A few weeks ago my sister-in-law (a psychologist & a professor on parenting) said something that stuck with me, "as parents we can set expectations, we can give choices, but we do not negotiate with our children." I completely agree.
The problem is that I'm not a perfect parent, so sometimes slip on this. It's easy to do- slipping up when parenting- but one thing I've learned about setting solid, consistent expectations with little ones is to deliver the same message but wrapped up in a fresh new way every so often. So, today, we refreshed our behavior system (i.e. rules/expectations, rewards/consequences).
We're calling our new system the "Behavior Light." A few friends of mine do something similar to this and since Audrey is especially is into "red means stop, green means go" lately, we created our own version this morning. They, of course, loved picking out their new "pin" and helping to put the behavior light together- involving them like this and giving them appropriate input is critical to getting their buy-in.
Each day their pins begin on green (fresh starts are important!) and then move up or down according to their behavior. Before bed time, we will check to see where they landed- landing on green earns them a sticker (10 stickers = a special surprise), landing on red means Mommy or Daddy takes one thing of their choice away for the next day (insert evil laugh here). The goal here is not to police their every move, but to address areas that they each need to work on and move the pins accordingly. I know what battles I need to choose with each of them- those battles vary by the week (sometimes by the day or even the hour!), so this is a great way to customize according to each child's age and stage.
This may be over-the-top for some families, but in our house we have 3 monsters ages 4 and under (cue chaos), so having a visible reminder for expectations on behavior works best for us. This will also be helpful when my maternity leave ends and there are a few different people caring for the babies- having a consistent system provides stability and comfort, resulting in better behavior and happier rug rats (and moms and dads too).
Note: It's 2:30pm and they're both still on green- woo hoo!