It all started a few months ago, when I sensed Robbie was getting a case of the “gimmees”. (Have you read the Berenstein Bears Get the Gimmees? You should!). A commercial came on for a new Mickey Mouse movie, and Robbie jumped up and down, pointing at the screen, crying, “I wanna get that movie, Mom! Can I get it? Please? Please?”
I was so put off by the sound of his voice, that I almost immediately snapped that he absolutely couldn’t have it if he behaved like that. However, I knew that would only result in a meltdown and more trouble than the video was worth. I also didn’t want to wind up breaking down and giving Robbie the movie on a whim or out of guilt. So, I devised a plan.
“Sure,” I replied. “But you have to earn it.”
All of a sudden, I had Robbie’s attention. And I wasn’t at all sure what to do. We had tried writing check marks on his hand when he did good things, but I also wanted to be able to take them away when he wasn’t behaving. That’s where the unused-except-for-Robbie-to-scribble-on dry erase board came in. It was perfect for a chart. But what to put in it? X’s seemed negative and checkmarks aren’t very exciting. Stars. Even at thirty-three, I still want my gold stars.
Robbie and I agreed that twenty stars sounded like a fair number, and, just like that, we were off. Robbie had exactly one week before the movie was released. I wanted to make sure he was able to earn it the day it hit stores to get quick positive reinforcement for his behavior. He got stars for things like sleeping in his bed all night, having a good day at school, helping with chores around the house. He lost them for not following directions, having time-outs at school – typical losing-a-star behavior. Miraculously, he was able to earn 20 stars in ten days. Almost as miraculously, Target actually had the video on shelves.
Did Robbie love the video? Not really. He’s watched it a few times. Did he love the stars? Absolutely. They have changed our lives. In the past three months, Robbie has earned trips to Monkey Joe’s, Gattitown, and the movies. He has also earned three fish and souvenirs from Disney World and Myrtle Beach. And now he gets stars for things we are working on, like ordering food with polite manners and jumping into the pool without holding on to my hands. In fact, the promise of a star was the only thing that got him to even try swim lessons (afterward he told me that swim lessons were “awesome, dude!”).
We’ve also noticed that Robbie loses stars much less often than he used to, and we’ve talked to him about it. Robbie told me that he likes it better when he’s good and earning stars. So do I. In fact, on occasion, we’ve even substituted stars for an immediate reward. At Target one day, Robbie picked up a piece of candy and said, “May I please have this? I’ve been really good.” (Yes, he says may instead of can. I couldn’t be more proud!). I thought about it and replied that he could have the candy now or a star when we got home. Much to my surprise, he picked the star.
The star plan has worked beautifully for behavior (most of the time) and has had an added benefit. Robbie doesn’t ask me to get him anything anymore. Today, after he went to see Turbo for earning 20 stars, Robbie asked if he could please earn stars for soccer equipment, something I had planned to buy anyway. But, who am I to crush his dreams?