Friday, November 14, 2008

Unintended Consequences

Well it has been an interesting week around here. Last week was interesting too, in a different way. But both weeks are related to traffic signals.

In first grade, Boo Bear is awarded a green, yellow or red light each day to indicate her level of social conduct. Beginning with the second week of school, when light status was first awarded, Boo has received at least one yellow or red light each week. After a few weeks of this, we offered to reward a full week of green lights with a prize. There was one four-day week in October in which she accomplished this; however, in the AT&T store just before we headed to the prize store, she sat in a corner and doodled on a table. Both parents agreed that this canceled the prize trip, because appropriate social behavior is a requirement outside of the classroom as well.

This escalated the requirement in our household to green lights at school as well as at swimming, at AWANA, at church and at home. And the yellow and red light behavior only escalated to keep up with it.

Just to give you an idea, here are some of the things Miss Boo has received red lights for:

Two boys were fighting on the playground, she tried to break it up. They ignored her, so she struck one of them.

The students in class were mocking the substitute teacher. So she stood up and screamed at them to be quiet.

The boy in front of her at the drinking fountain line was taking too long. So she spanked him.

The boy sitting in the square behind her on the carpet invaded her space. So she turned around and hissed at him to get away from her.

A boy came into the girls' restroom while she was in there. So she decided it would be only fair to visit the boys' restroom in return.

And she wonders why the girls on the playground won't pick her to play with them.

With yellow lights, I just get notes that she has unsafe hands and feet, or that she didn't respond when called or asked to do something by the teacher. One day she was poking at an anthill at recess and they actually had to use the megaphone to get her attention, which apparently merited a yellow light.

It all came to a head last week, when she came home with reports of disrespectful behavior two or three times. Wednesday she was frustrated with her swim coach, flailed her arms in protest, carelessly hit another swimmer in the process, and was dismissed from swim practice. Sunday morning after church we heard that she had hidden from the teacher, then had ignored her and played video games.

Sunday afternoon was spent at Grammy's house, where she got in trouble again. Then Sunday night we went to pick her up from AWANA, and both Justin and I were cornered by two different teachers making us aware of behavior problems during the meeting. Seriously, we were to the point of locking her in a room mostly just to save our own humiliation at having a child whose behavior needs to be addressed by every single authority figure in her life.

In desperation, we laid down the new law: for the next 7 days, she would sit at home. She would not attend swimming, not ride her bike, and would sit with us in church. She would spend her afternoons helping me with housework, and she would go to bed at 7:30 (almost an hour early). The Halloween candy bucket was removed. There would not be one minute of TV or video games. And she would get green lights every day or the confinements would continue until she could get a green light every day for a week.

And somehow, something amazing has occurred: our headstrong daughter has gotten herself up and dressed every day this week. She has had green lights four days in a row (already an accomplishment), and I will find out about today in an hour. She has helped me with laundry, cleaning, cooking and dishes. She has set the table, started asking for things respectfully, and even spends time reading her Illustrated Family Bible. She has suddenly started requesting to say the dinner blessing, and every night has asked for grace for tomorrow.

There is still a little attitude beneath the surface, but this is such a huge change that we are very pleased to feel that we are moving in a better direction. If she had changed any more suddenly I would start to wonder what this girl had done with my real daughter.

The intended consequence was that this strong young lady would start to realize that her actions have consequences: when she doesn't control her hands and feet, people get hurt. When she uses her mean voice, people don't want to be around her. When she doesn't listen to the teacher, she gets in trouble. We expected her to feel her boundaries.

What ended up happening was that this strong young lady started getting some of the positive attention she's been needing, which perhaps has satisfied the need to act up in class. What happened was that she got a chance to be a helper around the house, so she didn't need to try to be a helper in less appropriate ways (i.e. shouting at Rooster when he does something a mother should be getting after). What happened was that she gained a positive sense of her place in this house, which perhaps we have been unskilled at showing her.

This week we have a child who seems to be enjoying herself while cooking sausage, cleaning mirrors, and folding laundry. Well, the laundry got mostly folded, after several pieces of it were tried on and run around the house, but in the end it was done and put away off my couch! And in the process, she and brother Rooster played happily together.

Time will tell, but I have to share now because this is already progress. For her, yes, but for us as well. As we all experience success in interacting positively as a family, we can grow closer, which is one of our top priorities. Today, it is a good day and I am looking forward to a much happier weekend.


  1. I have to tell you how impressed I am with your parenting. It is so hard for me to take away things like swimming lessons and AWANA because I feel like they are positive things (and we pay money for them), but sometimes it is a necessary consequence.

    What a huge reaction to a huge consequence. It encourages me to continue to take the bull by the horns when needed.

    Thanks for sharing and congrats on the progress!

    Hope you guys are well.

  2. Praying that peace will continue to reign!


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