You should find the suggestions in the preceding chapters to be useful in most situations, and most children will change and shape their behavior with gentle persuasion and simple behavior modification techniques. There are times, however, when more intense methods are needed. Positive behavior shaping methods are usually the best, however there are times when privileges need to be curtailed and punishments or negative reinforcement needs to be instituted. Children go through difficult phases, have difficulties in their lives that shape their behavior or just have difficult personalities. The strategies and suggestions in this chapter are for those difficult situations. The most important thing to remember (if punishment or negative reinforcement is needed) is that the goal is to teach your child, not be punitive. Punishments or withdrawal of privileges should be instituted just long enough for the child to learn from his mistakes and shape his behavior. It should not be designed to exact revenge or seek justice.
One of the things I find to be the most irritating as a parent are the endless small infractions that my children seem to commit. Name calling, sibling squabbles, breaking small rules and talking back to parents are all incidents that drive me crazy, and that I didn’t always know how to deal with. Of course I took the time to teach my children that these things were not okay and to remind them to obey the rule, but what should I do if the behavior continued? I didn’t always have the time or opportunity to provide a time out, I didn’t want to turn my reward systems into punishment systems by taking away tokens and often the children’s actions were just too minute to take away an entire privilege. These problems inspired me to invent the Strike Chart.
Before this method is used it helps if the family sits down together and discusses the difference between a right and a privilege. A list can be made of rights that each child has in the family and also privileges. It should be explained to the children that they are welcome to use their privileges, with parent permission, when their responsibilities are met. One responsibility of the family is that each child follows the family rules. Explain that the Strike Chart will give parents and children an easy way to keep track of who is following the family rules well and who deserves privileges.
The Strike Chart that our family used was printed on a piece of paper and kept on the refrigerator (see Appendix G). Anytime a child made a small infraction we gave her one strike. Larger infractions may earn two, three or even five strikes. Five strikes would cause a privilege to be lost. Strikes were marked with a pencil on the chart and privileges lost were written below. The chart can also be laminated or put into a sheet protector and markers used to mark it. I found that a pencil and eraser was the best marking implement for our family. The pencil could be erased when strikes were earned back, however they could not be easily or mistakenly erased as a marker could.
One of the things that makes this method of privilege management different than traditional “grounding” is the way privileges are given back. Most of the time when parents ground their children or take away privileges it is for a specified amount of time. Passage of time alone does nothing to teach a child anything and does not guarantee that behavior will change. With the Strike Chart privileges can only be earned back, they would not be freely returned just by the passage of time. The way the privilege was earned back had much to do with the infraction that earned the strikes and the attitude of the child. The first requirement to earn a privilege back is that the child must request it. When my children lose a privilege I tell them to let me know when they are ready to earn it back. This requires that the child adopt a repentant and docile attitude and is the first step to change. While the child is working on an attitude shift I work on possible jobs or tasks that can be completed. I gear the difficulty of the task to the severity of the infraction. If a privilege was lost for five very small infractions over a long period of time the child may be able to earn the privilege back by doing a small household task and having a discussion with Mom or Dad about the rules. If the privilege was lost for a larger infraction and the child did not seem to have learned from her mistake the job may be larger and the discussion would be more detailed. The child may also be required to perform a task to show that she has learned from her mistakes. Tasks may include writing an essay about the problem and how the problem will be fixed or doing something nice for a sibling that was harmed by inappropriate behavior.
When the child comes to me ready to earn the privilege back I present the task or tasks to be done and instructions on exactly how it must be done to be acceptable. For small infractions I may give a choice of a few jobs to complete, but for a large or offensive act I usually only give one choice and there is no discussion on what the task will be. The child chooses to complete the task or she chooses to continue without the privilege. In order for this method to work the child must always have the option to continue without the privilege. You cannot force the child to earn the privilege back.
Personal Strike Chart
Sometimes a child just does not get the program and needs a little more intense behavior intervention. For this purpose I developed the Personal Strike Chart (see Appendix I). This chart lists the child’s jobs and responsibilities as well as a place to record strikes and privileges earned or lost. This chart is used over a week’s time and lays out exactly what needs to be done and what privileges are available. It helps the parent assist the child to plan what must be done and exactly how privileges will be earned or could be lost.
The Strike Chart works very well for my family, and most of the time it has been sufficient to help me teach and shape behavior. There were times, however, that children chose not to ever earn strikes back. A child may be feeling so defiant or hopeless that he chooses to remain without privileges and continue to misbehave. It is important for parents to develop a system where it is always possible to lose more privileges or earn them back. If a child feels that his situation is hopeless and that all privileges have been lost and gaining them back is too difficult there is nothing to stop the child’s behavior from spiraling out of control.
The Level System was developed for a child who was going through a very difficult time in life and was patterned after similar systems used with children with severe emotional or behavior problems by many schools and hospitals. The Level System consists of three levels. Level 3 is the desired level. Children on this level have all privileges available to them. Children with 5 or more strikes would be placed on Level 2. On Level 2 children have 1 or more privileges that are currently unavailable. The lowest level is Level 1. A child can attain Level 1 status by continually losing privileges with no attempt to earn them back, by continued defiance or rule breaking or by one particularly grievous act. On Level 1 a child has no privileges. She has all rights afforded the family, however all privileges must be earned for each use.
When a child is on Level 1 she can earn privileges by filling out a Level 1 Points Chart (see Appendix C) and by performing extra tasks. With a Level 1 Point Chart the day is divided into recording periods and the child is responsible for earning a specified number of points during each recording period. On our chart the morning (generally before school) was one recording period, each hour during the afternoon was a recording period and the evening was the final recording period. Each task that my children must normally perform for each time period counted as one point. Tasks included getting up on time, getting ready for school on time, cleaning bedrooms, completing other jobs and completing homework. To earn a privilege for a recording period a child was required to earn 5 points, by performing the normal required family responsibilities, and then perform an additional task to earn the privilege. Some tasks that only needed to be done once a day (for instance, cleaning room) could earn more than one point during a day. If the child cleaned their room in the morning this would earn the point not only for that recording period, but for each period that day. That way, children were rewarded for doing some tasks early in the day. The child was responsible to bring the chart to Mom or Dad to get marked and keep track of it. If the chart was lost then the points were also lost.
To move from Level 1 to Level 2 a child was required to fill out the chart for 24 hours without falling below 5 points for each recording period. On Level 2 the child was then required to continue with the chart until all previously lost privileges were earned back. As long as the child was on Level 2 he had to continue to earn 5 points for each recording period, however an occasional mistake was tolerated. If a child dropped below 5 points for two recording periods in a row the child immediately returned to Level 1.
One of the best tools that I have used with my children when they are going through a difficult stage is the Parent Child Contract. It is very important for parents and children to really understand each other, their needs and their expectations. Often parents assume that their children know what is expected of them, however the terms are not specifically outlined. We often tell our children to behave themselves and be good, but what exactly does being good and behaving look like? We also believe that we know what our children want, but do we really ask them or just assume we know? The Parent Child Contract opens communication and specifically outlines what is expected.
We first began the Parent Child Contact with a child who was having difficulty, however we found it was such a good tool that we sat each child down for a personal interview and developed a contract. The contract is begun by outlining privileges that are available to the child with proper behavior. We next talked about what the child’s responsibilities were, and the link between privileges and responsibilities was explained. The child then had an opportunity to tell what he expected from his parents. Often our children came up with wants or expectations that we were unaware of. We then shared with the child what steps needed to be taken to realize their expectations, if they were possible to attain. At the end of the interview each person signed and dated the contract. The child was given their own copy of the contact, and the parents copy was stored for future reference. At a later date we could pull out the contract, see if all parties had lived up to their part, and develop a new contract based on new needs and desires.