A Behavior Program That Works!

A mother finds a program that has helped her children make good choices.

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195411_boys_will_be_boysWell hallelujah, I found one- a behavior program that actually works. A friend told me about the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute’s program that they use on their inpatient unit, and we’ve been using it for the last couple of weeks. Dare I hope that the calm that has settled over our house will stay?

Points and privileges are the keys to the program, and getting kids to view parents as the givers of all things good, rather than the takers away. First, I made a list of all the activities throughout the day that my kids can get points for. My friend’s kids could earn 4 points a day, mine can earn 14. (I use a different program for my 15-year-old that I will discuss at a future date.)

From getting up independently, to brushing teeth without being told, to having a pleasant attitude, to listening and following directions, my kids can rack up points all day long. Points correspond to levels (0 through 4, with “star” as a bonus level), which then qualify them for a slate of privileges.

Zero points is obviously the worst and no one wants to stay there very long. On this level, Mom gets to pick their clothes and the food they eat (horrors). They also shadow Mom wherever she goes, whatever she does. It is in everyone’s best interests for the kids to get off Level 0 as quickly as possible.

Level 1 goes from 1 point to 1-less-than-the-total-possible for that day. So for example, if my 8-year-old son can earn a total of 14 points in a day, level 1 goes from 1 – 13. Level 2 from 14 – 27, level 3 from 28 – 41 and level 4 from 42 up (there is no maximum). Once he is on level 4 for two consecutive days, he reaches the “star” level. This is the crowning achievement of good behavior and has the most enticing rewards.

Level 1 is much nicer than level 0 because they get to pick their own (mom-approved) clothes and food (again mom-approved). At this level, they can play indoors, play alone and read or draw.

Level 2 is even better and at this level, they can use the phone, play with siblings, and play outside in our yard.

Level 3  is really getting nice because it includes playing with friends, a piece of candy from the candy box, half an hour game time with parents and riding bikes/scooters. When they are on a certain level, they are entitled to all the privileges of that level, plus all the privileges of all lower levels. So, on level 3, they can still use the phone (from level 2) and can also have a piece of candy and play with their friends.

Life is sweet when they’re on level 4. In my son’s case, cash is his “currency”, meaning it is the thing that really motivates him (he aches to buy school lunches), so if he gets to level 4, he gets 50 cents. He can still play with friends and now he can also invite friends for dinner, or if they invite him to dinner at their house, he can accept. This level entitles them to one hour game time with parents, one hour t.v. or computer games, and cooking with a parent. In my daughter’s case, rather than $2.00, she can choose mom blow-drying her hair or painting her toenails.

Once they spend two consecutive 24-hour periods at level 4, they reach the “star” level. Here they choose one of a list of rewards. Again because my son is so motivated by cash, one option is $2.00. Or he can pick two hours for a t.v. movie, go out for a treat with parent(s), take a bath in mom’s big bathtub, receive help with two of his chores, or sleep with the dog. After they pick the “star” level reward, they revert back to level four and have to spend two more consecutive 24-hour periods at level four to get back to “star” level.

Sounds really easy but there are automatic level drops, where a negative behavior causes them to drop back to the bottom of the previous level. Some automatic level drop behaviors are specific to each kid, e.g., my daughter drops a level if she has any missing assignments at school, and my son loses a level if he goes into his siblings’ bedrooms without their permission. Both kids automatically drop levels if they lie, steal, disobey, use physical aggression, swear, etc.

I had to tweak the program a little after the first week because the automatic level drops were too severe. They should be able to succeed about 90% of the time; any less than that and they’re not learning. Kaylyn couldn’t not tattle and never progressed beyond level one, so I took that behavior and made it a point-earner. If she doesn’t tattle, she earns a point. If she does tattle, she doesn’t get the point, but she can still progress up the levels. Justin just couldn’t not argue, so again I made that a point-earner and not an automatic level drop.

Kaylyn has made it all the way to level 4 now, and reached the “star” level two days ago. She dropped back to level 3 when she came home from school yesterday and hadn’t turned in an assignment. But she can easily get back to level 4 today if she earns all her points.

Justin fought the hardest against the program at first, and when he would lose a level, he would storm off, yelling, “I don’t want to play this game.” But miraculously even with him, the program seems to be giving him a sense of control. Now when he loses a level, he checks to see how many good choices he has to make to get back up a level and starts right away. That seems to be one of the best effects of the program, that the kids know what to expect. They know how to get a piece of candy and they know it’s theirs as soon as they have enough points. They have all the control.

I also get to avoid being the “bad guy” by having to say no. When they want to play with friends, I ask them if they have enough points.

I tally points three times a day: after they leave for school, right before dinner and at bedtime. They can move up (or down) levels frequently, and the idea is to teach them that they can choose to move up the levels very quickly by making good choices.

There is also a month-end reward. Any kid who has averaged level 3 for the month gets a date with Mom and Dad. There’s a specific budget and the kid can pick anything they want: dinner, bowling, miniature golf, a movie, etc.

So we are guardedly optimistic and already reaping the rewards of a calmer house. The misbehaving and drama has almost disappeared. One of the nicest parts of the program is that I go to each of their rooms at night, sit on their beds and talk about all the things they earned points for that day. They love the personal review of their achievements during the day and drift off to sleep with smiles on their faces. Or, if they’ve had a bad day, I help them figure out how long it will take them to get back up, and they wake up motivated to get there.

If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I wouldn’t have believed it.

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