October 31st, 2010
By Ann Magalhaes
By last Autumn almost (or so it seemed!) all the children in my daughter’s class had their own Nintendo DS game. I had managed to get through the term without buying one, but by the time the holidays started, she was asking for one. At the same time, at school, she was really struggling with Maths and was really starting to lose her confidence.
The Head Teacher at her school awards a special sticker for good work and extra effort, and my daughter was convinced that she would never receive one for her Maths work. One day, we had a lovely conversation about belief, and if she didn’t believe she could receive one of these stickers, then she probably wouldn’t. Then we talked about what would happen if she did believeshe could earn one. We talked about how believing something wasn’t going to be enough to make it happen. She knew that belief would need to be combined with some extra work if she were to stand a chance of earning the sticker. Now, before you think that I’m a pushy Mom, I have to say that I’m not! My daughter really wanted to earn the sticker, and I decided that as it was Christmas, I would present the extra incentive and get her to earn the DS!
Over the Christmas holidays, she worked every day on Maths – never more than 20 minutes a day – and I could see her ability increasing with each question she worked through. Sometimes she played math games on the computer, sometimes we made up times tables games using marbles, and we made up fun shopping games to learn more about money. She knew that if she received the sticker, she would earn the DS. This was motivating for her!
The second day back at school, I was waiting for her at the school gates. A little boy in her class bounded down the stairs and shouted, “S gets a DS now!” And then, I saw my daughter bounding down the same steps with such a proud smile with a gleaming golden sticker stuck onto her cardigan!! She had done it!!
Now it was my turn to fulfill my end of the deal and buy the DS! It arrived in the post by the end of the week, and together we sat down to establish some ground rules for playing with it. I’m not a huge proponent of excess screen time, so I wanted to make sure she had a clear set of rules, that would be created by her. We did this by having a conversation about how and when she would use the DS. She wrote a list of 10 rules, that I then posted in the living room for her to refer to if need be. Her rules included things like “I will only play with my Nintendo after homework; I will …
We were able to sit down and have a great conversation that left her knowing what was expected of her. Her list wasn’t a list of DON’Ts. Her list gave her the knowledge of what she was supposed to do in order to keep playing with her DSi. The amazing thing is that in the more than one year since buying the DSi, I have never (I’m serious!) NEVER had to take away her DS privileges. The rules tell her what to do! The rules are the ‘tough guy’! She can’t get upset with me because she made up the rules, and she is very aware that the reward for following them is DS time, and the consequence for not following them … you guessed it … missing out on DS time!
A year on, the DS doesn’t come out of the case very often now. The newest gadget in our home is the iPad … and for kids (of all ages!) … it IS incredible. We read the latest National Geographic magazines, watch movies, create art, email said art to Grandparents, play maths and spelling games. I love it just as much as she does.
I have been most blown away, though, by my daughter’s ability to transfer the rules that she established for the DS onto the iPad. We never even had a conversation about it. She just knows that she can’t use it until homework is finished, and that she can use it for 20 minutes during the week, and for as long as she likes on those long airplane rides!
Clear, positive rules with related rewards and consequences work, and my new discovery was that they are very easily transferrable! Great rules are NOT designed to tell your children what NOT to do. Rather, they are about empowering your children so THEY KNOW WHAT TO DO, so that ultimately they develop effective habits.
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