Friday, October 15, 2010

Aiming for the Stars

As Katie heads toward her 3rd birthday and embraces her role as the Big Sister, we are working on cultivating a new kind of maturity. Not only do we want to give her the tools to continue her good and sweet behaviors, but also we want to give her a way to reflect actively on all that she does well and to be able to be part of the process for making objectives for herself.

Once again, I have been so thankful for my teaching experience and career prior to becoming a parent. One my wise aunts, who is also an educator, once put things in perspective for me when I was asking her about Katie waking up still in the middle of the night at age two: very few teenagers ever wake up wanting comfort from their mommies in the middle of the night, so wait it out and guide with patience. Pick your battles, and know that sometimes children move on their own time lines. The education of character is far more important. I have heard it said a few times recently that, "When I have a child, they will never do...blah-di-blah." Well, never is a strong word. Just wait. Sometimes we think as parents that we can, or should, control everything...but each child is a gift that comes to us, a separate person to be taught and guided. Sure, a tantrum at the dinner table is never acceptable, but as parents we, if we care, are often in the middle of trying everything in our toolbox---much like a passionate teacher who will reteach and reteach a student who just needs to hear it a different way, perhaps several times. Parenting is as much about learning, and commitment both to learning and to our children, as being a child is about learning. I feel empathy for the child whose parents think they have it all figured out before they even begin. Parenting is the most humbling experience...and the most rewarding.

Among her many awesome behaviors, the past few months Katie has still been clinging to one or two more childish behaviors. Even in the last couple of weeks, though, I have seen her decompress and return to more of her normal self with more rest, less external commitments to various classes, more scaffolded preparation going into situations with people she doesn't know as well (which stresses her like it does her father) and---this is one of my tricks---a house filled with song. She responds better to instructions about, say, picking up toys, when I sing all the instructions like an operetta. Our house has been almost like living in a musical this week. I am reminded of learning this a long time ago when she was a few months old and starting her rice cereal. She would only eat it if I sang to her the entire time. Same thing at about a year old when it was dinnertime. Her language is music. I would do better to remember that more often.

So we went to the teaching supply store yesterday and had fun picking out our materials for our "Katie's Stars for Good Behavior" chart. When we got it home, we brainstormed TOGETHER the objectives for her behavior that we wanted to put on it. I reinforced that she was already so good, that it was going to be fun watching her earn her stars. We chose some easier objectives such as "Brushed my teeth this morning," some mid-range like "Helped to straighten my room and playroom," and some that are more challenging on certain days like "Stayed calm and had no tantrums." I wrote the "brushed my teeth this morning" first on the chart, so that she starts the day with a star. I think that is an important trick, psychologically, as it helps give her confidence right away that she is in control of her behaviors.

We also have "Bonus Stars" as possibilities, like "Took my nap today" (we don't nap everyday) or "Helped Mommy with the groceries" or "Helped Mommy dust and polish" etc. We plan on converting the stars to a currency, giving it to her as an allowance, and letting her save and spend some.

I am big on themes, and I also want to teach her specific beauties of character, and so the character trait/theme for the first set of stars is "kindness." I am calling these traits "heart-attitudes" and each one will have a little handmade poster. Right now our "kindness" poster is hanging above the star chart. It contains pictures, examples of how to be kind, and who to be kind to: 1) to Mommy and Daddy; 2) to your brother; 3) to other people; and 4) to yourself. We talked about ways we could be kind to all those groups. I also made sure that we phrased some of her behavior objectives in terms of kindness: "Demonstrated kindness to others today" and "Helped Mommy take care of Eric" and "Shared my toys" for example.

It was important, also, when we wrote our objectives that we phrased all of them in the positive form as much as possible.

Just as in teaching, having these objectives helped not only Katie today; they guided my parenting in a more focused way as well.

Katie earned all of her expected stars today, plus a bonus star! Awesome job, Little One! You are well on your way to being an amazing three-year-old. I love you, and it is an honor to guide you in this life.

Katie puts her stars on her chart...

A completed star chart for the day! We are so proud of you!