Have you ever been there with your kids? That stage where friendliness is like a disease they are afraid of catching. Marianna has always been a little slow to warm up to strangers, but she has recently used her reserve as a crutch that inhibits basic courtesy. I'm not aiming to change her personality, but I do want her to know that responding to someone when spoken to, and giving common, polite greetings is something that she needs to be able to do without telling me, "My mouth is just too tired to say anything."
Verbal encouragement alone has not been doing the trick. She says she'll be friendly, but then the moment of truth comes when someone actually says something to her, and she is diving for my legs once again. That's why I decided it was time to bring out the big guns, go all out, and give her the motivation she couldn't resist.
Awhile back I found a giant Ariel head, complete with makeup and hair accessories, on a huge sale in the Disney store. I went ahead and snatched it up for birthday or Christmas, and it's been tucked away in my closet for several months now. The only problem is that Marianna knows about it. She saw me buy it, and somehow discovered where I hid it, so she reminds me about it all the time. She'll say, "Mom, I sure can't wait to get my Ariel head! Is it for birthday or Christmas? I hope it's for my birthday because that comes first." Something about that just isn't right =). So since she already knew about it, I decided the Ariel head would serve its purpose better as a motivational tool than a long-known-about present.
Yesterday I laid out the plan. I sat Marianna down and explained the concept of the "friendliness token." These tokens can be earned for any acts of friendliness, and conversely, they can be taken away for acts of marked unfriendliness. I then told her that once she had earned 10 tokens, she would win the much anticipated Ariel head. I thought the visual would serve to get the motivational juices flowing, so Nathan ran and brought out the Ariel head and placed it in full view on the table. We told her that until the tokens were earned, the head stays in the box.
Boy has it worked. The "Ariel in a Box" has become almost like her siamese twin, the growth that never leaves. She carries it around with her from room to room, sits next to it on the couch, sleeps with it in her bed with her. She is a driven three year old, and she's laying the friendliness on thick. At church she went down the hall way saying hi and waving. At lunch she was nothing but smiles. I even let her earn a token last night with family, just because she is trying so hard. The first thing out of her mouth this morning was, "Mom! I have three tokens! Just a few more left until I get to open the box!" That was followed by, "Can you please go get Ariel in a Box out of my bed. I need to sit by her."
I don't know if it will last, but for now, outings where tokens can be earned are like candy. She is eating it up, and the shyness and inhibition that cripples her at times has flown out the window. I'm cheering her on, and if she keeps it up, I'm guessing she will have Ariel out of the box by sometime tomorrow. Motivation can definitely be a beautiful thing.