Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sticker Chart Blues

Well, it seems I’ve hit yet another parenting milestone.  We had to put up a behavior chart for both kids so they could earn stickers for being good.

We’ve done variations of this with Maddie in the past, but this time it required poster board, brand new Sharpie markers and the best stickers money could buy; My Little Pony and Care Bears puffy stickers for Maddie and Monster Jam Monster Trucks and Cars 2 stickers for Colin. 
You might notice a few extra stickers at the bottom of Colin's side...
those were not sanctioned by either parent.

It all started shortly after the kids recovered from a bought of the stomach flu that lasted over a full week between the two of them.  I started to write a blog about it, but kept getting interrupted by the sounds of hurling.  Let’s just say the title was “BARF-0-RAMA!” and besides being so sick of throw up by the end that I didn’t want to write about it, I figured none of you wanted to hear about any more of the things that come out of my kids’ bodies, funny as it is.

So after one trip to the emergency room, more loads of laundry than I care to mention, catching several handfuls of puke with my bare hands to avoid doing any more laundry, we survived.  Tom did catch it, but thankfully I did not.  Must be God’s way of making sure we only are dealt what we can handle.  Unfortunately, the kids grew accustom to sleeping in our bed and even after the last chunk flew, they felt the need to crawl into our bed.

After several sleepless nights with a Lightning McQueen car in my ear and a foot in my ribcage, something had to be done.  We knew an incentive program was in order not only for the sleeping issues, but also for about half-a-dozen other behavioral issues we were working on. I’ve been on the hunt for any method that will keep me from yelling and screaming all day long.  I broke out the poster board, markers and ruler and developed the mother of all behavior charts.  Among the list of sticker-worthy tasks were the obvious sleeping in your bed ALL night, listening, getting ready for school when asked, not getting kicked out of school or the childcare center at the gym (specific to Colin, of course!), eating breakfast, lunch and dinner without argument, helping clear the table, letting the dog out, picking up toys, using manners and miscellaneous activities as designated by mom and/or dad.

Once the chart was complete, I gathered the kids together at the kitchen table and drew their attention to the back door where their new poster was hanging.  I was part Super Nanny, part wanna-be lawyer delivering a moving closing argument to the jury.  The jury was my doe-eyed four and two-year olds who quite honestly looked like an alien invaded their world.  The goal, 25 stickers in order to get a prize that each designated.  Maddie decided on a Light Sprite and Colin a Trio Block set.

I got buy-in from them and away we went on the great sticker adventure!  Low and behold, the dog needed to be let out five minutes later.  Rather than ignoring her doing the potty prance by the back door, the two of them practically killed each other to let her out.  Now I had a new problem, they were arguing, pushing, shoving and whining at me as to who got there first, who should get the sticker, blah, blah, blah.  Oh, Christ on a cross, I can’t win!  I explained why neither of them would get a sticker for letting the dog out and they went about their business.  Soon, the kids started doing things to earn stickers, with the exception of sleeping in their own beds at night.  After two or three nights of with no stickers earned, we upped the ante.  We offered double or nothing for sleeping in his or her own bed.  Finally, we had some success.  Of course, as with all good things it was relatively short-lived and Colin started to sneak back in.  One night Maddie came in after having a bad dream and stood at the side of my bed claiming she didn’t need any stickers and would “let the dog out or something instead.” 

In addition to these glitches in the system, I also found myself doing a lot more yelling.  For example, “If you don’t pick up your toys I am going to take away two stickers…three stickers…that’s it ALL YOU STICKERS!!”  And yes, I tore several down, especially on Colin’s side.  Seems I needed my own sticker chart to help my screaming like a banshee issue.

Needless to say, Maddie reached her quota first.  Thankfully she can’t accurately count to 25, so I was able to put off buying her toy for a few days because I knew full well the minute…no, the second I told her she reached her goal she would pester me until we went to the store.  I broke down and told her the night before we were going to the store and sure as shit, the first thing she said when she woke up was, “Let’s get dressed and go to Target!”  We eventually managed to get to the store and much to my dismay it appeared they didn’t have the coveted Light Sprite.  I looked on the clearance rack and on the very bottom shelf was one last Light Sprite…on sale for 70% off!  Score. 

Of course, my little manipulator completely played the system.  As she was going to bed that night she informed me that now that she had earned her toy, she could come to my bed in the middle of the night.  I explained that we would start a new chart for a new prize, plus I could always return her toy.  She quickly retorted, “No you can’t, you already threw out the box and they won’t let you return it without a box!”  Damn, she was right.

It turns out this method of discipline is less than perfect.  Not only did I end up doing more yelling as opposed to less, the kid who needed the most work on his behavior (Colin) could give a rats ass about stickers or the prize at the end.  Second, Maddie will continue to work towards more toys and each time I am sure she will want something bigger and better and no matter what, she will find a way to beat the system. Right now, Colin is holding steady at 20 stickers.  He has earned more than 25, but he keeps getting them taken away which leads me to believe he will have to wait for Santa to bring his Trio blocks next Christmas instead. So, if I had to rate this method for holding the kids accountable for their behavior, I’d give it a 3 which equals the total number of times we got a full night of sleep without any kids sneaking in our bed over a ten-day period.  I think the “1-2-3 Magic” technique works the best out of all the methods I’ve tried, assuming I don’t yell and scream while I count and/or I could actually keep Colin in a time out.

I will say that a few times I joked with Tom that he needed a sticker chart and even threatened to take away a sticker for playing too rough with the kids or not putting his dirty clothes in the laundry basket.  Of course, I think we can all guess what the prize for Tom would be if he earned all 25 stickers, at it wouldn’t be Trio Blocks or a Light Sprite ; )

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Maddie and Her Blowup Doll?

This post is based on a recent article I wrote for Kane County Magazine.

If I had to categorize my children, I think it would be safe to say that my daughter, Maddie, is the lover, and my son, Colin, is the fighter.

While my son definitely has his moments where he loves on his mommy and likes to give the pretty ladies at the grocery store his best “smolder” with his deep, dark, brown eyes, he usually opts for getting kicked out of preschool for biting the teacher. 

That, and I think he says “hate” at least 10 times an hour just to say it — I hate dolls, I hate “Good Luck Charlie,” I hate salt, I hate windows and I hate Justin Bieber. We correct him constantly (although my husband said he let the Justin Bieber one slide) and tell him that he shouldn’t use that word, especially for no reason.  

Then there is my daughter. She will walk in the room and say, “Mom?”

“Yes, Maddie,” I answer, as if she is going to tell me some epic story, ask an important question or request a treat.

“I love you.”

“I love you too, honey.”

This goes on and on all day — while we are driving in the car, at the dinner table or while she is making Valentine’s Day cards in the middle of July. It’s like the Paul McCartney song, “Silly Love Songs” — he says it 18 times in five minutes! 

She also tells me how much she loves me and measures it in miles.

“Mom, I love you 20 million miles away.” 

I feel bad telling her that if she says it too much, it will take away how special it is because, in all reality, it is always special to me when she says it. The way I see it, I will save up all the “I love yous” now because I am sure there will come a day when I won’t see or talk to her every day and will miss hearing it. 

Of course, there will be the tumultuous teenage years where I am sure I will hear plenty of, “I hate you, MOM!” especially after she knows I wrote this article about her.

While Maddie loves her “Momma Time,” by far the best testament to my daughter’s romanticism is her ability to dream of being a princess and marrying a prince, all while dancing around the house in a princess gown singing her own silly love songs. 

We’ve had to answer the tough questions about love already, like why she can’t marry her dad, her brother or Prince Eric from “The Little Mermaid.” 

Therefore, she has taken it upon herself to find a new “Prince Charming” — a blowup astronaut. My in-laws actually brought this 3-foot spaceman back for Colin from their trip to Cape Canaveral last year. However, Maddie commandeered him, and now he is the object of her affection.

I am not quite sure how I feel about my 4-year-old daughter smooching a blowup doll, but I also don’t quite know how to explain to her why it is so inappropriate, since in her little preschooler mind she is just “pretending.” I mean, she really doesn’t have many other options for mates since we’ve ruled out the boys in her family, and she usually spends more time arguing with the little boy next door than playing with him. Poor little girl just wants someone to love.

And the hilarity of her courtship continues with the wonderful love songs she sings to her astronaut as she waltzes around the family room. If I could include audio in my article, it would really make it more meaningful. Let’s just say she is quite the lyricist and should probably stick to “writing” songs rather than performing them.

One performance went something like this:

“Ooohhhh!  I love you … you’re my true love, and I can’t wait for you to get back from vacation! I love you … you’re the only one for me, and I can’t wait to marry you when you get back from vacation and hold you ... .” 

Maybe she is channeling Elton John with her own version of “Rocket Man.” Hey, most people don’t even know the real words of that song anyway, according to the Volkswagen commercial on TV.  

No matter how you slice it, she is a lover and a dreamer; she has an odd connection to music from the 1970s; and she is potentially the future wife of an astronaut. 

No matter what, I would hate to shatter her dreams of true love, even if she can’t even see his face behind his space helmet.   kc