I love the holidays. I would celebrate Christmas all year if I could. I was especially excited for this year since my son is 3, and he can start to form real memories of the holidays. There are so many fun things to do, yummy treats to eat, and I of course wanted to share all of these things with him. However, I was finding that the more I wanted to do with him, the greedier he became. This, of course, is the opposite behavior I wanted him to exhibit since the holidays are all about giving and thankfulness.
After crying fits because he couldn’t have more candy or do more holiday activities, on top of not cleaning up his numerous toys, I had it. While he went upstairs to sulk in his room, I cleaned up his games, promptly put them away in a bag, and left them in the basement. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until the next day when he asked where all his games were. I told him I took them away because he wasn’t listening or being kind to me, and if he wanted to get them back, he had to earn it. I then set up a chart with two rows and eight boxes. He would get a sticker for each time he listened well to his parents, by saying yes or ok right away with no complaining and a good attitude; and another sticker for each time he did something kind for someone else. So after 8 good listening instances and 8 kind acts, he could get his games back.
At first, it was hard. He even cried when I was explaining how he could get his games back (this is the first chart we’ve done so he still had to get the concept). He got one sticker right away for thinking of something nice he could do (he gave me a hug). Then when he didn’t listen or had a bad attitude, I pointed out to him that he could have earned a sticker had he listened and obeyed right away. Slowly, day by day, he earned more stickers and came up with ideas for kind things to do on his own, like setting the dinner table, and offering one of his forks to his sister to use since hers were all being washed. His kind acts were outpacing his listening opportunities as he found joy in doing them. I also tried to get him excited when he was halfway there, only had x number of boxes left, etc. I found that as these concepts kept getting ingrained in his head, the tantrums stopped and there were many instances where he could have gotten a sticker but didn’t ask for one--meaning this behavior was becoming more natural to him and wasn’t focused solely on the reward. I would remind him of the stickers occasionally to bring him back on track or to praise him when he was especially kind or responsive to us and others.
Sometimes, even as adults, we need a little kick to turn good behavior into habits so we don’t even think about it anymore. As we fully enter this holiday season, may we be thankful for things both big and small, and remember and help those less fortunate than us. Parenting is already so challenging, and navigating it during the holidays is its own beast. But as we try to teach our children to become kind and responsible adults, we must also exhibit the behavior we wish for them.
Happy holidays to all, and may your 2017 be filled with love and kindness!