Overhauling the expectations: We can do better family

yucky yucky yucky faces
mama reacting to Mr. Lips
all aglow
all aglow

After being up till way too late talking with Shrek about parenting (and what we could do to dramatically, and effectively help the boys extinguish some behaviors, and develop others)  I needed some deep laughter Sunday morning.  Marcel was pleased to present the impetus for an all out laugh and love fest as pictured above.

Parenting is hard.

Co-parenting and building a relationship at the same time is even harder when much of the energy you have is spent unsuccessfully mitigating undesirable behaviors.  Our weekends were starting to be something we were both almost dreading, on some level, though neither of us were admitting it.

After a particularly taxing afternoon of directions not being followed, voices being raised, and wildly populated sidewalks in town being mistaken for the fifty yard dash, we were all spent.  This combined with a significant increase in tattling, hitting, blaming and overall disrespect towards each other and us and the rents in the family fabric were tearing apart. When did our expectations for poor listening and rough housing all the time become the norm? And, more importantly what could we do to turn it around NOW?

Expectation Overhaul inspired by the PBIS model

Starting the next morning, we instituted a new, and rather dramatic plan.  With vacation week here on the East Coast this week it was critical we set right into action. Inspired by a program that Sam is experiencing incredible success with at his school (called the “Check in Check Out” program) that is part of the Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports  (PBIS)  program we came up with three behaviors we needed to work on.  Several times during the day, we check in with the boys and score their success with these behaviors. All the behaviors are organized around the concepts of respect, responsibility and safety.  Aligning what is expected at home with what is expected at school is a win win as well.

How it works: charting the success

Sam and Marcel both have a check in chart. We circle a T for “try again” a 1 for “good” or a 2 for excellent 8-10 times a day. The really important piece here is that when you see a behavior you don’t like you correct and model the desired behavior. For example-when I am talking to the boys and they are kicking each other on the couch under the blanket, I gently remind then to sit a few inches apart. “Thank you for being safe with your body,” helps to remind them of what we are working towards. Then later when we go to the chart I say; “Marcel you did a beautiful job keeping your body safe, and your brother safe on the couch while we were talking about our day.” Then he says; “I think that is a 2!”. So, as we get started we are rewarding the sustaining of the redirected behavior. As we go along, the expectation is for that behavior to be the norm. But, we need to explicitly teach the behavior first.

The language-what we brainstormed as a family:

I can be safe with my body: walking on the sidewalk, staying with my family, keeping my hands to myself, buckled and appropriate in the car.

I can be responsible listening to directions the first time

I can be respectful with my words: using my calm voice, sharing my feelings, asking for help, saying please and thank you, and staying sass free.

As you can tell we had some specific behaviors we were looking to change.

The chart

The daily chart
The daily chart

We score together almost every time. This inspires self reflection, and you will probably discover that the kids are completely right on (if not a little hard on themselves) with the scoring. I tried to create a chart that we could use on weekends and weekdays. We cross out, or circle the category we are using. I left a few blank “check ins” for particularly stressful times–like getting from piano lesson to the car–Sam loves to play the 19,000 pianos in the school as loud as possible first.

The scoring and the reward

The first day Sam received 39 out of 48 possible points (we did not use all of the check in times). This is the equivalent of 82%. Sam loves the math, he does it on the calculator for me, and explained how to round up!  Making 80% in PBIS language is making goal for the day. The second day he was at 92%, and his brother was at 89%.  If they meet goal 3/5 times a week (we are doing a 5 day rotation, to keep us working towards the “prize”) they get a reward of choice. These should be easily deliverable but special. For example Sam wants a new game for the phone, or to sleep on the couch one night (the cat sleeps there, and he loves the cat!). Marcel wants to go out to an indoor play space. The big bonus is that if he chooses one that involves play, they both get it, so there is some positive peer pressure involved too. I am hoping to have most of the rewards geared that way. I am not against throwing in a food treat, or a toy treat to keep it up interesting. Not having it be all food, or all toy related is important. At the bottom of each chart is a line that says; “I met my goal for the day.” And a line that says; “I did not meet goal for today, and will focus on this to meet goal tomorrow:” Behind the charts are the lists of rewards we brainstormed. For younger kiddos a pictorial representation would be useful too.

The bigger reward

We’re all happier. The boys are calmer. Shrek and I are relaxed. We are only on day three over here, but what a difference you can feel already. Marcel ran to get the chart, and circle his 2’s because he played so “respectfully and nicely on my own while Mommy worked”  this morning.  Yesterday when Sammy got a little sassy with me, Marcel said; “Sammy does that really sound like a respectful way to talk? Do you want to get a 1 or a 2, or maybe a T?” Sammy rolled his eyes, and cleared the table. I’d call that progress.


  1. I love this! I have been looking for tools for similar troubles in our house. Do you have any links to more information on the PBIS program? I’d love to read more about it.

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