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How-to: Mornings by the Book

So Grace is a bit of a poke in the morning. She's also not fond of having her hair done, so trying to do that usually elicits lots of screaming. What's a frazzled parent to do? Set up an A.M. routine.

I should preface this by saying that my wife and I are both veteran special ed. teachers, with an emphasis on behaviorism. I did it for about ten years before moving on, and my wife is still at it (since 1993). So, when we were addressing the issue of Gracie's A.M. routine woes, we immediately drew upon our own education and professional experience. We decided to set up a schedule she could do all by herself, with the positive reinforcement built right in. I think we've been successful.

A brief definition before we continue: Positive reinforcement is anything that increases the likelihood that a behavior will be repeated in the future. For instance, you work 40 hours at your job; you get a paycheck. The paycheck increases the likelihood that you'll work another 40 hours (I hope!). Or, guys, you give your wife a nice bunch of flowers and she gives you...well, you know. You're now likely to give her flowers again.

The scenario we're shooting for in our house is: Grace gets ready in the morning all by herself without complaint, and enjoys the experience so much that she's likely to do it again. Get it? Okay.

Here's how to apply behaviorism to your morning:

This photo shows Gracie's A.M. "rainbow" and book. The rainbow is simply drawn on some tagboard, cut out, and laminated. There are seven pieces of Velcro across the rainbow. The book is simply squares of posterboard, cut and laminated, and bound with the book binder machine at my wife's school. Sure, we were cheating by using the book binder, but you can get a hole punch and a ring at your local "everything" store to affix the pages.

Each page has a piece of Velcro in the center.

On each page is an icon depicting something Grace needs to do for her schedule.

These are made with "Boardmaker" by Mayer-Johnson. You don't need to use these fancy-shmancy icons — you can easily draw your own pictures, or even use photos of your kid performing the target task. These were also put on tag board with rubber cement, cut out, laminated, and affixed with a square of Velcro. We're almost ready to go.

As I'm sure you can imagine, the routine works like this: When Grace completes each activity, depicted by the icons, she moves the corresponding icon out of her book and places it on the rainbow. She then turns the page in the book and does the next activity. When all of the icons have been moved from the book to the rainbow, one by one, she's done! Today was Day Two with the rainbow, and it's working spectacularly.

The icons she has are: eat breakfast, wash your face, use the potty, get dressed, put your laundry away, brush your hair, and finally, brush your teeth. The only thing she can't manage herself is the closures on her pants (the button and zipper). Remember the criteria I mentioned earlier, self-monitoring and built-in reinforcement? Well, she knows whether or not she has pages that haven't been moved to the rainbow yet, and she just LOVES the little icons! Attaching them to the rainbow is something she really enjoys, so she's motivated to move from activity to activity, just to "get" the "sticker" as she calls them.

The nice thing is how extensible this is. You can make as many books as you want! One for the A.M., one for P.M., one for house chores (for older kids)...this technique even works for behavior management. Every time little Johnny does something wonderful (instead of not so wonderful) he can put something cool on his rainbow. When the rainbow is full, he gets access to something extra-wonderful that's reserved ONLY as a reward for the completion of the rainbow. And, of course, it needn't be a rainbow, use whatever picture you want, as long as the kid likes it.

So that's that. It's working wonders for us, and I so I thought I'd share. Happy Behaviorism-ing.

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