When I wrote on Monday about trying to positively reinforce certain behaviors of my oldest child, I promise I thought it would take a whole week before I had an update. But here we are two days later and I’ve already taken one step forward and one step back with my 5-year-old son Donovan. If you missed the earlier story, I’ve been having a hard time responding to Donovan whining, crying, and sometimes even throwing toys when he doesn’t get his way. So I took a parenting class on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), which is a strategy of teaching behavior by positively incentivizing what you want to see.
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I created a plan, communicated it to my village, and set an initial goal of establishing and adhering to a clear schedule to help prevent meltdowns related to Donovan being tired or hungry. As of Monday, we were thriving in Black girl magic and Black boy joy. I focused on a single behavior and saw results.
That came after I explained to Donovan on Friday that we would be keeping our hands to ourselves these days. We wouldn’t even play fight because someone could get hurt even if we are just having fun. I repeated the message once a day and on the way to Donovan’s soccer practice on Monday.
He asked the question of what he should do if someone hits him, and I told him to walk away and focus on what the coach was telling him to do. I told Donovan if he listened to his coach and kept his hands to himself the whole practice, he could earn his dessert, a granola bar. “Yes!” he exclaimed. And surely enough, he earned that granola bar.
It was a win for us both. Then, Tuesday came. I put dry-erase marker to board and crafted a schedule, making time markings for snacks and meals. Bedtime went without saying. Donovan’s bedtime has for years fallen squarely between 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., so he has no problems waking up for school by 7 a.m. the next morning.
The problem is his mother likes to go with the flow from time to time, especially when moments with dear friends and family members are in play. That was the case on Tuesday when I took Suni and Donovan to a birthday party a friend of mine hosted for her 6-year-old daughter.
At the mere mention of a margarita for parents, I threw Donovan’s schedule completely out the window. What’s the harm, I thought. Donovan and Suni were having a great time, playing with new toys, eating tacos… All was moving merrily along until it wasn’t.
Just around 7:30 p.m. Donovan refused to share a toy with the birthday girl, and when I told him to hand it to me, he grunted and pushed the toy my way, accidentally hitting the birthday girl in the process. I was mortified, but I didn’t yell. I instead tried to force an apology, and when that didn’t work, I told Donovan we would be leaving. I put Suni’s shoes on and we slowly made our way out about 15 minutes later with Donovan now crying because we were leaving.
Because of the parenting class I took, I could immediately identify where I had gone wrong. I didn’t set any expectations before we arrived at the party, and I allowed us to get off schedule.
If I could have a do-over–and I likely will have several do-overs–I would explain in advance to Donovan that I have a super fun birthday party planned with cake, ice cream, tacos, and the works, but we can only go if he agrees to share with others, play gently, and leave without whining promptly at 7:20 p.m.
Oh how much easier life could have been, and I’m optimistic that one day soon it will be. In the meantime, I’m putting the work in daily.