Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Magic of the Smileys

Yesterday, for the first time since starting Kindergarten, Phoenix had a good day. Not just a "good" day; his best day yet. I was beyond happy. This is the kid I know; happy, playful, ready to help & eager to learn. After  running away from teachers, hiding under tables, bugging other kids at Quiet Time and even punching his teacher in the face (yes, you read that correctly...), Phoenix is back to Phoenix.

What made for such a turnaround? I have to think it's partially the half days; he doesn't seemed as overwhelmed by all the stimuli AND he's decided he wants to stay so he can eat lunch with his friends. The other part? Smiley face stickers. No, I'm not joking. Smiley face stickers have a wondrous power; the power to motivate. Shortly after we started the half days, we started sticker charts. Every day, he has the chance to earn five smileys by completely his daily tasks and simply listening to directions.

A week of charts came back with comments in the margins, "Playing with the carpet", "Sat under table", "Said 'I hate you'", instead of smiley face-filled boxes and I snapped. Not in a horrific, threw-all-his-toys-away kind of thing but in a No-more-fun-time kind of way. When he came home on Friday with comments, I laid down the law: No t.v., no video games, no, computer, no Legos, no camping (that brought a LOT of tears), no staying for lunch until he brings home five smileys for five days.

That afternoon was nuts; 'I wanna watch t.v.' -- No, 'We going camping tonight?' -- No...over and over, all night long. Saturday was a bit better. We made a fort in the boys' room; colored and practiced our letters and throughout the weekend, I kept explaining why we were on punishment and what we needed to do to earn the rewards of Camping and Lunch with Friends. When he realized all he had to do to get what he wanted was earn his smileys and essentially, be himself, it was like a light switch just flipped.


Five Smileys! 
When I picked him up yesterday, his teacher, Mrs. Sam, was eager to say it hadn't just been a good day; it had been a great day, "his best yet". She showed me his chart: all FIVE smiley faces were there, not one comment in the margin. By now, he'd spotted me and come running. I kneel down and ask him, "How was your day?" and with a smile two miles wide he says "I had a good day, Mom" all old-soul like. We high-five and hug, because I have to show him how freaking awesome that is. Not only did he earn all of his smiley faces, he listened & followed directions the first time he was told and he actually helped around the classroom with cleaning up toys and "stations". Yup, that's my kid.

I made sure to take him for ice cream and praised him incessantly, which made him smile so big. While I don't want him to think he's going to get a "reward" for doing things he's supposed to, I want to make sure I reward him when he makes a conscience decision to make a positive change in himself. I want him to feel a sense of pride in himself, to know that he made a good choice and that it feels good to make good decisions. Right now, he's learning about mistakes; he's learning about the consequences of our actions and I'd rather teach him now when the mistakes are running away at recess or hiding under a table instead of waiting till the mistakes are running away from home or skipping school.

Things seem to be looking up and getting back to normal but I'd be lying if I said I'm not a little nervous about how many smiley faces will be on his chart today...I know he wants to eat lunch with his friends so bad and it would be so nice if we could start working up to a full school day. Ultimately, I just want to help him be the healthiest, happiest kid he can be.

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