As the school year for 2012 looms, many parents are hoping that it goes smoothly. The good news is that, it is the best time of year to introduce a strategy that ensures it does. Having worked with many parents and children, and as a parent myself, it’s clear there are many obstacles to this being the reality.
Obstacles include, but are not restricted to: anxiety related to change, leaving you, fear of failure, and previous unpleasant school experiences; and, behaviours such as opposition, defiance, and lack of motivation. As a result of the obstacles, on a school day, parents may experience chaos in the mornings, and bad moods or non-compliance in the afternoons.
Any strategy that is going to be successful in smoothing out the transition back to school and maintaining a smooth environment has to be motivating enough to override the behaviour associated with the obstacles.
You may be familiar with aspects of the strategy that I find the most successful, but it is the combination of the elements of the strategy that make it a winner in almost all circumstances. I call it ‘the me strategies’.
To implement the strategy, which I have done with families from all walks of life, I have used a white board and marker, or a magnetic sheet on the fridge, and decorated it with a sticker. A sticker that represents the young person’s favourite character, or a blank sticker they can decorate for themselves is a must – this allows them to recognise and personalise their score sheet, whilst also maintaining privacy by not having their name on it.
To introduce the new strategy, set aside some time as a family to sit down and create, with them, the goals and the rewards they can achieve. It’s good to do this before you implement it, as it builds some excitement and the children can’t wait to get started.
Goals should be a list of things you would like your child to accomplish, like being ready for school on time, eating a healthy breakfast, achieving a successful day at school, completing homework or putting school things away after school. You can extend this to other skills/tasks/behaviours like using manners at the dinner table, emptying the dishwasher, and speaking respectfully to others. For each child, choose five things to aim for, but no more, as it gets too overwhelming for everyone. Each achievement is worth one point a day. Once points are earned they can’t be taken away.
Some ideas for what your child might like to earn as a reward for achieving the above goals:
◦ A school canteen lunch
◦ A toy/game/puzzle/book
◦ Computer/Internet/Game console time
◦ Having a friend to sleepover
This list can be endless, and you can have as many rewards on the list as you like. Give each reward a value, using around what it would cost you to provide same. Don’t have any more than five goals though.
Now here is the key to the success – your child can trade any time they have enough tokens to hand over in exchange for a reward. The children will have fun competing with each other to have the most points, and often find it hard to trade them in.
Whenever I’ve been involved in this, or have heard the children’s responses, I have been amazed at their enthusiasm, and so have the parents. The only times I’ve been discouraged by the results has been when the parents haven’t followed through, have made promises they haven’t kept, have changed the rules, or have blamed the child for the failure of the strategy.
I have had many calls from parents who have found this strategy to work better than they’d imagined, and who have had so much fun with it, while at the same time achieving the happiness in their home they’d longed for. I continue to work with families who have been using this strategy successfully for as long as more than two years.
To make this strategy easier and more attractive to children, ‘the me strategies’ has a fun interactive family friendly version available at www.themestrategies.com
Jenny Chapman is a Newcastle based psychologist who works predominantly with children. Jenny has extensive experience working with children and their families on modifying childhood behaviour.
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