Behavior Modification 101

Last week, this was my Facebook status:

“Our house feels bat s**t crazy lately, and so today, I am spending the morning re-thinking our entire way of doing things. We need new rules, new systems, new types of consequences, new everything.”

(The post then went on to solicit advice from other, better, parents).

So with two kids at school, and the other off with a sitter, I spent a half-day at my kitchen table, paper and pen and scribble notes all over the place, brainstorming.  Brainstorming how to do a better job of raising, training, teaching, and loving these kids of mine.  I came up with a pretty good system that day, and I thought I’d share it with you.

First of all….

I started by making a list of all the many, many, many, many problems we seem to deal with on a daily basis in our home.  Problems that everyone who resides here is aware of, problems that cause life to not go smoothly every day, problems that we’re constantly saying, “we need to do something about this!!!” (And then never do).  Those kinds of problems.

There were SIXTEEN items on the list (clearly we’ve allowed things to run amuck around here for some time, now).

Just to give you an idea of what sorts of things I mean, a few of the items on the list were:

  • Table manners (or lack thereof)

  • Never being able to find shoes when we are walking out the door

  • Constant interruption (my children interrupt my husband and I, each other, their friends, and I swear even their own selves sometimes!)

  • Their seeming inability to just GO PLAY.  A few weekends ago, my husband sent them outside to play, and within 45 seconds, all three of them were standing at our sliding glass door, noses pressed to the glass, staring at us, and yelling, “we don’t know what to do!”.

There were twelve more items on the list, but you get the general idea.

Next step…..

what to DO about all of these problems?

I decided to go one by one, through each item, and decide, what needs to happen in order to fix this? Do we need a:

– System (S)

– Consequence (C)

– Incentive (I)

– Teach (T)


I was very inspired by the new meal-planning system I put into place last October.  Prior to October, “never knowing what we are going to eat for dinner” would have been an ongoing problem that could have been added to my Ongoing Problem List.  Thanks to the help of my aunt though, I put a new system into place, and while it was a bit of work up front, once it was put into place, it has made my life, and certainly mealtime, infinitely more simple.  The initial work up front was MORE than worth it.  So it got me thinking, “what other aspects of life could be simplified, if we put some sort of system into place”.


This one is still a work in progress.  I struggle with deciding upon appropriate and effective consequences.  I PARTICULARLY struggle with that in the heat of the moment.  So what I want to do, and am still working on, is having an already decided upon, discussed, and written out consequence for all of our most commonly-occurring disciplinary issues.  That way, both myself as well as the boys already know what happens if they tell a lie, if they argue, if they don’t obey the first time, etc.  It takes the guesswork out of it for all of us, and simplifies life.


I’ve never been one for sticker charts.  For one thing, my kids have never gotten all that excited about the prospect of earning stickers, and for another, just being honest, I struggle to be consistent with stuff like that…remembering to buy the stickers and have them on hand, if we’re not at home, trying to remember who earned stickers while we were gone, and adding them to the chart when we return home…I just can’t do it.  That being said, as I read through our list of “Ongoing Issues”, there were a few items on the list that I thought could be better addressed if I were to provide MOTIVATION to choose right, versus a consequence for doing wrong.

Real Life Example:

Problem: “Potty-Words”. My home is basically a constant cacophony of “weiner” “butthole” “buttcrack”, “stupid”, “shut up”, and “that sucks”.  Even my two-year old says them.  Actually, my two-year old is the primary culprit.  At this point, talking that way is ingrained in all of them.  It’s a habit, every bit as natural for them as nail-biting or thumb-sucking is for some kids.

So there is now a glass jar sitting on our kitchen counter.  Every Monday morning, forty, one-dollar bills magically appear in it.  If my children are able to go all the way until Sunday evening without saying ANY bad words, the two oldest get to divide the money up amongst themselves, to spend any way they like.  Reward!!!

But, each time ANY ONE OF THEM says a bad word, a dollar is given back to me.  Yup, they get punished for each other’s bad decision, and the reason being, is because they each influence each other.  So even if the two-year old says a bad word, and the other two didn’t, they are all affected.

You should see those boys scolding their baby brother now whenever he lets a “stupid” slip.  “No Axel!!!!!! We do NOT talk that way!”.  Oh really? We don’t? Well thanks for finally seeing things my way, guys.

(By the way, my husband thought $40 in the jar each week was excessive, but the kids ended this week with a whopping $14 total)


Most of my boys’ aberrant behavior is rooted in disobedience.  There’s no question.  They know the right thing to do, and they just choose to not do it.  But there are a handful of wrong behaviors I identified that I actually think can be attributed to a simple lack of knowledge.

An example of this would be their constant fighting.

Did I say “constant”? By constant I meant “so incessant, so never-ending, that I want to bash my face against the brick wall in our living room, until eventually I just pass out and don’t have to listen to it anymore”.   Peace, blessed peace, any way I can get it.  But as angry as I get about this issue, the truth of the matter is, I have not properly equipped them to deal with each other.  My middle son DOES constantly provoke my older son, and I haven’t spent enough time discussing some strategies with him on ways to deal with the provocation that AREN’T “putting him into a choke hold”.

So I labeled each item with an “S” “C” “I” or “T”, and now I am beginning the slow and arduous process of working out the nuts and bolts of each of those.

Where a system is needed, I’m writing out exactly what the system is, and setting things up around the house in such a way that the system can be enacted.

When it’s a consequence we need, I’m writing out a list of common offenses, with the designated consequence next to it, so all who can read, can read it.

For incentive, we’ve got the Potty Mouth Cash Jar happening, and we’re about to start something (details still in process) where Screen Time has to be EARNED.

And as for teaching, I’m just….teaching.  I very easily forget how little these boys still are, and how they just don’t really know ANYTHING, unless someone teaches them.  So I’m just working more teaching into our day-to -day rhythm.

On a side note….sometimes I laugh, as I write these “advice” posts, picturing my closest friends reading them and likely thinking to themselves, “Great advice! So how come your boys are so dang crazy, and how come you are the Reigning Queen of Hot Messiness in our friend group?”.

Or, I think about the other day, when I rolled up to the local bounce house, whirling inside like a tornado of arguing children, sippy cups dropping out of bag, mama yelling like a tyrant, when a sweet lady approached me and said, “I read your blog!  I love it!”….after thanking her, I thought to myself, “Gawd.  She’s probably wondering why she does now”.

So I definitely don’t write these advice pieces as “do what I do, so you can win at parenting like I  so clearly am”.


I write things like this more from a place of, “as I stumble blindly through mothering, here are one or two things that have worked out well for me, and maybe they will for you, too”

(And then more often than not, I have a lot of posts about how everything went to shit …to make you feel better about your own parenting. So you’re welcome for that.)


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