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Celebrate the Bubble


Photo Credit: Greg Wagoner

At our house, the level is a well-used tool.

Hanging a picture? Installing a curtain rod? Building a shelf? Get the level.

Keeping that bubble in the center becomes all-important. The bubble sliding too far to the left or right means we’re off-center. Skewed. Warped. Distorted.

Behavior isn’t much different from construction. Every little thing matters.

We’ve learned to save disciplinary discussions for the evening. To keep our voices calm even when the hyenas push every possible button. That sometimes, the best time to hug is when we want to throttle them.

Of course, we’re not perfect. “GET. YOUR. DIRTY. SOCKS. OFF. THE. BREAKFAST. TABLE. THIS. MINUTE.” is not something I say in a conversational tone. Late to school because she “forgot” to set her alarm after I reminded her and she asked me twice what time to set it? Not my best moment. And nothing makes me grit my teeth like intentional disobedience presented in a pretty package. “Ohhhh. I must have misunderstood.” Sure you did.

In general, though, both Hubby and I have come a long way in ensuring our reactions don’t trigger adverse effects on the kids’ behavior. We attempt to remain calm and consequence on. (Give consequences without over-long lecturing or freaking out.) And it’s working. At least for now.

Both kids had a rough Christmas experience. We saw immediate improvement. The change was almost scary in its suddenness.

He has trouble behaving at school, away from us. When he has us in sight—or at least earshot—his general comportment is age-appropriate. He does what we term “dumb stuff” (like tying a couple bricks at the top of the swingset as a “trap”…he’s unclear on what he hopes to catch) but puts obvious effort into following our directions.

She has no issues at school, in keeping with her desire for all strangers to view her as “sweet.” Home is a different story.

We explained to them, after Christmas, that changing their conduct will bring rewards. Birthdays arrive sooner than you think. In private discussion, Hubby and I agreed that if either child made major improvements, “Christmas” would come early.

About a week after Christmas, our girl relaxed back into her usual behavior. The boy continued to make obvious effort. In January, he managed mostly “Bs” for behavior each week. In February, 3 out of 4 weeks were “A.”

For comparison’s sake: in November, he averaged 40% (F) for behavior.

He came a LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG way. His teacher sent me a jubilant message about his improvement.

We ordered the Kindle. Don’t get me wrong; we don’t bribe, and anyone will tell you we don’t spoil our kids. We rarely play video games (like, the last one was 6 months ago) and watch very little TV. Friday night Movie Night is a big deal. But they’d outgrown their learning games, purchased four years ago. Their teachers recommended Kindles for learning games and reading. 

He thought we were kidding when we told him.

Each week he keeps his behavior at an “A,” he can download a non-learning game. After he completes homework and chores, he can read or play a learning game.

“I’m halfway through the first chapter of Moby Dick,” he announced last night.

Wait. What?

The device has a read-to-me feature that bolds the words as it reads, to help him track with the written words. This thing is fabulous.

In the past few months, his “level behavior” bubble has been far left, far right and we’re finally in the middle. I’m cautiously optimistic. I can’t expect him to keep this forever (because then when the expectations aren’t met…we’ve discussed that. Parent expectations are key). On the other hand, I’m not telling HIM that.

“So proud of your hard work. I know it’s not easy to make good choices sometimes.”

“Wow, you didn’t punch that kid when he pushed you. That makes me smile!”

“I know it’s frustrating, but you worked really hard to figure it out. Great job.”

Hopefully, as he tastes success, he’ll come to crave it. This is a new flavor for our guy. People are noticing—at school, at scouts, at church. Positive feedback isn’t a pipe dream. When his art teacher left me a message about one of his pictures, “I’m so excited about this concept he came up with!” you’d better believe I passed it on. His face glowed.

“She SAID that?” The wonder in his voice made me grin—and broke my heart. Maybe if more of these kids had positive voices backing them, things could be different. Statistics for foster kids’ success wouldn’t be so heartrending.

Super excited for him.

Our girl is starting to get motivated, as well. We decided to give her a goal.

“He worked very hard for a month—longer than that, actually, but he’s been successful for a month. We’re sure you can do it, too! He had to learn to get along with classmates, respect the teachers and helpers, control his impulses, follow directions and focus on learning. You don’t have trouble with those things. Here’s what you need to learn to do:

  1. Be kind to family members
  2. Do the things you know you should do
  3. Complete your chores without being reminded
  4. Have a cheerful attitude

And when you’ve made good progress for a month, you’ll have a great reward!”

She’s been making mild effort, but it’s obvious she’s testing to see how much effort is truly necessary. We’ve been letting her float along the last few days, but yesterday…let’s just say she didn’t make much attempt. When I informed her the month would start over this morning, she was shocked.

But…maybe that’s what she needed. She’d already buttered her toast by the time I came to make sure they’d heeded their alarms. She was polite to me and even smiled.

Maybe her bubble is finally tipping toward the center.


Photo Credit: Piet Vermeulen

Thanks to Piet Vermeulen for the photo; it sparked the idea for this post.


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