…including making friends.
When we decided not to enroll the kids in school here in Mexico we knew it would be a little harder for them to make friends and we’d have to put in a little more effort (read: Mom would have to orchestrate, push, prod and force in some cases) but little by little we seem to be cracking the ice. Sometimes that is done using an iPhone and sugar.
We use an app called Class Dojo as a way to reward self sufficiency and great attitudes and disincentivize the opposite. It’s highly customizable and the girls are rewarded points for things like starting their tasks on time, working independently, having a good attitude, persistence, trying new things (like trying to make friends) and a bunch of other stuff. But they are also docked points for being late, being fussy or having a bad attitude, etc. The app is on my phone so it’s always just a click away, and the girls know the sounds of points being awarded or taken away like a guinea pig knows the sound of the fridge being opened (reeeeeek! reeeeek!).
But rewarding and losing points isn’t enough if it doesn’t result in something. As a general rule, we don’t allow the girls to have sweets during the week. It eliminates all the asking and begging and, in general, the constant din of nattering from the crumbsnatchers. But on the weekends, as long as they’re eating their meals and making good choices, they don’t have to ask each time they want a treat. But now we’ve tied their weekend sweets consumption to their Class Dojo score. If they are 80% positive by the end of the week, they can have sweets on the weekend. If they miss the 80%, sweets are skipped until the following weekend. There are plenty of articles (believe me, I’ve read them) discouraging parents from using sugar as a reward but broccoli just doesn’t have the same effect. I always hated the phrase “You have to pick your battles” but darn it, it’s true in this case. This policy is particularly effective because we do not allow any sweets during the week.
So yesterday was the end of a mixed bag of a week. The girls had not been as prepared with their dinnertime research, there had been some bad attitudes and late starts. Both girls were not hitting the 80% positive score required for sweets, which starts after dinner on Friday. So after her Spanish lesson on Friday, Haley decided to kick it into high gear and finish strong by getting some positive points. At the grocery store while buying Oreos that she wasn’t qualified to eat yet (she was thinking positively) she saw two girls her age speaking English so she approached them and asked where they were from. Turns out they were from New York and they didn’t want to talk. After this brush-off, Haley said she had to do her anxiety breathing in the candy aisle at the store, but she persevered and bought her Oreos and went about her day. Points for good attitude and stepping out of her box! It may seem like a small thing to award points for but when everything is new and different and you don’t want to face anything that resembles rejection, it’s defintely points-worthy.
But she still wasn’t at the required points for sweets so when she entered into our neighborhood she rode around on her bike for awhile and saw two other girls her age on bikes so she stopped to talk to them. That went better than the first encounter and they even invited her to ride around with them whenever they saw each other. Good job, Haley! But alas, the week had been so challenging that she STILL was not at the required points for sweets (and we weight positive behaviors 3:1 with negative so you can see our week was tough). So after checking her score she headed back out on her bike and approached yet another group of teens. Those of you who know Haley have your mouths gaping open at this point. This group was a mixed group of boys and girls. She said hello and introduced herself but didn’t get much of a response. But it got her the points she needed and she came home and announced she would need 5 hours with no people and to call her when dinner was ready. Good job, Haley. So proud.
Zoe is the social one so she usually goes to the park daily to see who might be there, but she still had not yet hit her stride with making friends. Her singing teacher is a 3rd grade teacher at a local American school and she knows a lot of kids in this neighborhood from her piano and singing lessons. So on Wednesday she introduced Zoe to another 9-year old and they arranged to meet at the park yesterday at 4:30. They met up and played for awhile and the girl introduced Zoe to a few other kids at the park before she had to go. Zoe ended up playing with those kids for awhile, then was introduced to some other kids, who then played with another set and pretty soon it was 7 p.m., dark and Zoe stumbled in to the house sweaty and starving and disheveled but having made about 20 new friends. Zoe earned her weekend treats too.
So sometimes you have to resort to unconventional methods of putting yourself “out there” but there are no rules, you just make it up as you go. And now there will be moderate sugar consumption for 2 days in celebration.