Reward system for 3 yr old. - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 14 Old 01-11-2013, 11:10 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Hi All,

 

Can you please advice me if I am doing the right thing.

 

My son is very fond of cars and whenever we go out he expects us to buy him something or the other. Of course he does not spend much. Just the 2 dollars hotwheeels/match box cars. But i guess that is besides the point.

 

Also we have put him in Montessori. He is suffering from severe separation anxiety and breakdowns every morning to go to preschool. Also he has become extra cranky of late. He is fig ting with his brothers and crying and skipping his dinner and only asks for milk. 

 

So Day before I had a small discussion with him, showed him a calendar and said I will watch his behavior for the next 20 days. And if he was good all these 20 days without any crankiness, with out any meltdowns, without any fighting then at the end of 20 days we will reward him with a surprise car toy. We will not buy him anything in the middle of these 20 days. I have set up a calendar for him to see for himself his progress. I put a star on each of the days he behaves good so that way he knows when he was good and when he was not. I Will be reviewing this chart every night with him and discussing what he did good, what was unacceptable and writing them down right before him.

 

So far we are into day 2 and everything is going fine. He was on his best behavior. He is verbally active kid so I tell him if something is bothering him then to communicate it in words with me rather than crying inconsistently.

 

Do you think what I am doing is right. Cars are something he cherishes a lot. I can't think of any reward system that can work for him.

 

Please advice.

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#2 of 14 Old 01-11-2013, 11:28 AM
 
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I hope you have made sure there is nothing outside his control that is affecting him. Food intolerances or sugar can alter a mood.
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#3 of 14 Old 01-11-2013, 11:54 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Hi pek64,

 

I did check that. He does not seem to have any food in tolerances. They don't give any sugar in the preschool so I am sure its not sugar either.

 

Two days before he cried for half an hour nonstop because he wanted the car seat which his cousin sits on. He refused to sit on his car seat and i had to forcefully make him sit. Sometimes he can be mighty stubborn and selfish when he wants to be. That is why I came up with this reward system based on his behavior. 

 

He says preschool is boring for him since they don't allow him to play with his cars. Previously he was in a home based day care where there were no rules and he could play as much as he wants. Now with Montessori he has to listen to the teachers and of course they don't allow him to play the entire day with cars. That being said I was sympathetic to his needs the first 2 weeks after he joined. I let him show his frustration. Held him close when he cried. Let him have his milk after he was home and didn't pester him to have his food. 

 

But his crankiness is getting out of hand day by day. I am in my final month of my second pregnancy and sometimes his whining and crying really breaks me down. I put him on a time out where i remove him from the place and take him to a room and let him cry it out. If he does not stop then I leave him in the room and close the door. If cries for some time and after i open the door comes out sober.

 

But day before Day was the last straw. Both his cousins went happily to the preschool along with him. They are happy while coming out. But my son only chooses to cry because his cousin was sitting rightfully in his seat which was meant for him. And it was my son acting so selfish asking for his cousins chair and refusing to sit in his.

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#4 of 14 Old 01-11-2013, 02:32 PM
 
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I'm glad you checked for physical causes. I'm not a fan of rewards, because they can backfire and cause sneaking bad behavior. In other words, there may be a time when he hits his cousin while you're not looking and you have only the two boys to tell you what happened. Wanting to still get the car, your son may lie. And how do you really know what happened. You can guess, but if you guess wrong, he'll realize the flaw in the system and press it for all he's worth. Still, I have only one child, so I don't have a lot of advice to offer. Except maybe return to the old place and let him play. The school simply may not be a good fit.

I hope you get some good suggestions from other moms. Congratulations on the upcoming addition to your family!! Transitions can be difficult, but the greater the challenge, the greater the joy. Good luck!
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#5 of 14 Old 01-11-2013, 02:32 PM
 
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Sorry. Double post.
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#6 of 14 Old 01-11-2013, 02:32 PM
 
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And triple post. Sorry again.
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#7 of 14 Old 01-11-2013, 03:08 PM
 
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Just a couple of questions first:

 

How long has he been in the new Montessori school?  Sometimes it takes kids awhile to adjust to new routines (and Montessori is quite different than most other kinds of programs), so I'd give it a little time to see if it gets better.  If it doesn't, or seems to be getting worse, you may want to consider going back to the previous preschool (if that was a better fit for him).

 

Unfortunately, some of what you're seeing is pretty typical (normal) 3-year-old boy behavior (yes, it's pretty exasperating--more so when you're pregnant/tired/over it!):  whining/crying, power struggles over routines (like skipping his dinner), all completely normal.  I'm kind of in the same space as you--dealing with a 3-year-old boy while in the third trimester of pregnancy--so I can totally relate to how frustrating it is to deal with.  Believe me, there's a lot of days I feel like I am the one who needs a time out because I find myself getting sucked into power struggles over minor things, and being far too cranky to be patient and objective when dealing with it all.

 

Incentives:  Sometimes incentives work, but usually only for a limited period of time.  It's best to use them short term, rather than long term as they unfortunately tend to lose their effectiveness.  However, if it helps, and he finds it motivating, go with it.  I wonder if he'll be able to go for such a long period of time though (20 days), since three is such an emotionally fragile age (in some ways it can be worse than two was)--you might want to start with a week first, then build up to 20 days.  It's hard for a three-year-old to do anything consistently for such a long period of time.  So be open to the possibility that you may need to revise the length of time you expect him to hold it together.  But the idea, itself, is probably worth pursuing, especially if nothing else seems to work.

 

 

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#8 of 14 Old 01-11-2013, 04:57 PM
 
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I agree about perhaps going back to the daycare he was in. His behavioral changes seem to coincide with starting preschool. It may very well be too much for him too early. Preschool is meant to be one year prior to kindergarten enrollment, two years maximum. If he is due to enroll at six then five years, and so on.  So he may very well be too young for it currently. Behavioral and emotional issues are the primary risks of preschool enrollment, but those seem to be greatly reduced if the child is enrolled at five years of age. Many people though enroll at four and it seems a suitable age, and also the age that is standard for goverment preschool programs. He may just need more time before he is ready.

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#9 of 14 Old 01-12-2013, 07:46 AM
 
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I also wonder if 20 days is too long. Also, if he doesn't make it are you starting again from zero? That could be enormously frustrating for both of you.

 

I have a friend with an older child she used to use a lot of praise and rewards with, and now she sees the effects that her daughter is always looking for external rewards and needs to get attention and noticed for every little thing she does. She is dependent on others' approval. That is the danger with rewards. I was committed to not using them, but now I am considering it for certain things with my 2.5 year old. However, I would think long and hard about it and limit it.
 


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#10 of 14 Old 01-12-2013, 08:35 AM
 
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Personally, I'm not fond of the reward system because of the reasons mentioned above. Also, I do want my kids to express their emotions instead of bottling them up; I was expected not to show anger, disappointment, fear as a kid and it's not fun. "Be on his best behaviour" really means behaving as you deem acceptable. If my dk want to cry I can offer a hug or sympathy, but if they just want to cry to release stress and it becomes too much for me, I ask them to go to their room. We all need a good cry sometimes to feel better.

 

You also have to look at his behaviour as being a typical 3 y/o. It doesn't mean that it's acceptable, but it is normal. Wanting something a friend (or cousin) has doesn't make him selfish. I can give my 3 y/o the exact same toy her brother has, she still wants her brother's shrug.gif

 

As for expecting you to buy something every time you go out, this is what I do: my ds has an allowance which he uses only to buy toys. We only buy toys for Christmas and his birthday; other than that, he can buy whatever he wants with his allowance. My ds is older though, I don't know if it would work with a 3y/o.
 


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#11 of 14 Old 01-12-2013, 11:01 AM
 
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Just adding, I too think 20 days is too long . I would shorten it . Maybe make it longer stretches as he makes milestones.

DS ( 9/2010) and TTC #2 fingersx.gif

 

 

 

 

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#12 of 14 Old 01-12-2013, 01:40 PM
 
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Regarding the concept of time, days weeks. Children age 3-5 do not yet have the cognitive devlopment to understand one week, so 20 days is likely beyond normal brain development for any young child. To put it into perspective, normal 4-5 year old cogntive brain development is to grasp, today, yesterday and tomorrow.

 

 

Quote:

Time is a concept that four-year-olds have difficulty comprehending (Piaget, 1969). Four-year-olds view time as events occurring immediately or taking a very long time. Anyone who has ever told a four-year-old that he or she will be taking a field trip in a week knows that the child will ask every day if he or she is going on the trip that day.

http://www.education.com/reference/article/cognitive-development-preschoolers/?page=4

 

At about three years of age, your child’s sense of time will become much clearer. Now she’ll know her own daily routine and will try hard to figure out the routines of others. For example, she may eagerly watch for the mail carrier who arrives every day, but be perplexed that trash is picked up only one day out of seven. She’ll understand that certain special events, such as holidays and birthdays, occur every once in a while, but even if she can tell you how old she is, she’ll have no real sense of the length of a year.

http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/preschool/pages/Cognitive-Development-In-Preschool-Children.aspx

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#13 of 14 Old 01-12-2013, 02:10 PM
 
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I'm sorry y'all are going through a rough time!  It sounds like there are a lot of transitions going on (impending arrival of a new sibling, change in preschool) on top of the regular difficulties of just being 3.  

 

It might not be what you're hoping to hear, but this all sounds like normal behavior to me, especially considering all of the change going on in his world.  Kids act out their frustrations and anxieties very differently and indirectly.  I think it's sometimes even harder when you have a very verbal child, because they sound more adult and you tend to think of them as older than they really are, and expect things that are beyond their developmental capabilities.  

 

I notice you mentioning that he acts selfishly - now and then there is a remarkably compassionate and empathetic three year old, but by and large, it is totally developmentally normal for them to be selfish.  It's hard-wired into them, and it passes as their sense of empathy develops.  It isn't something you can force, and it would be nonsensical to punish them for acting in a developmentally appropriate way.  The best way to cultivate compassion and empathy is by being compassionate and empathetic with them.  

 

I stay away from reward systems for the reasons mentioned above - if you think about it, you're actually working at cross-purposes for wanting him to not be selfish.  Rewards cultivate selfishness inherently; you teach them to do good because they will receive something from it, not because it's simply the right thing to do.  The bummer thing is that reward systems typically do work in the short term, so they are recommended a lot by parents who have seen success with them.  They don't work in the long term; however, if you are authentically at the end of your rope and want to test out a reward system to see some short-term changes, it might be worth testing out, even just to get you through these transitional months with your new baby and the new preschool.

 

I would agree with others that 20 days is far, far too long for a 3 year old.  Even a week, or maybe even a day, is probably too long.  Can you get through 20 days without having a meltdown or being cranky?  I know I couldn't.  

 

Also, a reward for "being good" is far too vague.  A three year old probably doesn't have the skills to resolve a conflict without fighting, to cope without having a meltdown, or to resolve to not be cranky.  It's just too much to expect, even for lots of adults!  

 

So I guess my advice would be to greatly scale back the reward system, make it shorter term and much more specific, if not reconsidering it altogether, as well as reconsidering your expectations of his behavior, given his age and the transitions that he is dealing with right now.  Best of luck!

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#14 of 14 Old 01-12-2013, 06:35 PM
 
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I'm going to go against the grain here and say I think a reward system is great.  BUT, there's a right way and a wrong way.  Charts are like bribery.  Even if you shorten the time span from the 20 days (which is far too long for that age), you are dangling the bait in front of him.  So his behavior is not improved because he inherently wishes to do the right thing or to please you.  It's a false sense of behaving for something new and novel.  Eventually the novelty wears off and you are forced to up the reward value and in the long run it's not realistic.  Rewards in life are not always going to get better.  That said, rewards that are random and variable, for behaviors that he offers unpromted, WILL lead to improved behavior.  That is scientifically proven.  Random:  he doesn't always get a reward for every good behavior, and sometimes it's not the behavior but the effort put into it that is rewarded.  Variable:  rewards can be a pat on the back, high five, a piece of candy, a trip to the store for a new book....anything that your LO finds pleasurable is a reward.  We're surrounded by rewards all day and you'd never know it until you stop to think about it.  You hold a door for someone - they say thank you.  Say hello, get a smile back.  These are all positive reactions that reward us.  You're not looking for them, but on a subconcious level you will repeat behaviors that get 'rewarded'.  So while most will say rewards are bad - rewards don't make you selfish.  There are plenty of selfish people out there who have been wrongly rewarded, aka spoiled, but there is no way your child will become a selfish adult because you reward his good behaviors as a child. 

 

Nix the chart.  Watch your LO and tell him how proud you are of his actions at random (aka the reward).  Ignore the little things he does that bother you.  He's figuring his way in life and your positive guidance will only help him.

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