Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Behavior Modification Technique for Kids at Mealtime

My very active toddler finds it hard to stay seated while eating. And when he’s already seated, he gets easily distracted by so many things even when the tv is turned off. He bends, kneels, or stands on the dining chair. Sometimes, he walks around the table. Even though he knows how to use his spoon and fork properly, he likes to play with them and pretends that they are his drum sticks. At other times, he brings along a toy or two at table even with constant reminders from us not to do so. He likes to talk or sing as well even with his mouth full.

My husband and I constantly remind him of the things he should do and not do at mealtime. We put him in the high chair which has a strap when he wouldn’t listen and keep on walking around or when he doesn’t sit properly even with a number of reminders or warnings. There were times when we scolded him and punished him by making him face the wall when he does not do what we ask him to do. Yet, until now, he still violates our mealtime rules.

This prompted me to research some more on how to make him follow our mealtime rules and on how to discipline him to take on the right behavior while at table. Since I’ve noticed that he has been following the house rules set by his teacher/therapist during their sessions, I surmised that posting our mealtime rules near our dining area where he could see them would also help. But instead of drawing happy faces on his paper or notebook like what his teacher does, I thought of the things that he likes which I could use to motivate him to cooperate and follow our mealtime rules. I decided to use happy face stickers for I noticed that he likes sticking them in his shirt. And because he likes to read plenty of books before naptime or before bedtime at night, I linked the reward to our reading time. I was inspired to do this when I read an article on manners from Smart Parenting magazine recently. There was a tip shared to reinforce good behavior. It’s called ticket takers. Let me quote: "Make a list of table manners: putting a napkin on your lap, using your utensils, eating with your mouth closed. When one of your kids performs a polite dinner act, she gets a ticket. Whoever gets the most wins an extra story before bedtime."

Here are the mechanics of our behavior modification scheme to help minimize or end our mealtime struggles. First, we came up with a poster with a few mealtime rules. My husband suggested that we focus first on a few instead of imposing all of our mealtime rules. I chose four only for the first few months of implementing it. We will just add more when he has mastered or taken on the habit of practicing the first few we’ll implement. Then, I involved our son in making our poster. I drew some pictures beside the text. I asked him to trace the letters and color the pictures. Second, we bought round neon stickers and I asked his help in drawing happy faces on them. Third, I explained to him our mealtime rules and told him that every time he follows a mealtime rule as illustrated in our poster, he gets a happy face sticker. The number of stickers he gets during the course of the day determines how many books will be read to him that day. Every three stickers is equivalent to one book. I followed the recommendation of his teacher to use three instead of five per book. She said that three would enable my son to reach his goal faster. This would motivate him to keep on following our mealtime rules. She also recommended that once my son has been used to this scheme, we can increase the number of stickers he needs to get to be able to read a book. He can choose to use these stickers before his naptime or at night before sleeping. It’s up to him if he wants to use all his stickers after lunch for his siesta or wait until night time before going to bed. Another suggestion from his teacher is to remove the sticker already in his shirt when he violates a rule he initially followed. For example, he sat properly for the first five minutes so he gets one happy face sticker. But if he stands up and walks to get something, we will remove one sticker on his shirt. Fourth, I will record our progress each day in a notebook to monitor how we are improving.

I was happy to come up with this scheme because it will address not just our mealtime struggles but also our bedtime concern. Yanthy loves being read to before sleeping and sometimes he asks me or my husband to read a number of books to him. With this scheme, we would be able to limit the number of books we would read to him before sleeping. I like this technique very much because it will not only help discipline my son at mealtime, it will also help him practice counting and decision-making. His counting skills will be reinforced as he counts all his stickers and he can also learn the concept of division as he computes how many books he can read for the day. He gets to practice his decision-making skills as he decides when to use his stickers.

I’m excited to implement this starting tomorrow! I hope we would be successful in helping him develop good table manners this time.

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