Sunday, January 9, 2011

Transition and Incentive

A post by LeMira

The first week back to school from the holiday break was hard, really hard.  By Tuesday evening, I was ready to run screaming from my house and not come back.  We just weren't getting along, J.R. and I, that is.  His responses were mostly, "No," "I don't want to,"  "I don't like it," and "Grrrrr."  (Yes, he kept growling at me.) Instead, I just screamed into a pillow.

After meltdown after meltdown (his then mine, then his again then mine again), I finally remembered:  transition.  Transitions are so hard, and they are something I should never forget because they will always be hard for him.  At the beginning of the school year, I wrote about my son's anxiety transitioning to a new school with a new teacher. This time, the transition he was so worried about was having homework again.

The biggest problem is that he gets so fixated on not wanting to do homework, that he starts getting angry that he has to do it.  His anger flows through everything because then he starts counting down the days until Friday (when he has no homework), and he takes it out on us.  One little worry snowballs into something huge and affects everything.

Side-note: I was curious if it was just me (because sometimes it is), or if my son struggled at school this week.  When I went to volunteer on Friday, I talked to his aide, and she said that she'd noticed he'd regressed in his math. Two weeks, that's all it has taken for him to regress.  Do I think it's because he has a retention problem?  No, it's all because of his anxiety and his fear of failure which leads to a lack of self-confidence (of course, that's ANOTHER post for another time).  Basically, I was relieved just a little to hear that he struggled at school, too, because I wanted to make sure that it wasn't just me as the common factor, (not because I was happy he's struggling).  I just need to know when it is across the board, you know?

By Wednesday morning, I knew that something had to change.  We started doing reading and speech in the morning before school and math and spelling after school.  He only has "two homework" (as he would say) after school now.  Breaking up the workload has a made a wonderful difference.

After school that same day, he and I were waiting to get a prescription filled and were wandering around the store.  He found the ONE loud toy on clearance and immediately began his whining and begging for the "electric" guitar.  At that point, I just wanted to give in and not deal with the tantrum, but then I had an epiphany.  I could make him earn it.  Yes, I'd buy it (I couldn't go back later because the store is closing its doors in a few days), but then I'd make him work for it. 

I started a point system.  Each day he can earn points for doing his chores and homework with a good attitude, being happy when playing games, and just following directions.  He loses points by yelling, screaming, or talking back to mom and dad.  At the end of the day, he earns a sticker for every five points he earns.  Each day is a new day, and we start back at zero points.  I keep the points on a whiteboard on the fridge so I can easily put them up and wipe them off.  When he earns 20 stickers, I'll take the guitar off the top of the fridge, and it's his.  In the end, he'll earn a total of 100 points. 

At first I thought it would take about two weeks for him to adjust and transition, but I've realized that it's taken a little less.  Since adding the incentive, he's come a long way.  He has something to work for, and I'm glad it's successful so far.

When I bought the guitar, I rationalized that bribery was okay.  After thinking about it more, though, I realize that we all need motivation, and we all work harder when we see results.  He's at an age where he's still learning to control his emotions and reactions and learning appropriate behavior, and he apparently needs an incentive.  This is a good thing for something he wants.  I don't feel bad at all because he's earning it.


Sugar said...

Motivation is huge with kids! Good job figuring out how to help him. I'm curious about the homework. It sounds like a lot for his age. Also, homework is supposed to be independent practice (meaning that he can already do the work with 90-95% accuracy). Do you think that is true with the work that comes home? I totally get how it could be just the idea of homework that freaks him out but I have found teachers send too much homework and that it's not always at an independent level.

Andy, Mary, Nate, Lizzie said...

Growling made an appearance at you house, too, eh? *sigh* L had the hardest time this week. Here's hoping things go better starting tomorrow!