Monday, May 16, 2011

Toys for Tests...or...Positive Reinforcement Disaster Zone

OMG! Talk about good intentions going horribly awry! I’m pretty regimented about Kai’s school work. His school doesn’t give homework to the kids, but I believe that aptitude is only part of the formula for academic (and life) success. Discipline, repetition, creative process, and good self-esteem make up most of it. You can have a brilliant kid, but they’ll fail without the discipline or positive reinforcement. So… I went back to the concepts of homeschooling with him and began his homeschool curriculum with him, in partnership with the school, so we’re in sync with what he’s doing. That being said, the school DOES test. They test fairly frequently, so, along with his nightly homework and curriculum, Kai studies. He hasn’t gotten anything less than 100% on anything in a long time. A while back I started letting him pick a reward for getting 100% as an affirmation, to make it all fun. Rewards for Kai are always toys, so somehow the “toys for tests” thing began and became somewhat ritualized, which was fine, until he thought he’d accidentally screwed up his last test (“In crayon Mama! You can’t erase crayon!”), and FREAKED out in school because he wasn’t going to get a toy. He got the 100% and got his toy, we talked about it all, and I let it go. Didn’t think much of it……….till today. TODAY was his statewide MAPS test. This is the test where they test the kids against the state average. Kai was ranked in the 97% for math, and 99% for reading on the last test. It took quite a bit of time and effort to explain to him why you couldn’t get higher than the 99th percentile, (which really pissed him off). Anyway, SOMEHOW he got it in to his head that if he got in the 99th percentile on both reading and math, that would equate to some sort of mega toy experience (He was actually aiming for one of those $350 battery powered plastic cars that you can ride in, which would never happen in a million years and where he even got the notion I don’t know. He’s insane. It would like me getting him a BB-Gun). Needless to say, I’ve spent much of the evening consoling him for not being PERFECT. He’s convinced he psyched himself out. All he could think about was the car and not the test while he was testing. Cried for a good while tonight about it all. Kai’s all upset because he’s convinced that there will now be no toys forever, but far worse, he won’t have a perfect score. He began reciting back to me every question he got wrong, what he did wrong, why he got it wrong, what he was thinking about when he messed it up, and now is calling himself stupid because, “They were easy Mama”. I’m laying there with my arms around him, kissing him on the forehead and telling him how proud I am of him and it’s no big deal while he’s crying that he’s ashamed of himself. Sigh.

Before we started this he bought all his own toys with his allowance money, or he’d wheedle things out of me anyway. He’s got close to $300 saved. It’s not like the kid doesn’t have other paths to toys. So I reminded him of that. It was like someone smacked him in the head. He just went, “Oh yeah”. I was speechless through most of it. I had no idea how to fix this. My intent was to make doing well a joyous thing. Kai, being the Virgo litigator that he is, saw it as a black and white, be all end all MUST ACCOMPLISH thing. Egad. I told him I didn’t want to take away celebrating his great performance, but maybe we should do it with Dunkin Donuts instead. IMMEDIATELY he turns around and says, “So if I don’t get 100% I don’t get a donut?” OMG! This is the OPPOSITE of what I was trying to accomplish!!!!!