A week or so ago, I was listening to myself give the same directions over and over and over again, while my daughter just sat there. Didn’t look at me. Didn’t respond. Just sat, completely ignoring me, playing away with whatever toys she had.
I started to get mad, then I realized it was my fault.
I realized that I was using a really good behavioral tool in a really counterproductive way. I’ve been using the warnings and treat chart with my 4 year old, to help her listen. She had been having trouble listening to me right away when I was telling her to do things, and a lot of times, she just ended up plain old ignoring me when I gave her instructions.
So I had cracked out the warnings and treat chart, telling her that if I told her to do something and she didn’t do it, she would lose a warning token. I started each day off with four warnings, and after that, she would lose her treat for that night. This was working really well, and she lost a lot of warning tokens over the next week, but had never gotten to the point where she lost her treat. She always ended up pulling herself together.
So I had slowly decreased the warning tokens until we stayed at two warnings before she would lose her treat. She did really well for a while, losing a warning every once in a while, but working really hard at listening to me. I kind of stopped paying attention to what I was doing and slowly got more and more relaxed. *Insert obnoxious buzzer noise* This is where I started to go wrong.
My daughter really hated losing warning tokens, even though she never actually lost her treat. I think I started feeling bad, because she really was sorry after she ignored me, and she was being punished (by taking a warning off) anyway. It was way too easy to slip from relaxed to counterproductive.
Every time my daughter ignored me, I’d say, “You need to listen to me, or I’m going to take a warning off your chart.” I didn’t want her to lose her warning tokens, so I started giving her verbal warnings after the behavior already happened, for the next time. And I didn’t take a token off unless the behavior happened again after the verbal warning.
Once I gave the verbal warning, my daughter listened to me right away. She knew I was serious. But if I didn’t give any verbal warnings, she just completely ignored me until I reminded her. I accidentally made the listening behavior dependent on a verbal warning. And she started ignoring me more and more, because she knew she wasn’t going to lose a warning token until she ignored me after her verbal warning.
So instead of punishing ignoring, I was punishing “continued ignoring after a verbal warning.” And I was getting more lenient on “initial ignoring,” so it was increasing. Definitely not what I wanted to happen!
So here’s how I’ve been fixing it. I started to really pay attention to my behaviors and be consistent in what I’m doing, so that I can actually bring about the behavior change that I want to make.
1. I give a verbal warning at the beginning of the day.
I reset the chart in the morning, show it to my daughter, and tell her that if she ignores me, she will lose warnings and eventually, her treat. I encourage her to do good listening and then let her go off on her way.
2. I give verbal warnings only before my daughter ignores me.
Several times during the day, I remind my daughter that she needs to listen to me or she’s going to lose a warning. Sometimes these warnings come before a time when I think she’s going to ignore me, like if I have to ask her to do something she doesn’t like. But I don’t give her a verbal warning before every demand I make. Just sometimes.
3. I encourage and reinforce good listening.
I thank my daughter and praise her when she listens to me and does what I ask her to do. When she feels appreciated, she’ll want to do it again in the future.
4. I follow through
If my daughter doesn’t listen, I take away a warning token. When I ask my daughter to do something and she ignores me, she loses a warning token. End of story. I have to do this whether I just gave her a verbal warning or not. The token is the warning, so at this point, she’s getting warned that she might lose her treat. I can even tell her how many warnings she has left and remind her that she’s going to lose her treat eventually.
If my daughter loses her treat on the chart, she really doesn’t get her treat. Whatever it is that we agreed her treat is, if it’s off of her chart, she doesn’t get it. If I start feeling bad and give her the treat anyway, the whole chart just goes out the window, and I might as well not use it.
5. We start fresh the next day.
Even if my daughter loses her treat one day, we start fresh the next day. I reset the chart and remind her to do good listening, and always encourage her. Even if yesterday was a really tough day for listening, I don’t roll over the consequences into today. When the chart resets, it is completely reset.
Now I’m using my chart the right way, and my daughter has been ignoring me less and less, instead of more! The first few days, she lost a lot more warning tokens (not because she was listening less, but because I was doing it right). She cried when she lost them, but I helped her calm down and reminded her that she was still getting her treat, as long as she listened for the rest of the day.
After those few days, she relaxed a little about losing warnings, and started listening to me more and more. Now, she still ignores me sometimes (because that behavior won’t go away completely. She’s still a kid, after all!), but we are well on our way to developing good listening and compliance habits.
The chart is working the way it’s supposed to, and now I’ll make sure to use those tips for using the chart the right way, in order to be productive in making the behavior change I want to make.
Try it out! Download the chart and use it for your kids to see the same results.