“Papi, can I see something?” “Mami, yo quiero ver algo.” “Mami, puedo prender el tele?”
Last week I was hella sick with the flu. I mean, couldn’t get out of bed, hard to produce enough milk for the infant, could not focus enough to read sick. It was bad. My amazing husband swooped in to help, staying home from work and taking care of the girls. From my bed, all I could hear was Big Sister begging to watch television. And to his credit, no electronics were used while I was sick.
But let’s be honest. He did a great job keeping screen time to zero, but quite frankly, I need the television. I need Big Sister to watch it so that I can do dishes, take a shower, make dinner, or even just snuggle with her while baby is sleeping. A dear friend of mine told me when I was pregnant with Little Sister “el televisor se te va a hacer un gran aliado.” Little did I know how much the television would really become my friend.
The problem was the flip side of the coin. Once we watched just a little T.V., it was like crack cocaine, and all she wanted to do was watch more. I’m fine with some quality programming a day, (especially if it’s in Spanish!) but the begging for more was severely getting on my nerves.
Enter the Responsibility Chart. Everyone I knew seemed to be having luck with it, and I figured it was a great way for Big Sister to earn her shows and me to get a little help around the house. Win/win.
So during Little Sister’s nap, we got out the computer and created a Responsibility Chart. We did the whole thing in Spanish, and I’m thinking “I’ve just won a Bilingual Mother of the Year Honorable Mention.” Exhibit A:
Ok, so just to preview here (spoiler alert!), the Responsibility Chart, in the way I envisioned it, was a complete disaster. #1, the printer was out of ink so I couldn’t print it. We walked to Office Depot to get more, only to return home to have the wrong ink cartridge (I later found out that our printer was involved in a company wide misprint on ink cartridges. Of course.) #2, every single time Big Sister did a “chore” she thought she got to watch an entire episode of Peg + Cat. (Face Palm.) I never actually got the chart printed because we became, one again, engaged in a battle over why she couldn’t watch television after making her bed and repeatedly messing it up in order to watch 5 television shows. (She’s a lot of things, but dumb ain’t one of them!)
Concurrently, Baby Sister got sick with a cold. I needed all kinds of help, and Big Sister started majorly stepping up her toddler game. With each kind act she did, I doled out the praise (I mean, I laid it on so thick you could cut it with a knife.) The more praise she got, the more good deeds she was doing. We were caught in a positivity cycle and the television wasn’t mentioned once!
Exhibit B: (Cleaning the toilet)
Like all toddler growth spurts, I knew this couldn’t last, and I wanted to harness the positivity into a long(-er?) lasting lesson. So, I put on my “the classroom is a metaphor for life” thinking cap, and here’s what I came up with.
Every good deed gets Big Sister a sticker on the “yo soy buena ayudante!” chart. When there’s a bunch of stickers… (well, I haven’t figured that out yet. So far she’s really happy just to put the stickers on the chart and get the praise from Mami and Papi so I’m riding that wave until it fizzles.)
The why: In my classroom, the most amazing lessons where the ones where my students felt safe, confident, and self-motivated enough to take autonomous risks and share their results with others. So I asked myself: “do I want a child who checks off the boxes of a responsibility chart in order to get what she wants (remember, I wasn’t doing the chart to build a habit, which is an entirely different conversation, I was doing it so she would stop begging me to watch television…) or do I want a child who sees a problem, and feels empowered and empathetic enough to present a solution to fix it?” In this case, I can see the absolute power of building autonomy. Granted, lately this has meant that Little Sister has literally gotten crushed by Big Sister hugs, and I came downstairs to see the aftermath of some bathroom “cleaning” (note that she attempted to cover her tracks), but I’ll take it!
What creative solutions have you come up with to help your kids become more confident and independent?
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