Reward Charting

I keep a star chart for the kids. Days that they behave for daycare, or on weekends that they behave for me, they get a star.

It keeps things positive and aids in memory. More than once I have had to hoist my son up to examine the dry erase marks to prove to him that he HAS had star and even two star days in the recent past. He is often convinced that he is incapable of “being good”.

I have a reward system for bedtime and chores. The children get paid for doing housework or going to bed (in their own bed) without fuss. I use fake money from the dollar store. They then cash those dollars in for fifteen minute turns on the computer. Which the timer monitors for me.

Lately my youngest son, the one who “can’t remember how to be good”, has been losing out on all his rewards and has gotten no stars at all. I try to keep the rules to a minimum, but I often fail. There are so many things they have to learn to be socially acceptable, that I find it hard to ignore their bad behavior.

My kids are really busy. They want to touch and poke and dance around and make noise and jump on furniture. One of them has SPD. One of them is in perpetual motion. Both of those have been diagnosed with behavior issues. But that does not mean I let them do whatever they want. I do expect them to be decent children. A reason, not an excuse, you know?

My local relatives do not believe in psychology, and not really in illness, either. If you are not dying, you are not sick. No one believes children should poke into things and push buttons on things that do NOT belong to them. I get it. I don’t want my kids to do that, either. I have punished them. I have withheld rewards. I have forewarned them. I have given them anticipated rewards for good behavior. I have watched them try and try. I have used OT concepts, I have used Triple P, I have used Love & Logic. I have tried the old fashioned authoritarian parenting, which gave some results and made all of us horribly stressed.

This is in the past eighteen months, just so you know I am not trying stuff out for a day or two. I am trying my best. But it is so stressful. I really hate it. I just want to keep my kids home with me. I want to live far from other people, so my kids can run around and scream and laugh loudly and I won’t get a noise complaint. But that would never work. How would they learn proper behavior? How would they learn to get along with others?

Today we were wrapping up a weekend visit to a relative’s house, and in the last five minutes before we were home free, my oldest son dialed 911 from the house phone and hung it up when he was found with the phone in his hand. He learned about 911 last month at daycare. He is nearly six. My stress went up and has stayed through the roof all afternoon since.

I get a fail on the star chart today. Not just for my parenting, the results of which were made apparent today, but also for putting my kids to bed a half hour early with no stories and no tooth brushing, because I couldn’t manage the stress one more minute and did not want to lose my temper.

There has been some improvement over the past year. I have tried to access every resource for them that I can think of. My kids are not beating up on me any more, they are not screaming out in the night, they are mostly taking their time outs without me having to pick them up and place them there. Tonight when I told them to get in bed, two of the three did so immediately and stayed put. But every time I see their behavior through the eyes of other people, I still cringe. I am in despair. I don’t know how I can teach them to live up to these expectations, when I couldn’t do it myself as a child. I was not invited to very many homes because I was not a pleasant child and I was constantly in trouble with these same relatives.

We have switched culture, location, religion, and language in the past year. I don’t have child support or babysitters or a living income. I can’t buy the parenting book my pediatrician wants me to try next, because I don’t have enough to make it to next week if I buy something besides gas. I don’t tell my few friends because I know poverty alienates people. I don’t tell my supportive family members because they are already depressed and I don’t want to make it worse. I don’t tell my therapist because I don’t want to fulfill my own diagnosis and confirm that I am crazy because I bother her in between scheduled appointments. I feel like I have already failed. I only want my kids to keep their hands to themselves and listen to their mother, grandparents, and teachers.

I Google “support for single mothers” or “online support forum single mothers” over and over and all I get are things on child support. I am really tired. I am so tired that today I talked to my children as if they were twenty years old and not 2 and 4 and 5. I tried to explain that their choices had consequences and how those choices affected me and etcetera. Selfishly. As if making their mother look capable was even one tenth their responsibility. I don’t want any money. I want a nanny. A reliable and normal babysitter. A husband. A friend. A friend with kids who have behavior issues so that I don’t feel so alone. I want a star on my chart.

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