Monday, September 14, 2009

token time in Tennessee

We are at church, someone passes us and says to Marianna, "Hi there, it's good to see you this morning." Her response? Nothing. We are at a party, someone comes up and says, "Oh my, I love your party outfit!" She hides behind my legs.

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.


Laurie in Ca. said...

Oh I love this Angie:) I can just see her in my mind waving like she is queen on the Rose Parade Float:) Great motivation and hope it sticks. Love you and your technique.

Love and Hugs, Laurie

Jaime Matthews said...

This sounds like a great idea! I was like your daughter as a child, and my parents basically just always used the "she's shy" excuse. Well, I lived up to it. I wish they would have tried to pull me out of my shell somehow, because it's been a lot harder work as an adult than it would have been back then.

brandi said...

Oh Angie, that is so funny! I love Marianna's little personality. That is just too cute. What a good idea too. I'll have to try that some time when toys are more of a motivator. Oh, and I like the full name "Ariel in a Box." Hilarious.

Emily said...

I think that's great! I'm all about motivation like that. After all, as adults we motive ourselves all the time, one way or another, so why not teach our children the same? Hand in there with her. I know you don't want to change her personality, but I will say sometime by saying, "oh she's shy" etc, she actually starts to expect that of herself. My son went through that phase too and we did a lot of practicing at home so he would be comfortable returning the appropriate response.

Mel said...

That's a great idea, Angie. She loves her disney gals!

TN Lizzie said...

Another idea for long-term reinforcement:

I have a large laminated poster of a ladybug. I drew and colored her myself, and she has the letters B.U.G. written on her wings. She stands for Being Unusually Good.

I have ladybug stickers that sometimes land on one of my girls' chairs at the supper table... when I've noticed them being unusually good and praised them for it using that phrase.

Daddy loves to ask about the BUG on the chair at supper, and we all get to talk about the good thing this DD did.

Sometimes, by the end of the day, I need the reminder that there truly was something good that happened ! BUGS don't disappear when bad things happen, but then - we're not working to earn Ariel in a box!

Great idea, Angie. You are a good mommy!

Rachel said...

haha! I'm just hoping Ariel in a Box is worth all the hype!

patty said...

What a great idea! You are so creative with your girls.

Jana said...

Angie, hilarious - that's all I can say.

Anonymous said...

That's a great idea. I actually have a friend with a five year old who still won't even look at me, let alone speak to me after three years. And I'm a former teacher with loads of experience and love for little ones, so I don't understand how this little girl cannot warm up to me no matter what I do or don't do. To be honest, it feels rude and I don't understand why her mom doesn't try something since her daughter won't speak to anyone except her own immediate family and grandparents. I think this idea is great.