When David was nine and Laura was twelve, the battles started.
Prior to that, they got along great. Laura was always protective of her little brother, and he in turn, doted on her.
Perhaps it was about needing space, asserting independence…whatever the reason, it drove my husband and I crazy. It would start over the tiniest of excuses. One minute the house would be quiet, and the next they'd be shouting at one another.
"Mom, Laura won't give my CD back!"
"It's not yours. It's mine!"
"No it isn't. I got it for Christmas!"
"No you didn't. I did!"
And on and on it would go. Until, finally, one of us would have to intervene. And there would be a truce…sort of. At least until the next blowup.
We hated the atmosphere of tension that would invariably follow these exchanges. Our once happy home was being turned into a war zone, and it felt like there were land mines scattered beneath our feet.
One night, in desperation, we had a conference. We called the kids into the living room and told them how upsetting their behavior was. We asked them for suggestions on how we could restore peace and serenity back into the family.
Off to their rooms
Well, we didn't resolve anything on the spot. We sent them to their rooms with instructions to each come up with a half dozen appropriate consequences that we could impose the next time they had a fight.
The following day we were presented with a list of consequences from each. Some even looked pretty good. Examples: Clean the other person's room; Do dishes for the other person; Make the other person's bed for a week; Lend your favorite CD or game to the other person for a week; Make a list of 10 good things about the other person; Hug and make up….
We decided to arrange the consequences around the perimeter of a board, and then we attached a spinner in the middle. When you gave it a spin, the spinner would eventually stop and point to one of the consequences. Then we hung the board up in the kitchen, in plain sight. We crossed our fingers, and waited.
It was amazing. Just the presence of the board, hanging on our kitchen wall, had an instant calming effect on the atmosphere in our home. Occasionally we'd see one of the kids standing in front of the board, idly flicking the spinner, checking it out. But the fighting had stopped.
Well not forever. It took about ten days before they forgot about the board and peace was shattered by another battle.
We were ready.
We called them both into the kitchen, took the board down off the wall, and placed it on the table. They knew what they had to do. How could they refuse? They chose the consequences. They practically invented the board. It landed on the most dreaded consequence of all: Hug and make up!
The tension was broken as they awkwardly gave each other a hug, mumbling apologies. We all had a good laugh, and life resumed.
Maybe we're on to something
Wow, we thought days later when there'd been no further skirmishes…if this thing works so well for arguing, what about some of the other issues that we seemed to be always struggling with. Wasting electricity, for example. It seemed like the kids were always leaving the lights on when they left a room. Or they'd leave the TV on when they went to bed. Or they'd take half hour showers. Why not make another wheel with consequences related to wasting electricity?
Well, eventually and inevitably, we ended up making consequences to cover seven different issues, or themes. Excessive Arguing was joined by A Job Poorly Done, Leaving the Lights On, Stretching the Truth, Taking Without Asking, Talking Back, and Not Putting Things Back.
And then, because we felt that extra good behavior should be recognized, we added another theme called Just Desserts, consisting of rewards.
We called it The Better Behavior Wheel.
It has worked beyond our wildest expectations.
In the past we'd often let behavior slide.
"David…it's 8:30. Get the dishes done."
"I know." From downstairs where he's watching TV.
"David. It's 9:00. Get these dishes done right now!"
Until we'd get angry. And then the consequences would end up being out of proportion to the infraction. And blood pressure would rise, and anger would reign.
"DAVID…GET YOUR BUTT UP HERE RIGHT THIS MINUTE AND GET THOSE DISHES DONE, AND YOU CAN FORGET ABOUT GOING CAMPING THIS WEEKEND!!!"
But with the wheel…
"David…it's 8:15…you haven't started the dishes yet. I'm afraid we'll have to spin the wheel."
"I'm sorry, Dear. It's really not up to me. Those are the rules we all agreed on. Gee, I hope you don't land on a really bad consequence."
The amazing thing is…we're no longer the bad guys. We can actually root for the kids as they drag themselves up to the wheel. It's no longer an us against them issue. It's the wheel that they have to answer to.
But the greatest thing of all…we hardly ever have to use the wheel. It hangs on the kitchen wall, acting as a watchdog and reminder. It's mere presence has worked miracles.
We want one too
After sharing our experience with our friends, and demonstrating the wheel to them, we have received widespread encouragement to make them on a commercial basis. Ultimately we thought, why not? It's a great product. We know it works. If it can help others the way it has helped us, it almost seemed a shame not to make them.
We even made a Virtual Wheel - a download version that can be played on the computer. (This is my husband's favorite because he spent so many sleepless nights working on it.)
It's been four years since we had to send them to their rooms, but David and Laura get along great these days. They've both turned into wonderful teens, and we'd like to think that the Wheel shares a huge portion of the credit for that.
A mother of 4 kids from Eugene, Oregon, Julie Butler now lives in central British Columbia, and can be reached at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website is http://www.better-behavior.com/
Submitted by: Julie Butler *
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