Sometimes, I think educators received some sort of special manual that I missed out on as a parent.
This handy book must include tips and tricks for getting kids to do what we adults want them to do. How else do they have a room full of kids being nice to each other-when my three kids can't make it across Brattleboro without negativity?
The professional educators tell me that rewarding a behavior -- until it becomes habitual is critical.
Essentially, they come up with a "target behavior" (for example, "do work without talking"). Then they provide feedback to the student (like a check box)-and then they reward ("you get full recess").
This intrigued me. Could it work for family things, too?
Typically, we have been more on the punitive side here as a household. You didn't feed the dogs this morning? No time on the Xbox this afternoon.
But this school method is really the opposite: the child must earn something-instead of automatically having it and then losing it.
Back in October, we all sat down to a family meeting. Everyone amazingly agreed that a fair amount of screen time would be about 60-90 minutes per day (after homework and other obligations were done).
Then I devised a system of minutes per item: five minutes for unloading the dishwasher, 15 minutes for getting out the door with no negative interactions with each other (amazingly difficult some days), five minutes for feeding the dogs (or chickens or bunnies), etc.
I included some items that seemed silly (to me)-with the thought that everyone, no matter how bad a morning, would be able to have some success: five minutes for brushing teeth, five minutes for eating a healthy breakfast.
We even came up with some bonuses that might be more for weekends: 30 minutes for cleaning out the chicken coop, 10 minutes for folding laundry, 15 minutes for vacuuming.
After four days, I saw a rather stark -- and positive -- change.
The kids start their mornings looking for their lists. They like checking things off. (Math skills increase for the 7-year-old in particular as she adds up the time, another unexpected bonus).
They all feel that they are being treated fairly. If they don't do what's on the list, they just don't get as much screen time. There is no subjectivity, no judgment.
Will it last? One educator commented to me that in 12 years of teaching, she's tried a lot of methods. She says that this one has given the most positive results-particularly if the family also adds in home-based rewards for the specified behavior. She reports that usually after a month, the behavior just becomes second nature, and that -- eventually -- you can remove the rewards.
Well, we are now at about month four of this system. It is still, remarkably, working. The only caveat is that we parents must always enforce the times, as they often "forget".
Now, as far as the behavior becoming second nature? Well, not really. They do automatically do these lists (which were the same things that they were supposed to be doing before).
But, alas, they are not automatically limiting their time on electronics. The pull of the video screen still grabs their little eyes for as many hours as we let them.
Once again, I find that the solutions that work so well at school don't translate as wonderfully well at home.
Then again, I am very glad to hear that they work somewhere!
Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the boards for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board (elementary schools).