By: Katherine Gordy Levine.
Behavior charts work. That’s the good news. Moreover, teenage girls are willing to use this tool to get the recognition they deserve. The bad news is that you have to work on them. If you work at more than the job of being a parent you may bristle at the idea of adding yet another chore to your must do list. Finally, the last of the bad news, you have to meet the same behavior chart demands you expect your teen to meet. Here’s some good news–working a behavior chart can be simplified.
In my twelve years as a professional foster parent to troubled teens, my husband and I did not use behavior charts, not paper and pen ones anyway. We did use a hefty allowance as our modified behavior plan with our teenagers.
Here’s what eventually happened:
1. Every child got two dollars love money. No matter what you did, you could count on two dollars a week.
2. If you did your chores reasonably well without nagging every day, you could earn a dollar a day.
3. If you kept the big rules every day, you got another dollar a day.
4. If you got your two dollars every day, you got a five dollar bonus and the right to paid jobs.
Now that could have been kept on a chart, but we didn’t. We kept track in our heads, the teens kept track in theirs. And yes, there were conflicts. Most often, when a kid first challenged us, we would give the kid the benefit of the doubt, but then he or she had to keep a daily record and at the next dispute if a record had not been kept by the kid, parents’ memory ruled.
Several years after we stopped being foster parents, I directed a group home for troubled girls. A fairly elaborate charting system was in place. Good behavior was rewarded with an increase in privileges as well as allowances. This was hard work for staff and there was lots of arguing by the girls. Moreover, the home was in a rough neighborhood. Our girls were easy prey for local gang members who would pay for certain favors. Any girl who was interested in money could get more than the group home’s paltry good behavior allowance.
But here is what fascinated me and what parents need to remember: the recognition mattered most, not the money. The recognition of the reward from the behavior chart is more important than the reward itself.
A note about earning privileges–both as a foster parent and a group home director, it soon became clear that some girls would break rules for purposes of their own. Often it was a way of avoiding temptation or hurt by being confined to the house.
Here are five suggestions for making the reward and punishment theory, which drives behavior charts, work:
1. Rules need to be written. Watch how Jo Frost on the TV show Supernanny sets out the rules for each family she works with. For advice more focused to a teenager, get a copy of Choices and Consequences by Dick Schaefer.
2. Limit the number of rules. Care for self, respect others, respect property, and respect the law have, serve well as the major categories. All infractions can be explained under one or the other heading.
3. Provide opportunities for success. Rewards are only useful if the child is given the opportunity to earn them. This means that you need to discuss what tasks (homework, housework, obeying curfew, etc) will be rewarded.
4. Remember advice is general and has to be tailored for age and stage as well as you and your specific child. Some of our foster children were moderately retarded, others were severely depressed, some had been traumatized. These are extreme examples, but the point is, these individual circumstances had to be taken into account when deciding on what to reward and what to punish.
5. Don’t get drawn into arguing. See this Wikihow on Gotcha Wars. Your kid may cry foul at first, but if you kept your cool and say “Parent ruling”, usually the argument will end.
Good luck, parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world, but if luck is with you and you do the best you can, you will most likely be well rewarded—later if not sooner.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Katherine Gordy Levine is a wife, mother, grandmother and professionally she has worked as the Program Coordinator, Mental Health Association NYC; Direct Group Home Program SCAN NY; Associate Adjunct Professor at Columbia University; and Director of Social Services at St Luke’s Women’s Hospital, among other leading professional roles.
Her parenting skills were truly tested and developed when for twelve years she worked as a professional foster parent, helping almost 400 troubled teens. Much of that experience inspired her book ‘When Good Kids Do Bad Things’, available now on Amazon Kindle.
- Using Behavior Charts to Increase Your Daughter’s Self Esteem
- Raising a Daughter
- What’s a Parent to Do? Dealing with Your Troubled Teen
- Firm Up Your Discipline
- Show Your Daughter You’re Not the Enemy