a way to provide feedback to my kids about how they are behaving in a way that allows me not to nag, repeat myself, and hover over them.

Instead of constantly warning them when they are misbehaving, I simply say "Go move your clip down." This serves as a warning which lets them know if they continue what they are doing, they will eventually lose a privilege. It also requires that I acknowledge when they are behaving in a way that works for me. Not only can I give up nagging, I can find ways to compliment their behavior when I might not otherwise ("Thanks for being so quiet while we are riding in the car." "You did a great job sharing that candy with your brother." Etc.)

As you can see from the picture, there are multiple levels. Here's how we use it in our home:

. Every day, the kids start in the middle, "Start".

. When they do things that show acceptable behavior (get along with siblings, do what I ask the first time I ask it, show thoughtfulness of others, etc), the clip moves up. When they exhibit unacceptable behavior (whine, argue, shout, leave their mess around without cleaning it up), the clip gets moved down.

. When the clip gets to the top, they earn a privilege. When it gets to the bottom, they lose a privilege.

. The beauty of this system is that the privilege can be anything that motivates the kids. Some things we've had as privileges: 30 minutes of TV time. 20 minutes of computer/wii/nintendo DS time. Taking a trip to the store to buy a toy (with their own money).
Note: We don't usually reward with money. It hasn't been much of a motivator, and we have allowance and extra chores to provide some cash flow for the kids.

What I've noticed:
. My 2 boys love having their clip moved up.

. When the clip gets moved below start, they are seriously motivated to do something that would cause it to go back up.

. With the clip system in place, it becomes the "bad guy", and the parent can simply sympathize ("wow, what a bummer your clip is down there. What can you do to get it moved back up?" "Yipee! You've made it to the top!")

. We have an extra clip for visiting kids (neighbors, relatives) who want to get in on the privilege-earning power of the system.

. The clip system can be used on-the-go. We've used a piece of paper with levels drawn on it and coins as clips when we've been on vacation.

. When I'm really upset with their behavior, I'm tempted to move their clip down and leave it there for a few days. However, every day is a new day, and the system is restored to it's starting position (the clips go back to the middle). No matter what.

. This system can be used to help teach different skills at different ages. We originally started the system just to cut down on the number of temper tantrums. After that, we used it to remind them to do chores, get kids to pick up their clothes/toys, making sure they flush the toilet, etc.

. A drawback: with 2 kids, sometimes the things that move their clips up are different, and they get moved up and down at different rates. This causes a situation that needs to be treated gingerly. On the positive side, competition can spur acceptable behavior.

Here's a picture of the original clip system in the 2nd grade classroom. Compliments of Ms. Y.