Thursday, March 22, 2012

Red Light, Green Light

You always want to believe that your kids are the best behaved kids on the block. They never do anything wrong and you never, ever have to discipline them. They are angels all the time, every time.

Yeah right.

Every child misbehaves, it's in their nature. It isn't always malicious. Most of the time it's harmless. 

"Stop jumping on the bed."

"Sit down on that couch!"

"Give that back to your brother. You have to share!"

But sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it's hurtful and can border on dangerous.

"Stop running in the house, you're going to trip and fall."

"Don't push your brother!"

"Don't throw that! You're going to hurt someone!"

After once, perhaps two times of yelling at a typical child, s/he will get the message that you mean business. No means no, and when I tell you to stop you'd better stop. With a differently abled child, you can run in to some serious road blocks. While Jordan has made huge strides in her comprehension skills, there are still limits in her ability to understand certain things. She doesn't quite understand that when we yell, it's not usually a good thing. She often laughs and runs away, thinking that what she has done is a joke and that she can do it again. We try to put her in her room, but all she ends up doing is screaming at her door and pounding on it until we let her out, more out of frustration than anything else. Spanking is out, and yelling never did anything but make us all upset.  Discipline has been an uphill battle in our house.

One night two weeks ago we were at the end of a particularly frustrating day with Jordan. She had just been plain old rotten all day: hitting and kicking her brother, throwing books and toys, and screaming at us when she wasn't getting her way. She spent most of her day in her room, because every time we let her out she would do something else defiant that would make one of us yell at her and the other send her right back to her room. I was sitting in the recline, literally pulling my hair out. I wracked my brain for hours over what we could do to get the message across of what was acceptable, and what was unacceptable behavior.

Then I remembered something I saw in her classroom. They had signs up dictating what was good behavior and what was bad behavior. The green sign had a list of positive behaviors, the red sign negative behaviors. It was brilliant! If it worked at school, it should work at home, right?  I immediately opened up the computer and started typing up my own lists of positive (green) and negative (red) behaviors, entitling them "I Am Being Green" and "I Am Being Red."  As I was writing, I remembered something from her therapy sessions: she responded to rewards. If she had incentive to do something, she might actually do it. So I devised a reward system. If she was misbehaving, she would be "Red" and would earn a 5 minute time out, usually in her room. If she was behaving, she would be "Green," and if she stayed "green" until the end of the night, she would earn a sticker on her chart for that day. If she earned 5 stickers by Saturday, she would get a special treat. (My initial requirement was 6, but John convinced me that was a little too much to expect from a four year old.) I had my mom print out and mount the signs, and beginning last week they became a part of our home decor.

We are in week two now, and so far, it seems to be working. Her behavior has improved dramatically, with fewer incidents of misconduct. She does not want to be red!  She insists that Johnny should get a sticker, too, so we have been awarding him one every time she earns one. Their treat the first week was donuts, and we have yet to decide what it will be this week. We'll see!

PS: Don't forget about Autism Awareness Day, Monday April 2nd! Wear your blue!


  1. We'll be lighting it up blue on 4/2 in this house for Jordan and my nephew, Luke! We have also found that implementing some of Jacob's routines and techniques from school has made for a happier home. We just had our IEP meeting and I got a few more ideas from his PT, OT and speech therapist that I am hoping to implement soon.

  2. We appreciate the support, as I am sure your nephew does too! It has helped so much extending the routines from school into the home. She is responding so well!