I mentioned earlier that we’ve been having some behavior issues with Catie. I don’t really know how to explain it, other than to call it the Terrible Threes. She’s argumentative about everything. Anything I suggest, she wants nothing to do with it. Time to take a bath? No, no bath! So I force her into the tub, then it’s another fight to get her OUT of the bathtub. Mealtime, bedtime, all of the parts of our day that are things we have to do, she puts up a huge stinking fight about it.
On Sunday, I had tickets to take Catie and her cousin Elizabeth to see Nick Jr. Storytime Live. Just me and two three year-olds. Don’t be jealous. When we had talked about it earlier, Catie was SO excited, and couldn’t wait for the show. Then Sunday morning rolled around, and she was in another bad mood. I told her that we needed to get dressed, so we could go to the concert, and it was going to be so! much! FUN! Her response? “NO! I can’t want to have fun!” I finally dragged her upstairs and forced her to get dressed, and as soon as I pulled her shirt over her head, she cut me off before I could say anything and said, “I’m NOT pretty!” Like, don’t even try to compliment me, lady. Don’t waste your breath.
Once we got out the door & headed to my cousin’s house to pick up Elizabeth, everything was fine. Catie and Elizabeth take a lot of cues from each other, and they were both amazingly well-behaved. They held hands as we walked the two blocks from the parking lot to the theater, they stayed in their seats, they were fantastically easy. Of course, I bought them some popcorn and they each got a giant cookie, so that probably helped.
After the show, we took Elizabeth home. The girls played in the backyard for a while, and Cat and I talked about how difficult this age can be sometimes. It’s so nice to be able to commiserate with someone who’s going through the exact same thing. But it also got me thinking that there has to be a way to change this behavior. My parents (well, mostly my dad) insist that we need to spank Catie when she acts out, and I don’t necessarily have any knee-jerk reaction against spanking, it’s just something I prefer not to do. I was spanked as a kid and I don’t harbor any major emotional trauma because of it. But I generally think that if there’s a way to get the desired behavior without spanking, that’s the better route to choose.
On our way home from my cousin’s house, I remembered an episode of Supernanny that I saw ages ago, and I got inspired. After I got Catie settled down for her nap, I left her with Dave and set off for Wal-Mart. (Note: I generally prefer Target over Wal-Mart, but we just got a brand new Super Wal-Mart and it’s surprisingly nice. And cheap.)
I came home with a small dry-erase board. I hung it up on the wall in the living room where Catie sits for her time-outs, and I wrote on it: CATIE’S REWARD CHART. I drew in 10 squares underneath it. Here’s the rules: when she does something that she needs to do (i.e., taking a bath, getting dressed in the morning, etc.) without complaining or throwing a tantrum, I fill in one of the squares. (She can choose if she wants a smiley face, a star, or a heart – she knows that Mommy’s artistic ability is pretty limited!) When all 10 squares are filled in, she gets a prize. Nothing major, probably just something from the $1 bin at Target, but still, it’s the idea. Here’s the catch: when she’s naughty and has to sit in time-out, one of her squares gets erased, and she has to earn it back. So the premise is established: rewards for good behavior, consequences for bad behavior.
We set this up on Sunday evening, and I cannot begin to tell you the turnaround I’ve seen in this kid within 48 hours. She’s back to being sweet and agreeable most of the time – sure, she still throws the occasional tantrum, but they’ve decreased so much, so quickly, that it almost makes me think this must be a fluke. We’ll have to give it a test run for a while longer to see if it really works, but so far I’m cautiously optimistic.