by Veronica Ibarra

I recently attended a parent-student workshop at my daughter’s school focused on Positive Behavior Intervention & Support in the Home, an extension of the PBIS they implement at her school. Having worked with troubled teens for ten years, I know the value of structure, clear expectations with logical consequences and motivating rewards. However, I sometimes find it difficult when trying to meet my seven year old on her level. Sometimes I can’t wait until she’s a teenager when maybe I’ll have a better handle on how to deal with her, but that isn’t going to help us now.

In the workshop the teachers presented the concept of PBIS, and demonstrated how to develop an expectations chart that would work at home. It involved bringing in my daughter and working with her to come up with behaviors we both agreed on as being important at home. Now this is the same kid who cries and whines over three worksheets of homework, throws herself down on the floor to lay in the middle of traffic when denied anything, and screams “I don’t like you” when told to wait. Was I really going to have a productive brainstorming session with her about behavior?

Surprisingly, yes! I’m sure that being in the school media center helped her to take the assignment seriously, and helped me to remain patiently open to her feedback–I know, can you believe my seven year old had feedback?!  We came up with a list of things she needed to do daily at home, and a list of rewards she could earn for consistent follow through. We discussed how her school values of kindness, respect, responsibility and self-control would play a role in how she should behave at home as well as at school.  Then we set about making a weekly behavior chart to track how she does.

We’ve been following the chart for a week now, and I am impressed, though I know I shouldn’t be. I’ve worked with behavior modification techniques before, and utilized a behavior chart for when she’s been grounded for a day or the weekend. I guess it just never occurred to me to apply the idea to positive behavior expectations on a daily basis with the inclusion of rewards that appealed to her. Smack me on the forehead now.

Not only did my daughter show me that she grasps the concepts embraced by applying the values of kindness, respect, responsibility and self-control to the chores she has at home, but when deciding the various levels of rewards she could choose from and earn, I was again surprised at what she liked. Some things like 30 minutes of computer time are right in line with what she’s used to working for at school, but then she wanted things like having me paint her nails and playing Barbies with her for 30 minutes without her brother. She even wanted playing Scrabble as one of the rewards.

It is apparent that she is my daughter, as if I had any doubts. How she picked things I would love to do with her is a testament to her cunningly innocent genius, but if it means less of the crying, whining, yelling, and passive sit-ins, who am I to say no? When it comes to our kids, it’s too easy to think we are either out of options or beyond help. Even with all my education and experience I find it beneficial to open myself up to extra help and guidance. Clearly, I don’t know everything, but I’m willing to learn.