Thursday, November 13, 2014

Stick Update

About a month ago, I wrote about our chore experiment using sticks as a payment device so I thought it was time for an update. To recap the girls have to complete a list of jobs every day in order to keep their daily stick. It's an all or nothing deal and each stick is worth 25 cents to be paid at the end of the month.

In October the big change was that the girls' room was finally clean and in shape for it to be reasonable for them to maintain it on their own. I have wanted to get that room in this kind of condition for years. Yes, years. I remember thoroughly cleaning it before I was pregnant with Marian so it really went about two years between total organizings. Too much. So much junk. I'll let you in on a secret. The big rubbermaid that I used to sort out stuff that needed to be put away while I cleaned has still not been sorted. I'll do it sometime, I'm sure, but in the meantime, the children are under strict orders not to touch that box.

Box full of junk

So how did they do?

Really well. I am surprised at how well they have kept the room. I thought for sure that items would crawl under the bed and clothes would be dumped in the closet, but it hasn't really happened. I am very pleased. The room is still clean. There are some areas that aren't quite as neat as I would like, but I need to keep my expectations within reason. Earlier this week they began an extended game of doll playing with doll strewn all over the room, each with her own "bed." I told them I would tolerate the dolls as long as they were actively playing the game. As soon as they tire of it, I expect the dolls to all go back to their bin. We shall see what happens.

We do have a couple of general problems with our current version of the system. First I still haven't gotten pictures printed out to help Olivia with visual cues to remember her jobs. This is totally my fault. I've even taken the pictures, but haven't submitted them to a printer. This lack of list means that she asks almost every night, "What are my jobs again?" and I have to answer her. She will probably learn to read before I get this thing printed and then it will be a moot point. Or I could get my act in gear. Maybe.

The second issue is that we still have to remind them to do their jobs every night. This isn't such a big deal, but it would be nice if they would automatically do these things instead of us declaring it time to do their jobs. But for now we remind them to get started and then walk down the list with them every night.

The third issue is related to the second. Since they are waiting for us (read me) to tell them to do their jobs, it usually doesn't happen until after supper and approaching bedtime. How this plays out is that they run around frantically doing jobs until right before bedtime instead winding down which means I am supervising chores instead of doing more leisurely activities like reading to them or something like that. The other problem with this schedule is that my ability to inspect all the jobs and pull sticks if necessary bumps up against bedtime. Several times I have put them to bed and then found socks in the living room. My choice is either to let it go or go back in their room and pull the stick. Neither is very satisfying.

One thing that has surprised me is how much they value those sticks. Losing a stick is horrible to them. Crying, screaming, and begging are the standard response. I wish it wasn't such a tragedy for them, but I am glad they are responding to the incentive.

This month I added two small jobs. The first job is cat related. Each girl has to either feed the cat or scoop the cat box. They alternate weeks so they both have one cat job a week, but not the same cat job every week. They were doing this before, but I thought it would be a good idea to formally include it in the stick jobs. The other new job is making sure their bathroom is in good shape. Basically all this job requires is to hang their towels and washcloths on the appropriate hook after use and make sure there are no globs of toothpaste left in the sink. Nothing that should take more that 30 seconds a day, but I was tired of finding wadded, wet washcloths left in the shower and gross toothpaste in the sink. My thought is that it is better slowly and incrementally increase their responsibilities so over time, they will really be pulling weight but perhaps won't notice as much as if it happened all at once.

For November the jobs are:
Lunch boxes put away
Shoes and socks where they belong
Room responsibility
Cat food/water or Scoop cat box
Get ready for bed when told without nagging

Overall I am very pleased with how they have done and how certain household issues have basically been eliminated. I do wonder how much I can squeeze out of a quarter a day before they start to balk. Stay tuned.


Melanie Bettinelli said...

I am so impressed with your success. I'm almost tempted to try it. But with Bella so ADHD, my fear is trying to enforce it will shatter the uneasy truce I've made with her inability to get things done on my schedule. I know I could start with things she's already doing anyway and gradually increase it. I wonder if the sticks would be enough incentive.

Anonymous said...

I applaud you for following through and being so consistent at the end of a long day! That is hard work!

Melanie, there's a slightly different approach to this system which might work better for your daughter. My kids and I went through a year-long behavior therapy program. We saw this research in practice--the most effective way to shape behavior is through positive reinforcement. The sticks are incentive, but giving them--and then taking them away--is more like punishment. If you start with an empty jar and give a stick for completing the job--with a big flourish and parental attention--that's a powerful form of positive reinforcement. You just keep praising the kid who picked up the socks or the jobs that WERE completed by the kid who didn't get them all done. This way, everything you say becomes part of shaping the behavior instead of nagging or drama. "Tomorrow you can try again!" when they don't make the mark.

Some kids will respond to either approach, but research shows that all kids respond to positive reinforcement. We were shocked to see that the immediate parental attention far outweighed the monetary reward (which was too far away for our impatient, impulsive kid to process.)


bearing said...

At some point, ideally before the lists get too long and you have given them the tools they need (e.g. checklists) you can try making the month's new job "do the other things without being asked." That might be a good time to give them a per-stick raise.

lissla lissar said...

Geoff was telling me about the psychology of loss aversion last month some time- that people will fight to keep what we have, even when it's crummy. The study said that people are more likely to perform tasks when threatened with loss than when offered rewards. The stick/chore thing plays into that magnificently.

lissla lissar said...

Also, Jenny, I'm so glad you're blogging.

Anonymous said...

I agree that loss aversion is powerful, too. The question is how you want to characterize this dynamic with your children. I was raised the loss-aversion way and for me, this was a profound change.


Jenny said...

We definitely eased into this system starting with jobs they were already doing. The sticks just formalized chores that they needed to do everyday which would generally escape our notice. Like for instance the lunch boxes which are kept in their backpacks. They would get home from school and were supposed to clean out their lunch boxes, but many times they would forget and then the next day Dave would find some formerly edible item of food left out all night that now needs pitched. So now that there is a checklist, the amount of food being thrown out from their lunches is significantly lower. But it wasn't a new job, just a reminder.

Jenny said...

The reason I start with a jar full of sticks and remove them is because I know that I am not consistent enough to remember to follow through every night. If I forget or am lazy, which happens not infrequently, they are not penalized for my behavior. In an attempt to balance out the negativity of losing a stick, I keep my attitude about their jobs very matter-of-fact or positive. I don't yell over these jobs. I remind them and if they do not follow through, I acknowledge their disappointment, tell them I know they can do better tomorrow, and move on. It also helps to have concrete, objective criteria.

"All of your socks need to be in the laundry basket or you lose a stick. Are all your socks in the laundry basket? No. Well that means you lose a stick, right? Yes."

I try hard not to attach emotion to process of losing a stick. They scream and cry anyway, but I can't control that.

This is a long way of saying I realize that using the sticks as positive reinforcement would probably be better, objectively, but that isn't going to work for us because of me.

Jenny said...

I do feel like we are nearing the limit of how many particular jobs can be spelled out without the lists getting too unwieldy. I am not sure I will add anything in December just because of Christmas craziness, but I really need to get on printing those pictures.

Jenny said...

I believe it! Because objectively these are popsicle sticks that have been colored on, but you would think I was taking some priceless treasure. They don't even have a great concept of the money they get in exchange for the sticks. Several times we have handed out the money and then found it left on the table where they first got it. But the sticks! Oh they love their sticks!