Last week was rough. The first three days of the week felt like they were spent arguing over how many pages he had to do in his workbook, how he was sitting on his chair, how he wouldn't stop fidgeting...
On Wednesday afternoon we had a meltdown that ended in me saying something along the lines of: "You have two options - you can learn by yourself or you can learn with me in a happy and enjoyable way, but I will not spend my life days* fighting with you." I then got up and started for the door. He insisted that he needed my help to finish his work (he didn't really), so I told him that if he couldn't do it on his own, not to, and that I was done for the day because I didn't want to sour our learning with a bad mood.
*As an agnostic (theist on some days, atheist on others), I tell my son that I do not know the answers to what happens after we die. We talk about what different people believe, and religions of the world are a very important part of our History studies. Something that I live by and try to teach my son by example and in conversation, is that one must consider time in every action, exchange and investment. Is what you are doing right now part of how you want to spend your life days, or lifetime? We don't know what will happen tomorrow, we only have right now, this moment. I definitely don't want to spend my days fighting, arguing or feeling cross. (My husband is with me all the way on this one.) I simply won't do it. Fighting is so often the inability to accept change. If you just let go and flow with the constantly changing world around you, and learn to appreciate the beauty of cycles, it's all OK. If there is something I truly believe in, it is this. My son knew I wasn't joking. We either have a good time together, or he does it on his own.
So I left him working on his own and came to the screen for some comfort. First thing I ran into was a blog that I bookmarked at the start of our homeschooling journey, and probably hadn't looked at it since. It was a Christian mother talking about how she punishes with chores. She has these little cards that she hands out to her kids for "bad behavior" - I hate the combination of those two words. The cards have little pictures of washing dishes, taking out the trash, folding the laundry, and even helping with dinner. It sent shivers up my spine.
It did get me thinking. What leverage do I have? My son doesn't have a toy or a TV time that he's attached to. I'm not going to sit him in the corner - what a waste of time. I'm not going to make chores a punishment when he does chores daily out a sense of community and wanting to be helpful. And then it occurred to me. The swimming pool! There's a pool that we sometimes go to in a neighboring town. They do a Sunday barbecue, it's a great time. We can't really afford going more than once every two weeks, and usually don't make it that often. So I came to this - I give him ten points at the start of each day, take a point off every time he makes me repeat myself about how to sit on a chair for instance, record the points at the end of each day and when he gets to 100 points, we go to the pool. I like going too, so that keeps me in check about not going point-taking crazy. When he does really well (which is most of the time) we will be going to the pool more often than we have been.
My son, though thoughtful and caring for the most part, doesn't tend to dwell on what other people are feeling (I think it's a good thing). But after my speech, he was rattled. A little while later, he tip-toed in and whispered "I'm sorry". That was followed by a big hug and a happy chat about how we do have such a good time most of the time. I told him about the point system and asked him what he thought about it. He loved it - he's funny like that. It represents a challenge, and he likes challenges.
Thursday and Friday went very well. He lost one point on Thursday for irrational arguing, but got an extra point on Friday for good handwriting all day. What I like the most is that I just have to say "you'll lose a point if I have to say it again" and avoid the dreaded going-on-and-on-about-the-same-thing drama. Prizes instead of punishments, that's how it should be.