My daughter started Kindergarten this fall. Before Kindergarten, she attended daycare full-time. This means that she has been around other children since she was 8 weeks old. The girl knows how to behave in social situations. Now, whether or not she chooses to behave is another story.
So I’m just going to say it: my daughter is a spoiled little girl. She is cute, funny, and loving.
But she is a spoiled little girl…and it’s pretty much my fault.
I’ve tried my best to correct bad behaviors. Pleases and thank yous are required. I do not buy her everything she wants. Tantrums are not tolerated, and I do not give in when she has one. She is well acquainted with the time-out corner.
The fact is, though, she is an only child and she will very likely remain an only child. While she may not be the center of the world, she is the center of our world, and she is spoiled.
We had our first Kindergarten parent-teacher conference this past November. During the conference, we spent about three minutes discussing her academic progress and the other 17 minutes discussing her behavior. To be quite honest, nothing we discussed came as a shock to me. I am definitely aware of her behavioral challenges, but I see the “at home” little girl and never the “at school” little girl. Unfortunately for her, school isn’t home.
While the rules are essentially the same both at home and school, the way she plays the game is vastly different.
- At school she needs to mind her own space and keep her hands and legs to herself. When she’s at home she can roam freely (the dog has learned to stay clear of her).
- At school she has to share with 17 other children. Every toy is her toy at home.
- At school she has to lose gracefully when playing games with other kids. We (erroneously, I know) almost always let her win at games at home.
- At school she has to wait her turn. There is no one for her to take turns with at home.
- At school she has to share her teacher’s attention and not be disruptive. At home she always has our undivided attention.
She has a hard time with these rules. After our conference, Lucy’s teacher and I decided to try some positive reinforcement. Every day she works toward getting three smiley faces: one for being a good listener during whole group, one for using a Kindergarten voice, and one for not having a meltdown over “little problems.” Over the last few weeks, Lucy’s teacher has been sending home notes describing her day (did I mention her teacher is a saint?). If Lucy earns a certain number of smiley faces, she gets a reward of her choosing. Right now she is working toward some Ghurtie’s frozen yogurt (a.k.a., a cup of candy with a little bit of froyo).
The focus of this reward system is on positive reinforcement. I need to keep repeating this to myself… positive reinforcement… positive reinforcement… positive reinforcement. Positive–you know, the opposite of negative.
Regrettably, there are times when I find myself forgetting this. The other day, for example, Lucy did not earn any happy faces and I became upset. I briefly brainstormed what an appropriate punishment would be. Fortunately, before any words of anger came out of my mouth, it occurred to me that what I was thinking WAS SO INCREDIBLY WRONG.
I was wrong.
Punishment was not supposed to have any part of the “smiley face reward system.” The blood that rushed to my head in anger drained so quickly that I felt lightheaded. I felt like the worst mother ever. She should not be coming home from school ashamed and fearing punishment because she had a bad day.
Everyone has bad days and times when they don’t behave their best. Myself especially. As an adult I have days where I have a hard time listening and following directions. I have a hard time using my 35-year-old adult voice. I don’t always play nice, and I don’t always take my turn. There are days where something happens, something truly insignificant, that I turn from a molehill into Mt. Everest. This was a huge wakeup call for me. I am not perfect. My child is not perfect. I don’t want her to be.
Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean I am going to let her get away with being naughty. But I am wrong to try to hold her to a higher standard than I hold myself.
All things considered (despite the “spoiled only child” thing), she is doing so incredibly well. She is smart and friendly. She loves to read. Her hugs are the absolute best. She is curious about the world around her. She is a social butterfly and has a new best friend every day. Making people laugh delights her. She draws the best pictures. She makes up the most hilarious songs.
It is my job as a parent to make sure she grows up into a respectable human being. I need to celebrate her successes and continue to work with her on the things she has trouble with. And while I’m working with her, I need to work on myself, too. Because sometimes, as I have so humbly learned, it is actually mommy who needs the attitude adjustment.