My girlfriend’s youngest son Ross (we call him Rossi) just celebrated his 6th birthday recently.
I am fond of saying that Christmas and birthdays are two of my favorite occasions. And it is not just because I am so into the spirit of giving. In fact it is just the opposite; I am into the spirit of taking away!
Kids need discipline and one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal, as parents of young children, is the ability to take things away. The more the kids care about the things that they have, the more it hurts when we take it away and the more powerful our position as parents becomes. That is why I love gift giving holidays; it means more awesome stuff for the kids and more leverage for us!
This birthday was a whopper for Rossi. He was first introduced to Mario via his Nintendo DS handheld system and has been an enthusiastic player of the “New Super Mario Bros.” for some time already. Rossi was so obsessed with Mario that instead of watching cartoons or even playing video games like most kids he would instead go onto youtube and watch walkthroughs of Super Mario video games. For those of you unfamiliar with walkthroughs it is where you watch someone else playing a video game and narrating as they “walk you through” it offering tricks and tips along the way.
Rossi’s favorite walkthroughs, by far, were for the Wii game Super Mario Galaxy 2 one of the best reviewed video games of all time. The problem was that not only did we not have the Super Mario Galaxy Game we didn’t even have a Wii console.
All of that changed the morning of Rossi’s birthday when he became the proud owner of both the Wii console and Super Mario Galaxy 2.
Rossi got a lot of other awesome gifts like rollerblades and glow-in-the-dark skeleton PJs (which each became even MORE awesome when paired with the other!).
But they all paled in comparison to the mighty Wii.
Between the DS and the iPhone and the old Playstation 2 I knew how much time the kids could spend playing video games. And I knew that once the Wii arrived things would only get worse.
So in anticipation of this I attempted to ratchet up my parenting skills. A couple of weeks before Rossi’s birthday (and the imminent arrival of the Wii) I devised a chart system to help monitor how much time the kids were spending playing video games.
I drew it up in Illustrator and then took it to Kinko’s (FedEx Office) to have it printed out and laminated complete with individualized Super Mario Bros. avatars for each of the kids.
It has been over a month now since we first implemented the system and it has worked great. We can take time away for unacceptable behavior and we can reward extra time for good behavior. Now they put their dishes away and clean their rooms and say “please” and “thank you,” but the best part is that they are learning how to budget their time. The kids start out with a block of video game time each weekend, usually about three-and-a-half hours a day, so it puts the power into their hands as they figure out how to manage their own time.
They are careful not to spend all of their time in one sitting, so they will play video games for thirty minutes or an hour and then figure out something else to do like color or go outside…
Or maybe even go rollerblading!
And that is the true mark of good discipline, not when we have to punish or take things away, but when we can teach the kids how to manage on their own. That is the gift that keeps on giving. Happy Birthday Rossi!