Well, that’s exactly what was occurring in our family during the first few weeks of the COVID-19 quarantine.
A Big Yelling Match
The reality is, the six of us aren’t accustomed to being under the same roof 24/7. Things were starting to get ugly.
Imagine with me for a moment… a WWE match between our 6 and 9 year old boys, our 11 year old screaming at her 4 year old sister for getting into her stash of nail polish bottles, toys and wet bath-towels covering every inch of our floor, and two parents yelling non-freaking-stop. Total nightmare.
My husband and I were spending 99.9% of our days reprimanding and lecturing our kids, or nagging them to clean up after themselves.
It was exhausting and miserable for all!
I genuinely want to be a happy Mom with close relationships with my children. So I knew we needed to make some changes.
My White Flag Was Flying High
So I did what I always do when I hit a wall in this parenting journey. I called my best friend, who also happens to be a Children’s Developmental Therapist and Behaviorist (there’s a reason God made her my BFF!). Rebekah (Beka) Immitt of Babies To Backpacks LLC is a freaking Godsend and without her, my children would undoubtedly be living on the streets.
As she always does, Beka reminded me that a child’s world revolves around receiving attention, approval and recognition from her parents. And to her, negative attention is still attention!
Beka broke it down for me like this: “Katie, when your child is behaving poorly, and you react or engage with them, its as if you’re patting him on the back saying ‘great job! You now have Mommy’s attention! Keep it up!'”
Light bulb turned on.
Beka went on to explain that kids don’t care how they get our attention…they just want it! In fact, they are hardwired to need it.
When I really stop and think about it…the hard truth is my kids receive more of my attention through their poor behavior than when they do something positive.
Let’s break this down for a hot-second. As a parent, what event would you respond bigger and louder to?
- A. Your child smacking his sibling
- B. Your child sharing a toy with his sibling
I’m embarrassingly leaning towards Choice A.
Mom’s likely reaction: “STOP! NO HITTING! Oh my gosh why would you do that??!!??!!” (said with a LOUD voice, BIG emotions, and DRAMATIC facial expressions).
Child’s likely interpretation: Ooooh…look what I just did! I got Mommy’s attention. Wow!
As far as Choice B goes, in our busy lives, I may not even notice our child sharing a toy with his sibling. And if I did, I’d probably say something sweet like “that was nice sharing.” It certainly wouldn’t bring about the big, loud, and exciting reaction I’d have from him hitting his sibling.
Shifting Our Attention
Beka walked me through various tools for helping us parents to shift our attention to our kids’ positive choices. Or as those in the biz call it…Positive Reinforcement.
Imagine with me here that as a parent, you just got a whopping promotion. Your old job title as Reactive Disciplinarian has now changed to the more prestigious title of Proactive Promoter Of Positive Behavior.
Introducing The Pom Pom Jar
My favorite tool Beka recommends is called the “Pom Pom Jar.” With this, we’re highlighting and drawing attention to our kids’ positive choices! We’re also giving our kids incentive to practice positive actions.
Pom Poms (or any other small item such as beads, rocks, pennies, etc)
Because we have 4 kids, we used a label-maker to put their names on each jar. But you can simply write their names or even have them decorate their jars.
We sat our kids down and explained that each day they’ll have the opportunity to fill their jars with pom poms based on their positive choices, acts of kindness, and listening. Once they receive a certain number of pom poms in their jars, they can pick out a special reward. We then gave them concrete examples of positive behavior that can earn them a pom pom.
- Listening to Mom and Dad on the first request
- Completing daily chores
- Helping a sibling
- Being kind to a sibling
- Sharing with a sibling
- Walking away/ignoring when a sibling is trying to “pick a fight”
- Cleaning up after yourself
- Using words (instead of being physical) when frustrated
Cross my heart hope to die, this Jar of Pom Poms created miracles. I mean, our 4 minions were racing around the house making each others’ beds, sweeping our floors, speaking to each other as if they actually liked each other. I mean full-blown phenomenon up in this house!
The Power Of Positive Attention
The Pom Pom Jar created a tangible way for us to give our kids positive reinforcement. Whereas we may normally miss a lot of the kind things they do, this tool shines a spotlight directly on each of their positive choices.
And instead of our kids having privileges (tv time, Google Chat with friends, dessert, etc) simply handed to them, our kids are learning how to earn them through positive actions. Win-win as far as I’m concerned!
We’re about a month into our Pom Pom Jars (and still a long way to go!). We still have plenty of behavior we are guiding our children through – isn’t that what raising kids is all about? But we’ve had so much improvement in these last few weeks – I cannot recommend this parenting tool enough!
My husband and I were stuck in a rut of reinforcing negative behavior that we didn’t even realize. Our kids were stuck in a rut of seeking our attention through negative actions. It was a cycle that needed breaking and the Pom Pom Jars have been a huge blessing that have benefited our entire family.
Have questions about this tool? Just leave your them in the comments! Have other tools you recommend – let me know! I’d love to hear them!