Several of JT's pre-school years featured various systems of positive reinforcement. If he had a good day at school, he'd earn a sticker. Bad days meant no sticker. When he accumulated a set number of stickers he'd earn an additional prize.
With lightening quick speed, my boy quickly figured out how to game the system. Any time positive reinforcement was on the table, JT responded like the true competitive champion he was bred to be, behaving himself in order to win the prize. His behavior always improved when a reward option presented itself.
At the ripe old age of 9, there aren't many sticker rewards on the table these days. 9 year olds are expected to behave themselves because that's the right thing to do. It is perhaps the appropriate system for 3rd graders, but it means less prizes, which JT finds disappointing. His report card came home on Tuesday and his teacher noted that he sometimes has a difficult time listening (no surprise there: given the opportunity, the boy goes for the easy joke lay-up). He's funny and he knows that he's funny; sometimes he feels the need to share.
On Tuesday evening, we talked about the good parts of his report card and then I pointed out the need to improve his listening skills (e.g., shut your mouth). And then my boy, canny to the opportunity to get a little reward system going, proposed a plan:
"Every time I keep a smarty-pants remark to myself, I'll make a mark in my notebook, and when I get 30 marks, you can give me a treat," he proposed.
"And what would that treat be?" I asked, probing for the meat of this 9 year old plan.
"Well, you could take me out to supper," he said, generously adding, "you can pick the restaurant."
Having learned the old Ronald Reagan adage, "trust but verify," I suggested we look to his teacher Mrs. W for confirmation of his improved behavior. JT dodged and weaved, trying to get me to accept self-reporting, but finally agreed that Mrs. W could serve as our version of the IAEA. I accepted the proposal.
And I expect that the next few weeks of school will bring a focused and quieter JT; one carefully considering just how many good reports he'll need to win the prize. And he will win the prize, of that there is no doubt.