Sunday, January 15, 2012

Encouragement Parenting Tool

In my mom’s article on Encouragement,  she mentioned her "friend." That "friend" is me. She wanted to protect my privacy, but as you will learn throughout this year, I like to keep it real and I have no shame in saying that I am NOT a perfect parent.

It's been 82 days since my son, Greyson, started Kindergarten and I must admit that I've been sucked into the behavior modification color card punishment system. I remember the first day of orientation when they had recommended that if our child does not get a "US Award"  (great behavior all day) that they should be "punished with a consequence at home."  I rolled my eyes and thought "not in our home." We don't believe in punishment--and we definitely don't believe in making them "pay" for their mistakes or for acting like a five year I thought.

I also believed that if I brought both the teacher and the principal a Positive Discipline in the Classroom book that they might change the "system" they've been using for 30+ years. Oops again—there I go with my magical thinking.

Everything changed when Greyson got his first RED CARD (worst you can get). I honestly can't even remember what it was for, but I can remember how I felt when the teacher pulled me aside at pick-up to explain the situation. I felt like I just got a RED CARD in parenting. Silly I know! And if you had told me that first day of school that I would've taken this "system" personally, I would have told you "don't be ridiculous." But somehow, when I was listening, with what felt like my tail between my legs, I couldn't help but to feel that my child's behavior was a reflection of my parenting. I know it's crazy!!! Especially since my mom warned me. She said, "if you're going to send Greyson to a school with this "system" then you can't feed into it. She then reminded me that it's not what they do at school but how we handle it at home.

Greyson has provided me with several opportunities to practice. In the beginning, I did a lot of talking (telling) and had dismissed a lot of the color cards because I thought athey were ridiculous. I volunteer in his classroom twice a month so I see exactly what it takes to get a card change (such as talking to a classmate). Several times other students would have a color card change and I wasn't even sure about what they had done.

That said--I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't stuck with the original plan to not get hooked by this system. I started punishing at home— taking away privileges, not allowing him to go to LegoLand (more painful for me that him), lecturing and threatening. Recently, after feeling completely discouraged with myself and my son, I started asking him curiosity  questions. For example, how do you think your teacher feels when she's trying to teach and you keep interrupting? Or, now that you know it's not okay to play Ninja on the carpet, "where is it that you can play?"

After the long 3-week vacation from school, I thought for sure it would be a challenging week. I was pleasantly surprised when he came running to give me a hug at pick up and was excited to say, "I got a Green Card." He was so happy and proud! He confirmed this when I tucked him into bed that night and he shared that his happiest part of his day was getting his green card. I of course was happy because he was happy, but in the same breath I felt like my son is already being sucked into the system of thinking he is "good" when he gets a green card and that he's "bad" when he gets any color below that...ugh!!

It was only 3-days later that everything started going South. He got a yellow card but his teacher told me that she wanted to give him a RED...yikes! She explained that he was extra wiggly during circle time and that he needed to be reminded several times to listen. I asked him in front of his teacher, "What would help you to listen to your teacher?" I had suggested, "What if you came up with your own code word and a silent signal that would be just between you and your teacher?" They both liked that idea!

I waited until that night when I was tucking him in and asked him the same question again. Greyson came up with the code word "ZIP" and then he showed me the silent signal of him zipping his lips closed. He loved this idea and told me he was excited to tell his teacher the next morning.

The next day at pick-up my fingers were crossed and sure enough it worked!!! His teacher told me that their code word and signal worked well all day...woohoo!!! I was pleased to share with her that when the child comes up with the solution that they will usually follow it. I believe that Greyson felt empowered and therefore encouraged to follow through with their agreement.

The lesson that I have learned in the last 82 days of school is that it definitely feels better to encourage my son and focus on finding solutions and problem solving. It felt completely discouraging to fall into the trap of punishment and consequences. Once again, using the Positive Discipline tool card for encouragement felt good to all of us. Encouraging my son felt kind and respectful for everyone!

I’m sure Greyson won’t keep his mouth zipped. It is developmentally appropriate for Kindergartners to want to “socialize” with their friends. So, we can look forward to many more colored cards and many more opportunities to keep practicing the encouragement of focusing on solutions.


  1. You handled the situation brilliantly! I will have to keep your solution in mind.

    I detest the color card system as well, especially for the children, like my son, who have real neurological issues that can make being quiet and paying attention, physically impossible. As soon as my son re-qualifies for an IEP, I will write into it that he is not to be subjected to the color card system. I will write a 20 page paper, if necessary, documenting the harm it does to him, referencing every PD book I own (and I have quite a few!).

  2. As a teacher and now a parent of trial and error "discipline" systems, I can completely "sigh" and side with this story. I have used the "color" system in a attempt to get behavior under control in many starts to a school year only to throw the system out the window by November. I used "anonymous numbers," but by mid Sept., everyone knew everyone's numbers. And the the same numbers were always on red. :( It did not change behavior. And parents CANNOT be the one to enforce logical consequences 5 hours later. As parents, who get notes home about what I would call "typical" first grade behavior, we constantly struggle (and argue) about appropriate behavior, punishment and consequences- Realizing all to often that we have our own baggage about the mere thought of it all!!! :( So, I have had "codes," with students (I once even had a 'when I touch my nose' code), I remind, reteach and redirect. And then I start all over tomorrow...with my family and my students. :) Happy days!

  3. Shawna, I appreciate knowing that this system can be as frustrating and discouraging to teachers as it is to parents and children. Have you tried class meetings where children are involved in finding solutions to behavior challenges?

    1. @ Ms. Nelsen...yes... I have also been so lucky as to have participated in Responsive Classroom I and I am a proponent and fan of morning meeting routines as well as weekly classroom meeting....often objected by peers that "second graders aren't capable of problem solving"...I always start my conversations with student in "trouble," aka bad kids..with "this is the behavior I expect, this is the behavior you "did"...."what do YOU think the consequence should be for someone who does not follow the expecations?" Now that seems to be too much, but I often feel that I am still in this awful "authoritative, my way or the highway role as a classroom teacher.."

  4. Shawna, When I was an elementary school counselor, we had visitors to our kindergarten classroom who were always amazed at how well these little ones did compliments and problem-solving.
    It can be hard to give up controlling ways, but it doesn't make sense to expect kids to control their behavior when we don't control our own. :-) Jane