Saturday, March 19, 2011

New Camera, New Photos

A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided that it was time for me to invest in a brand new DSLR camera. I had one, but it was 2nd hand, and I was never real comfortable with it. The camera arrived last week, and today, I got out of the house in this gorgeous Spring weather with Raegan to test it out.

I picked out the Sony A33, which I got with a 50mm portrait lens, and a 75-300mm zoom lens. I also was spoiled this week- I got new filters, a tripod, a spare battery, and a remote in the mail, courtesy of my loving hubby.

I -love- this camera. My main complaints: the battery SUCKS. It drains super fast, so I'm glad I have a spare, because if I have a big shoot, I'll need it. Next, a 2gig memory card is eaten up in no time at all. Now granted, I am currently set to take photos in both JPG and RAW, but still, I only get a little less than 100 photos before it's gone.

All that said, I am in love.  Here are some photos I took today of Raegan, who will be 15 next month.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Point System Details

A few people have mentioned wanting to try a system like I've talked about, and while I did share some details, I wasn't really all that detailed in my description. I thought I would share the particulars with those who are interested.

First and foremost, the point system works on pointing out things that kids do that are both positive, and negative. You can tailor it to help work on specific behaviors- whether encouraging specific behavior, or discouraging specific behavior. It was introduced to us through our youngest daughter's school. She has Asperger's Syndrome, and the school finds that this system works better with kids who need more social and behavioral guidance than the majority of the school.

First thing you really want to do, is start a list of behavior- both good and bad. With us, we had fighting kids, screaming kids, chore avoidance, etc. We listed what we wanted to stop- the negative behavior. Then we listed what we wanted to see- doing chores without repeated remindings, helping each other out, talking instead of screaming, etc.
Once we had our list of things we wanted to stop seeing, and the things we wanted to start seeing, we had a good idea of what the worst problems were in the house. Some things we listed, I hadn't even realized were happening as much as they were until we thought about it- it helps if both parents are involved in this process, as some things may bother one parent more than the other.
After I had a list of behavior, I had to set the rules. Would a single infraction cost them a point? Or did they get a warning first? If so, how many warnings? We decided that 1 warning was sufficient. If you see the kids doing something from the negative list, you give them a warning- "Please don't do that," "Please stop", etc.
One of the main reasons we realized we needed a change, was because we found that in response to the kids, we were often resorting to screaming ourselves just to be heard over the kids, or to get them to listen. And really, who wants to spend their evenings screaming?
So, to that point, we decided that we would not scream if we saw negative behavior. If the kids opted not to listen to the warning, then we would tell them that they lost a point. If the behavior continues (and we've only had 1 instance where it has), we take the child aside and ask them to either calm down, or take a bedroom time out, on their own.
I also think it's important not to label the behavior as "bad", because all too often, the kids then think that because what they are doing is "bad", they must be bad as well.  So, for that, I label the behavior negative and positive, since those two words don't carry the recognition that "bad" or "good" carry.

Once we decided on the warnings, I had to decide on the points. Gillian's school does a max of 25 each day. I thought it might be better to start smaller, so we have a max of 10. We start the children right in the middle, at 5 points each. From there, they earn or lose points based on their behavior and actions of the day.
I did have a few rules when it comes to points:
  1. You can not lose points from prior days- if you earned 10 points yesterday, they are yours to keep, regardless of what happened today.
  2. Points are awarded or lost 1 at a time, unless it's an extreme instance, but never more than 2 are removed at a time. This is for us as much as for them- it prevents us from totally losing our own cool, and removing all of their points over something in the heat of the moment.
  3. You can not go into negative points. IE: if you have 1 point and lose it, you can't lose anymore that day unless you earn them first. That isn't to say we might not be disappointed if negative behavior continues, though.
  4. Points can only be "spent" once a week, on the weekends.
  5. Each child is in charge of their chart. While we keep track of the points each day, they are in charge of writing their points down at the end of the evening.
  6. Points that are not written down the day before are gone. We did help them out the first week, but we are trying to teach them to be responsible for their own points. Last night was the first night I did not record the points for the kids who forgot, and as a result, Chris and Raegan did not receive any points.
These rules are in place to help the kids realize that their actions have rewards and consequences, but also help them learn that they can't be punished yesterday for something that happened today (IE: removing yesterdays points because of something they did today).
Once we had some footing on what the points rules would be, we had to come up with a value- what are they worth? What is the "point" of collecting them? Without a purpose, then what are the kids trying to do better for?
I started thinking small. Gillian asks every now and then if she can get a shake from McDonalds, and I thought that might be a great place to start. Below is my list of rewards- they may change over time, but I thought overall, they fit good with our kids.

25 points- A small shake from McDonalds40 points- $5.0075 points- A movie ticket75 points- $10.00100 points- dinner out with a parent of your choice, at the location of your choice.

While there are some items on the list, I felt that the cash rewards would help with anything else the kids may want to get. I also encourage them to save their points up longer for bigger items. Raegan is saving up to get 2 movie tickets, so she can take a friend to the movies. Chris is saving up for cash for a new video game. Gillian isn't sure yet what she wants.
One important thing to keep in mind, is that point rewarding or taking away should happen while the kids are doing whatever it is that is giving or taking points away. If you want to reinforce the positive, and not encourage the negative, you have to address it while it is happening. If you wait until later, they might not fully realize the significance of the removal or rewarding.
Once Nick and I talked back and forth, changed some things, and fully agreed on the new system, we called a family meeting. We don't often have full, sit down, family meetings, so it was a bit unusual to them.
We discussed each point, and listened to the kids when they made suggestions, or asked questions.
I stressed that some specific things would not effect points. Mostly, grades. We also stressed that while some chore aspects are listed on the positive/negative list, they were not being rewarded for doing the chores specifically.
We agreed that chores needed to be done by a set time- 6pm on school days, noon on days off. That was more to address the overall slacking all 3 kids had gotten into the habit of, more so than doing the chores themselves. I have been awarding points since then if they do get the chores done before 6pm, which wasn't on the list, but I think will remain.
We also stressed that if we saw behavior, positive or negative, that was not on the list, we were still able to reward or remove based on that. The list was made to give them each a general idea of what changes we wanted to see, but that it's also there to help make a larger positive change in the whole family.
Here's a list of the specifics in our family that we wanted to change.
  • Being respectful towards your siblings
  • picking up after yourself
  • helping without being asked
  • helping your siblings when they want help
  • listening to your parents or siblnings
  • behaving in an appropriate manner
  • going to bed good on school nights.
  • Stomping through the house when angry
  • Running through the house (Chris and Gilly generally run full speed ahead when moving from room to room)
  • Screaming instead of using your words
  • Threatening physical violence
  • Being violent- hitting, kicking, chasing in anger, etc
  • Bossing people around
  • Interuptting or not listening when a parent or sibling talks
  • Not finishing your chores before 6pm on school nights, and noon on non-school days
  • Being disrespectful to a parent or sibling
  • Worrying about sibling chore status, game time, etc. Worry about your own actions.
  • Not going to bed on school nights.
With several of those, the behavior has improved dramatically. Here are some of the specific problems we have with each child.
  • Threatening physical violence. When angry, her first response is "Can I hit/kick/kill/stab him/her?" She obviously knows the answer is no, but it was something we hated hearing, and hated having her say. SInce we started, I think I've only heard it once.
  • Stomping when angry- well, she IS almost 15. It has lessened.
  • Not finishing your chores- She was REALLY bad about this, and had many nights where she only started her chores at 10. She has improved greatly, and is usually working on them within minutes of arriving home now.
Chris - Chris is not yet diagnosed with Aspergers, but we are almost certain he IS an aspie, which creates some challenges in and of itself.
  • Running through the house- this has gotten better, but we do still have to remind him.
  • Screaming when angry- he usually goes from trying to talk to all out melting down and screaming when he's upset. He has gotten better, though it does occasionally happen still.
  • Bossing people around- he is very bad about telling everyone else what to do. This has improved greatly, as well.
  • Interupting or not listening- this is a big one with him and Gillian both. When he doesn't want to listen, he refuses to acknowledge someone at all, usually Gillian. It causes her to scream- but it's the exact opposite when HE wants to say something and SHE doesn't want to listen- he starts to melt down. This has improved quite a bit as well.
  • Not going to bed good- we still have times when he does not go to sleep when it's bed time. Not as bad, but we're still working on it.
  • Being violent- he hits Gillian out of anger a lot. It usually isn't hard, but he does do it purposely, and with her penchant for over reaction, it causes a global meltdown on both sides.
  • Worrying about time- He used to constantly monitor whether or not the girls had finished their chores, and if they had, did they spend 2 minutes too long playing on the computer, or watching TV? It was a 4 times a day argument. Now, it happens every now and then, but not often.
  • Running through the house- it's improved
  • Screaming- the same as with Chris- she has a lot of impulse control issues, so she tends to way over react and scream over little things, but it is getting better.
  • Interrupting or not listening- ditto to Chris. Same exact thing- she'll either purposely ignore him until he melts down, or she'll melt down because he's ignoring what she's saying. Both kids have a big problem just jumping in and interrupting what other people are talking about. It's improved.
  • Not finishing your chores- Gillian had a big problem with starting a chore, then drifting away- it was hard to keep track of whether or not she had actually finished the chores she was supposed to do, and more often than not, she didn't do them at all. She does still need some prodding along through the afternoon, but she is much more motivated to finish them.
  • Being disrespectful- Gillian loves to be funny. She has a decent sense of humor. However, she doesn't always know when to stop, or where to draw the line on what is funny, and what is rude. She is improving on this as well.

Over all, the kids are doing much better, and I find that Nick and I have to scream a LOT less- the only time we raise our voices is if they are upstairs and we need to get their attention.
I've also found that while they have improved in a lot of areas, I think a lot of it comes more from seeing it on the list, as a lot of the above behavior are things we have not had to address hardly at all. In fact, some things I hadn't even realized they stopped doing- running, bossing people around, worrying about time management, etc.

It is still fairly early in the game. The kids have been doing their current chart for 11 days. However, I am pleased with the change in the kids. It's been a fairly positive change compared to what we normally see around here.
I also made up charts- I just made up a 4 column table in a word document. In the first column, it has DATE, with the dates listed under it. In the second column, it has POINTS, and they write down their points. The Third is another DATE and the fourth is another POINTS column. They each have a sheet dated from 3-6 up through 4-2. There is space under the table to write down any point purchases, so we can 'deduct' those points from their point 'accounts'. Similar to a bank, I suppose.
Well... that's really all I can think of on details for it, but if you have ANY questions, please feel free to ask!!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Kids, points, and the first week

Overall, the week has gone fairly well. The past few days have gone pretty much the same as the few before it, so I won't break it down by day.

The kids are staying fairly consistant with points- the really are trying to behave better so they do not lose points, but they really are not stepping up to do things that can earn them extra points, either. I hope that in time, i will see them doing things like picking up after themselves, and helping each other.

This week, or federal taxes came back, after frustration and delays. I am so glad to have it back, though it really only went towards catching up bills, and doing a tad bit of splurging.

I have also been spending time getting hair things made. On the 26th, my friend C and I have a vendors booth rented out at a Mom 2 Mom sale. We are hoping it will bring a lot of sales, as we have some neat items waiting, like tutus, flowers, headbands, bows, and more, and all at nice, low prices.

I am also planning our summer vacation. I got my husband to settle on a date, because for the first time, he will be joining us for the entire vacation, short though it may be. With his work schedule, he rarely likes to take time off all at once, let alone most of a week, but i convinced him to this time.

We settled on going to Mackinaw City. I took the kids up there two summers ago all alone, and loved the area, but the stress of having two high maintance kids and a newly minted teenager was a bit much to do alone. This year, we made a few changes- no tent, instead, we ar renting a cabin at a camp ground. Small, but with 4 beds, a table inside, a mini fridge, and a microwave even.

Last time, i was all for campfire cooking, but that campground does not have actual fire pits. Instead, they have tiny, dinner pplate sized fire "pans" to build your fire in. Makes for a tiny, very hard to build and keep goiing fire. I made a lot of sandwiches last time.

Now that we have dates in mind, and know where we are going and what we are going to be doing, i am able to start the hard part- budgetting and saving money.

All of the money from my mom 2 mom sale will br going towards this. All of my online earnings (or, ehat i don't use to buy more supplies) is also being funneled into the savings. I also started a change jar. At the end of the day, all change or $1 bills in my purse and pockets goes into the jar. I did have about $12 in change built up from just tossing it in a cup on my bedside table, but now that i am actively saving, i have just about $40 saved up.

I figured with a generous gas budget and food budget, plus entry fees, campground fees, and spending money, we can do it with about $800. I know that seems high, but that allows us to do a lot of tourist things- going to the isle alone will cost just about $80, plus a $65 family pass to the various historical parks.

And last but not leat... I got a brand new DSLR camera- i love it! It gives me more confidance in my portraits, which is another source of income. Plus, yesterday, Nick surprised me by picking up an extra battery, a set of filters, a tripod, and a remote to take photos with while being in them. My goal is to do our first ever full family portrait hhis summer when we are in Mackinaw City. I want to do some with the bridge in the bwckground. I think thwt will make for some fun portraits.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Day 2: Behavior Points & Chores

Today was a bit more rough than yesterday, though it was still fairly tame all things considered. Overall, though, I do like the point system.
Some quick background- I have insomnia. My particular type means that I can't fall asleep easily. Once I'm asleep, I'll remain asleep until my body is ready to wake up, but it usually means catching up on sleep during the day. It usually works out that once or twice a week, I'm napping when the kids get home- they're used to this, and old enough not to need direct supervision.
Today was just such a day. I was woken up by Chris fighting with Gillian. I asked them to stop as I tried waking up, but Chris was having a stubborn moment, and as such, was not really ready to listen to me.
After hearing him nag at Gillian for another few minutes more (due to whether or not she was actively doing her chores- this is something on our list of things we want to correct, as he spends a LOT of time, energy, and our patience in worrying about what the girls are doing), I finally told him he lost a point. He settled down shortly after that as I got out of bed.
I was surprised to see all 3 kids working at their chores, though, when I woke up. Chris was done, though to be honest, not really done. I've got him finishing up right now, as he had to do a load of laundry (all 3 kids know how to do laundry now, and it is on their chores, twice a week they each are responsible for doing their own laundry).
Raegan did her dishes fairly fast, and she also had to dry & put them away (every other day of the week, it falls so that 1 kid does the washing, and 1 kid does the drying and putting away, but there are only 2 kids doing dishes, and 3 doing the putting away, so it landed with Rae doing both today). On top of that, it was also her chore to clean off the counters- throw stuff away, put stuff away, and wash them off.
It's become habit in our house to ignore one entire corner of the kitchen counter. We have an L shaped counter, and the corner area is home to the coffee pot, can opener, coffee cans, container of utensils (spatulas, slotted spoons, etc), and the dish strainer. Unfortunatly, stuff gets shoved back there, and left. Every time.
It irks me, because it makes the entire kitchen look horrible, and yet, no one ever just picks stuff up. Even my husband ALWAYS leaves the griddle sitting there (we use it maybe once every 2 weeks). So while we were making dinner, I had Raegan come back out, and start that area.
It upset her, but it IS a chore that needs to be done, and if it's done several times a week, the "stuff" won't build up back there.
So, neither Chris nor Rae finished on time tonight, and with both of them, it was because they "forgot" to do part of their chores. Both "forgotten" parts are things they always "forget" so they don't have to do them. But, I am trying to get them all to be more responsible in their jobs around the house, including doing their chores completely.
Here's hoping!
So far, Chris is at 4 points, Gillian is at 6, and Rae is at 5, though she may lose one if she doesn't finish her chore tonight. I had told her when I first noticed it that I wouldn't hold it against her if she got it done. That was an hour ago- since then, she has taken over 45 minutes to eat a bowl of spaghetti, so she can avoid doing it. It's her evasive maneuver. Avoid notice by being out of site, or claim she is still eating so she can't be asked to do it. I told her at the start of this post that she had 5 minutes, which by now, were up 3 minutes ago.

Day 1: Behavior Points & Chores

Well, yesterday was Day 1 on the new Behavior Point Chart. To coincide with it, we also modified the chore chart to add in things that don't get done, and take off things that didn't need to be done as often as they were. Last summer, Chris went to Florida with my FIL for most of the summer, and that was the last time I re-did the chart. Chris didn't have assigned chores, we just found things for him to do. Now, they are all on the chart.

Overall, it went good. Raegan did try to sneak off and hide in her room, under the guise of changing out of jeans into sweats. After calling her down 2 separate times over a 25 minute period, she finally came back down.

Gillian did her chores, though she wound up doing some wrong ones, and having to do extra to do her assigned ones.

Chris did all of his without dragging his feet, or getting upset.

I did not have to take any points away at all yesterday- the kids did not fight even once, which is a miracle in and of itself.

In the end, Gillian earned 3 points, and Chris & Rae each earned 2, so they are at 8 & 7 for the day. Not bad for day 1!

Here's hoping the following days go as smoothly.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Behavior, Rewards, and Life with 3 Kids

As many of you know, I have 3 kids. Two of them are... trying, to say the least. Very least. Gillian is the baby at 9, and was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome this past fall. Stubborn, argumentative, and easily frustrated. Chris is 12, and while undiagnosed, has the exact same 'symptoms' as Gillian, only far more... pronounced. Highly argumentative, hyper, stubborn, and... well... he could try the patience of a saint. Raegan is our 'normal' kid, but normal only goes as far as normal is for an almost 15-year-old freshman.
Mix all 3 together, and Nick and I spend the better part of the evening asking why chores are not done, asking/yelling at kids to stop running/screaming/fighting/threatening/being rude/etc to one another. Seriously- we could probably set a clock to how often we are up and after the kids.
Last week, I was talking with a friend about their behavior. We've tried allowances, punishments, rewards, etc. Nothing works. Then it dawned on me that when Gilly was diagnosed, her school approached her behavior differently.  IE: Her class as a whole each have sticks. The sticks start off in the GREEN slot. If the student does something wrong, or bad (usually it's more than once), they are asked to move their sticks to YELLOW. If the behavior continues, it moves to RED. There is no redeeming once it's been moved- you are on yellow or red for the rest of the day.
In Aspie's, they've found that the system used is more of a melt down trigger, than a tool to aid in correcting the behavior.  As soon as Gilly was diagnosed, they moved her to a sliding scale point system.
Each day, she starts off with 10 points on a slide ruler. Through out the day, her actions can earn or take points away. For instance, if she's not paying attention, and is fiddling in her desk instead of working on math homework, she may be asked to take a point away. But, 10 minutes later, if she's helping her neighbor do the work, because she's already done, she might be told to add 1 or even 2 points. Her point scale is 0-25, meaning she can earn up to 25, or as few as 0 in a single day. Points earned for the day are her points to keep- they won't take today's points away tomorrow.
At the end of the day, she writes down her point total. Then, at the end of the week on Friday, she can go to the break room (which is a sensory room for kids who need sensory help- aspergers, autistic, etc), and can spend her points in a shop there. One time, she saved up her points for several weeks, until she had enough to purchase a private pizza party. For that, she spent "$20" in points, and got to invite a friend to eat lunch with her, where a pizza was brought in for her, soda.
When I realized how well that system has worked for her in school, I started considering how it might work here in the house. The point of the system is to not just point out the problem areas, but to reward the children in the areas they do well at. It helps them learn to correct the more impulsive behavior that leads to the most outbursts.
After talking with Nick, and drawing up a few 'plans', I finally settled on one that I hope will work here in the house.
The long and short of it, is that the kids start the day with 5 points, and can earn up to a total of 10 at the end of the day. They can't go into negative numbers, and once their numbers are banked at the end of the day, they can't lose their banked points.
I also came up with a rewards sheet that I think worked well with things the kids ask for the most often, with some small rewards that are easily obtainable in a single week, and some larger ones that will take longer than a week to save for.
Here's the rewards list:
25 Points- A small shake
40 Points- $5.00
75 Points- A movie ticket OR $10.00
100 Points- Dinner out with a parent of your choice, at the restaurant of your choice
I considered adding other small things in, but I felt that the dollar values will cover anything not listed. But the items listed- a shake, movie, or dinner out are things that the kids look at as treats that we rarely do. The shake is a small amount, and even if the week isn't a smooth one, it's something that they can earn in a single week.
If they have a perfect week, which I don't think will happen any time soon, they come out at 70 points, so just shy of $10 or a movie ticket.
I hope that in adding in things that take longer, the kids will start to 'bank' their points for bigger rewards, which helps teach them about saving instead of spending.
I also outlined samples of behavior that will either earn them points, or have points taken away.
For instance, doing their chores will not earn them points, because it's part of their job. However, I did add in a time frame in which to complete their chores after school. Currently, I have to remind the kids, call after them, and get right on them to get them even started, and for the most part, they don't finish them before 7pm, and only then because Nick is home and gets on their cases.
I also added in things like being respectful to one another, not bossing each other around, going to bed on time on school nights, helping out without being asked, picking up after your own messes, etc.
I did stress that if someone has to ask them to do something, then it isn't the same as just doing it. I also stressed that points are awarded or removed based on behavior noticed- ie: if Gilly says Chris did this, but we can't prove it happened, we likely won't be taking points away. Exaggerating is something both Chris and Gilly do a LOT of.
Over-reacting is another. Aspie kids tend to work on perception.  Chris might brush against her as he walks past, but in her mind, he pushed her, and did it on purpose. This is something that we can't stop from happening- we can't tell her how to perceive things. But, we can help her adjust how she reacts to those perceptions.
I really hope this works. We sat the kids down and explained the entire system to the kids, answered all their questions, and explained that we hope that by giving them reminders about bad behavior, and point rewards for good behavior, that it will help shape the way they act & react in the long run, making it a much smoother household, with less fighting, and out of control behavior.
Fingers crossed, hope it works!
I did also point out that while they are free to spend their points however they wish, we would be going on vacation in June, and it might be in their best interests to save some points up towards money for souviener shopping.
I can already tell, though, that Chris will cash out for cash, Gilly will cash out for a shake as soon as possible, and Rae will -try- to save up for dinner out, but will likely break down and want the cash.