My five year-old son has been having behavior issues at school. To encourage him to improve, I promised to take him out to a movie whenever he had a full week of "greens" on the behavior chart his teacher sends home. At the time, he was getting 3 or 4 greens a week. Now, a couple months later, he is averaging only around one per week.

Obviously, the technique isn't working. It motivates him at home in the evenings. He often says excitedly, "I'm going to be good at school tomorrow so I can see the movie!" However, at school it isn't making any difference. I'm not sure it's within his capabilities at the moment. I thought it would result in postponing movies for two or three weeks, not in never being able to see a movie with him at all, so I want to back out of the deal.

I'm not sure how to go about it without undermining my credibility, though. I don't want him to think he can just hold out until the standards are lowered. I believe this is an exceptional circumstance, and intend to be more careful about setting standards in the future. Any thoughts?

Edit: Judging from some answers, I suppose I should mention that we also do daily consequences depending on what he did. For example, extra homework from the lesson he wasn't paying attention to. We also praise him daily when he does a good job. I consider that a separate issue from the five in a row requirement, which was intended to address his inconsistency.

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    You know he is capable of 3-4 greens, so rather than 'backing out' maybe re-evaluate the requirement. Tell him for a few weeks you'll make it a bit easier at 3 greens a week. Then you can try 4. – DA01 Jan 4 '13 at 21:16

I don't think you're necessarily "backing out", or have to worry about him feeling he can just hold out until standards are lowered.

You can simply say "this isn't working, since you aren't getting full weeks of 'greens'. Let's think of something else. We can still go to movies sometimes, when we all agree to go, but it won't be as often as if you were getting all 'greens' each week."

Then follow through by coming up with another system, that has a slightly less ambitious goal as the desired outcome (since you're not sure the current goal is within his capabilities). Whether you want to continue with the reward model is up to you, but if you do offer an incentive, make it something other than movies (and something that is still desirable, but slightly less attractive than movies every week, if possible).

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    +1. If you play it right, "backing out" can be turned into a win when "This isn't working" becomes a lesson of observation and reconsideration. One thing I've learned on this site: ask the child, "What do *you* think would help you behave more?" – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jan 4 '13 at 20:23
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    Combining both of these, "This isn't working, what do you think will work better" is definitely the way to go here! I'd suggest staying away from a direct reward system altogether personally, but Beofett is absolutely correct when he suggests to be careful about not creating a situation that looks like he just got out of the requirement and not to just start going to the movies a lot either. Your kid might surprise you with some ideas that will work really well though. Great team-work! – balanced mama Jan 4 '13 at 22:30

A problem with having an all-or-nothing reward (5/5 required) is that once he fails on one day there is no longer any incentive for the whole week. You want to be able to play the "you can still turn it around" card. One way to get around it is to have a medium level reward and a high level reward for the week. As others have mentioned it can be helpful to come up with a "menu" of rewards for both levels that includes input from the child

Secondly, I think it is hard for many 5 yr olds to really anticipate a reward that is several days out in the future. You can offer a daily reward that is much closer to the actual events of the day- for example earn playing a video game on your phone on the ride home from school. If you do this make sure the teacher knows the reward so she can use it as an incentive.

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There's no need to back out in any special way. The strategy isn't working, so just discontinue it. I would also not replace it with another attempt at bribery. Instead, maybe you could consider taking away privileges when he misbehaves. If he doesn't get a green on a particular day, he might lose privileges (or a subset) for just the rest of that day.

I'm guessing, from the way his performance actually degraded after the institution of the bribe strategy, that he is actively resisting you. I recommend the book Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach, by Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley, for non-confrontational strategies in dealing with this sort of behavior.

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