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9to5to9: The art of the chart when the guys go astray

Submitted by on Friday, 5 September 2008 No Comment

I fear I’m in danger of raising two statisticians. Have a problem? Make a chart.

Big Guy’s first chart he doesn’t even remember. He was gassy, colicky, pukey little bug, and I was hellbent on figuring out why. So I meticulously detailed every feeding in an Excel file — how much he drank, how long he was burped and whether he gassed or puked afterward — to see if I could find a pattern.

I learned nothing, other than that I was in serious need of mental stimulation if I thought charting feedings was a productive use of time, because that’s the way it goes with colic.

Next came the potty-training chart. It was a poster with little squares for the guys to add stickers when they went in the right place.

Then we started the savings chart, which required them to make choices every week. Blow your allowance on tic tacs or save it and watch the colored squares stack up until you have enough for a Toys R Us excursion.

Sunday, I created the smile/frown chart out of frustration with Big Guy’s increasingly frequent Richter scale explosions. One of the key tenants of reality discipline, which I try to practice, is that there has to be consequences other than lectures for bad decisions. I realized Big Guy needed a little less talk and a lot more action.

So as Big Guys was in the throes of a stomping and screaming fit, I stomped to my bedroom and grabbed some scrap paper. OK, bad example that I stomped, too, but for an asthmatic, that kid can wail. I went back to the kitchen, found a Sharpie and quickly drew a simple chart.

Big Guy’s name headlined the top, while Little Guy’s space took over the bottom half. I told Big Guy that the next time anyone screamed at someone, he would get a frown mark. If one of them accumulated 10 before the weekend, we’d forgo the Friday house party.

Which, of course, increased his wailing for a few seconds until I drew the first frown and he saw that I was serious. I think it helped that the system is similar to the one at school — four marks and you sit out recess.

Then I started to feel bad because I was making life all about punishment avoidance. There’s a lot to be said for catching a kid being good, and I wanted a way to do that, too. I went back for more paper — I didn’t stomp this time — got the Sharpie out again and created the frown chart’s happy twin — the smile chart. Same premise, except they get double smiles for settling disputes without my intervention beyond saying, “”guys, work it out.”"

Big Guy has learned quickly to fear the frown. He’ll plead with me not to add one. I have to anyway, because the first time I wiggle, the system will be worthless.

He also covets the smile. In fact, I owe him one first thing in the morning for trying to help Little Guy settle into sleep tonight.

I’ve had to be careful to not overuse the frown for any infraction and hone in on the screaming. Fix one thing at a time. Toys and clothing strewn about the house annoys me, but clutter doesn’t set my teeth on edge the way the shrieking does.

And I realize allowing 10 shrieks a week is way too many, but they’re not going to be eliminated overnight. I think he’s going come in under that level anyway — he’s only at five, which is a marked improvement over last week.

Maybe by the month we’ll be able to start working on the socks and blocks problem.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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