As I've said in previous posts, being a step-parent is hard work; incredibly rewarding, yes. But hard work. Now, before I get started, this is not a rule bashing or rule encouraging post. It is just my experiences. The type of personality that I have dictates that I have to have a fairly set schedule. I like to know what is coming, what my options are and make a distinct plan. Some of you may call that being a "control freak" and yes, that is partly true (HA!); however, this is what works best for me to keep my arms around the many things that I am responsible for (uh, just being a mom!).
Structure and schedule work best for my son as well. He thrives in an environment where he knows what to expect. When it comes to step-parenting, those things can be a big challenge. I don't get to make the decisions. I get to handle what happens at our house and our house alone. That's ok! It just makes it a challenge to be consistent when it comes to creating structure and rules in a child's life. I struggled for years trying to come up with a way to balance the time we had with my step-daughter between fun times and times of structure. Having her so little time meant that we did not want to always be jumping on her case for behavior issues, and at 2-4 she had quite a few, like any normal child that age!
How did we make sure she understood boundaries without making her feel like our house "had too many rules"? It's a constant struggle with blended families. I racked my brain trying to come up with different ways to help her be responsible for her behavior and to really take control of what happens at our house. She is school-aged now and the independence is just bursting out of her in so many ways! She should be able to have some say in her time with us!
So, I came up with a reward system that has proven to be extremely effective in both letting her visualize her progress and having an obtainable goal.
We created a chart with ten large squares across the width. Each square has three smaller squares in front of it. The idea is that each day she starts off with three check marks in those small boxes. The key is that she started her day positively! If she is a normal, polite kid all day, she keeps those checks and gains a sticker to place in the large square. After she has earned her ten stickers, she completes her goal and gets to do the activity she set to accomplish (ie - Bowling, trip to Amazement Square, fun at Chuck E. Cheese, etc).
The BEST part about this system is the opportunity for her to gain additional checks or to lose checks. Negative behaviour (i.e. back talking, not listening after repeated reminders, being rude, etc.) results in a lost check. Positive behavior (being helpful without being asked, being kind, thinking of ways to consider others, etc.) allows her to gain additional checks and put her ahead!
She LOVES this system! There have only been a handful of times that I have had to take a check away and the devastation on her face made me want to give it right back to her. But after a few minutes of thinking about why she lost a check, she is up and asking about ways she can earn it back. She now asks for chores. She is now incredibly thoughtful when she has other children over to play and is so considerate in making sure they have an equal share in everything they do. I got to overhear her making sure her cousin had the same amount of candy and she intentionally stopped playing with the toy he wanted a turn at to share. I was elated! Isn't that all we can ask of our children? To consider others? Wouldn't that make our world such a better place?
Recently she completed her goal of a bowling trip and she is over the moon proud that SHE accomplished that activity. SHE reminds ME that manners need to be used. SHE thinks of ways to be helpful around the house by clearing dishes without being asked. SHE is in constant control of her outcomes in terms of behavior. I believe she has finally grasped the concept that no one else dictates how her behavior can be, it is all up to her. I am so thankful I found a constructive way to teach her this lesson without harping on her constantly! She's still a kid and she has some growing and learning to do, but she is on the right track with understanding the responsibility of her actions. Just the other night she said to me out of the blue, "Bre, thank you for teaching me how to act and use my manners." WOW! I guess parents need some positive reinforcement sometimes too!! I'm so proud of my big girl!!
Do you struggle with manners, chores and discipline in your house? Have you found any successful ways to encourage good behavior? share with us in the comments.