One stressful Sunday evening in March, I was watching my kids as they squabbled on the living room carpet. They were swatting each other, squealing, and butting against each other like grumpy baby goats. I offered “helpful” reminders, warnings and threats, but nothing seemed to really sink in. I grumbled and complained, and felt like a total hypocrite. Check me out, the fancy behaviour analyst, watching her children acting defiant and rude.
With a vague hope of strategy but an angry edge in my voice, I declared: “I’m going to write down every time I hear someone shout or say “no,” or I see someone hit,”” I sat down with my notebook (like a good little behaviour analyst) and glowered at them. Exactly nothing changed.
I add, “Also, I’m going to write down every time someone does something obedient, or loving, or helpful.”
Immediately, it was like someone had opened the windows and a fresh breeze filled the room. My older son popped up and gave me a hug. “That’s loving, right?” he crowed.
He asked if he can record his good deed by himself.
He hovered around me, being agreeable, and watched the points as they were added to each category.
I glanced at the clock and asked,”Ok, it’s snack time, then we will have a bath. What do you want for your snack?”
“That was very kind, Mummy!” my son announced, and rushed over to give me a point.
I was so struck by the power of positive reinforcement, especially when combined with a way to write it down. My complaints were worse than useless, but my cheerful encouragement was more powerful than I could have imagined.
A few months later, I came up with a way to focus on the priorities in our home, so I extended the goals beyond the original three and shared it on my Facebook page. Here’s the list I used:
- staying calm
- solving problems
- being kind
How can this work in your home?
We used a rainbow layout like this to count and encourage different kinds of awesome behaviour.
- Label your colours, using the six positive behaviours I suggested (helping, taking turns, being kind, listening, staying calm, solving problems) or come up with your own! I recommend choosing the easiest and most common task for the top of the rainbow, and the harder tasks for the bottom.
- Grab some markers and keep them handy so you can colour in each circle in the corresponding colour.
- Announce to the kids that they are invited to Kindness Camp. Explain the six different colours, and invite them to point out those behaviours whenever they see them! Kids can nominate themselves, their siblings, or even their parents.
- You don’t have to introduce the idea of a reward right away, but if someone asks, invite the family to choose an activity that everyone can enjoy together (e.g., a meal at a restaurant or a trip to a special place.)
- When someone spots kindness in action, colour in the circle! Kids love helping with this part. When all circles are coloured, celebrate!
It’s not competitive.
Everyone can contribute. When one child is struggling, you can take the opportunity to appreciate other kids in the house. For example, “Thank you for staying calm when your brother was trying to tease you,” or “Thank you for listening when I asked you to take a break.” Whenever someone gets a point, it benefits the whole family (the reward is for the whole team) which removes some of the resentment and envy that might come with individual reward systems.
There’s always a way to get a point on the board.
Kindness Camp has no time-limit. There’s no minimum number of points per day. You can adjust the expectations for each child, based on age and ability. Even if a child has just emerged from a storm of tantrums, you can use it to change the mood and score a win for everyone, e.g., “Thank you for telling me what was bothering you. That was very helpful.”
Parents love this because:
It’s a great reminder to focus on the positive
It doesn’t take any effort at all to focus on the negative. A smack on the head or a nasty comment gets our attention instantly. A quiet child waiting for his turn is easier to miss. A polite request can be taken for granted. Using a visual is an easy way to draw our attention to the behaviour we actually want to see!
It actually works!
Kindness Camp uses some powerful principles of behaviour science, such as positive reinforcement, labelling the behaviour you want to see more of, and prompting, and some strong educational tools, like visual reminders. If Kindness Camp changes a parent’s behaviour, this will have a beneficial effect on the child’s behaviour. Of course, the child’s behaviour will affect the parent’s behaviour and the circle continues, in a positive direction!
You can use it to encourage better behaviour!
When you see a tough situation forming in front of you, grab the Kindness Camp! Talk about the kind of behaviour you would like to see:
- “Okay, who is going to do some problem solving, so I can give them a point?”
- “Does anyone want to do some listening? I have something to ask you!”
- “We have a few more points in earn for helping! Any ideas?”
How do you want to use this? I’d love to help you use this to the fullest extent. We can book a free coffee chat and brainstorm together.