On Sunday, after chatting with a few different people (including an elementary school teacher) and brainstorming about how it might work, I tried this sticker experiment type thing with Gwen. The only thing I have found that motivates Gwen is her bedtime stories - she is DEVASTATED when that privilege is taken away. At the same time, her newfound competence and independence has brought a new habit into our lives: dawdling. There are several jobs she can do for herself throughout the day, such as taking off her pajamas and pullup and using the potty in the morning, or washing her hands and face after a meal. But there are times when these tasks take up to TWENTY-FIVE MINUTES and by that time I am a yelling, frustrated nagface. And no one is happy.
So, on our way home from church on Sunday I told Gwen we were going to try a new game. "Every time you do something the first time I ask, you will get a sticker. And when you get three stickers, it means you get an extra bedtime story." She mulled that over for a few minutes and thought it sounded like a good plan, and then I told her that when she argued or was rude to me, she would lose a sticker. She seemed to understand.
What followed was the most pleasant six hours I have ~ever~ spent with my daughter. She was like a different kid. At the grocery store: "What do we need, Mom? Butter? Here, let me get it for you and put it in the bag. I get a sticker now, right?" At home: "I put my jacket and shoes away without even being asked! Can I have a sticker?" Throughout the day, anything I asked her to do, she did - without the fight, without the whining, without the constant negotiation. She's a smart kid, and she was working the system - with no complaints from me. She must have earned two dozen stickers. BEST DAY EVER.
Then it was 5:15 and all of a sudden the behaviour was over. Dinner was ready and all I needed her to do was pick up her toys from the floor and put them in the basket. This is our typical routine. Every bad behaviour I didn't see all day was suddenly back. When I initially asked her to clean up, she shrieked at me. I walked away and returned a moment later, reminding her that I still needed her to tidy up and that she'd already lost a sticker for being rude. "NOOOOOO!" she howled. Another sticker gone, and again I walked away for a moment and then returned. I got down on the floor with her and started to tidy up a few toys, demonstrating what I needed her to do, and gave her another encouraging comment, which was roundly ignored.
It all went downhill from there, and I'm not sure what I could have done differently. To make her understand that time was important, I decided to sit in the chair next to her and continue to take her stickers off her sticker book until the toys were cleaned up. This didn't take long, and no toys were picked up the entire time. Now what? I went and set the timer on the microwave. "You've got three minutes to clean up the toys, and if you don't, then you won't get dinner." Timer went off: toys were still not cleaned up. And now she's lost dinner. CRAP.
So, in only fifteen minutes of bad behaviour, she lost all the wonderful rewards she'd earned, and didn't get any payback for her efforts. Maybe I should have rigged it differently to ensure she had a success on the first day. As it was, I had to put her to bed with no dinner and no stories, though I did ensure we did other fun things at bedtime so that we still had a nice time of closeness and ended our day on a positive note. Both of us were indubitably upset by the turn of events, however. We talked about it in our usual way, telling a story about a little girl named Gwen who was such a good listener and awesome helper all day long and then didn't pick up the toys and so she didn't get to have any bedtime stories. "What do you think Gwen should have done?" "She should have picked up the toys." Well, that's every indication that she learned a lesson - that's the best I can do. Guess I'll keep trying it and see what happens next.