Adjust Your Program to Changing Circumstances (continued)
A variation on this sort of change arises during longer alterations in your routine, most commonly with the arrival of school breaks.
Adapt your program to vacation behaviors
Many parents choose to continue their programs through vacation times with suitable modifications to support their overall goal of teaching responsible behavior. If you choose to follow suit, you might reduce expectations just as you may expect less of yourself during vacations. Even then you can maintain focus on the larger picture, supporting your child’s maturation as a responsible person. Review your overall program and then continue suitable items, adding others to fit your routine and your expectations during vacation periods. Assure that your items cover behaviors of interest and are all realistic, positive, and clear, and then assign credits accordingly.
Families who take long vacation trips face special challenges with which your program can be helpful. While such trips typically start filled with anticipation and excitement, the tedium of long hours of restricted activities during travel tends to take its toll. To counter this, bring along suitable activities, books, and games for the children. Where possible, schedule stops to stretch and play along the way, preferably with activities that burn off energy pent up during the long ride. In addition, define age-appropriate target behaviors that will support a pleasant trip. For example:
Lakota (seven years old), you are successful when you draw a picture of something special you see during the day’s travel.
Anoki (nine years old), you are successful when you write a half-page description of something special you see during the day.
Awarding credits for completion of such activities benefits children directly, by keeping them busy and by focusing them on what they see along the way.
Consistent with the goal of teaching responsible behavior, you could also include a few items identifying age-appropriate chores so that they each child contributes to family life. For example:
Lakota, you are successful when you carry your toy case into the motel.
Anoki, you are successful when you have your book bag packed and ready to take to the car before we leave for breakfast each day.
Whether you continue the program during vacation periods, though, remains your choice. There is not a right or wrong answer in this matter, but there are opportunities to further your goals if you so choose.
Note that while I focused here on the universal of school vacation, the same concepts apply equally well to any other extended period during which your family might benefit from a modification in your program.
How to take a recess from your program
Parts of your program likely will not apply when school is out. You may choose simply to take a recess from the program. This approach may present no problem as long as you reinstate it when school resumes. Unfortunately, there are several potential risks to this choice. Your child likely has gotten used to and comfortable with the routine of the program and also is surely focused on a specific reward. If you just suddenly stop the program, the child will feel as if earned credits are really bogus, much as we might if our money suddenly was declared unspendable. Even though you know you will resume the program in a few months, your child, facing a summer of freedom from school, will not want to anticipate the arrival of fall and the end of vacation in order to enjoy benefits of already completed efforts.
To avoid such disappointment, anticipate changes in your routine and prepare suitable modifications. Tell your child what to expect and when to expect it. Also track closely what reward the child is working toward to assure that the chosen goal can be reached by the time you suspend the program. Since it is unlikely that the reward will be earned exactly when you want to stop for vacation, plan ways your child can get to the reward even if it isn’t reached by then. For example, you could continue an item or two with enough credits to allow earning the reward. Or you could add a few items specific to vacation just to reach the goal. For instance, if there are a few chores that you might want done one time only, you could offer credits for their completion. Be generous in this regard to assure your child feels good about the program and does not feel cheated by its suspension. This will also help set the stage for when you are ready to resume it in the fall.
As the vacation winds down and resumption of the program nears, plan the steps necessary to restart your program. Decide which target behaviors to include on the chart and which rewards to offer, considering your child’s preferences. Reviewing the basics of the program will provide a good guide to this process. Be prepared to start back a few steps from the previous level, since it could take a while for your child to reach the prior levels of performance on any items that you carry over from the earlier program.