Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Workboxes and Power Struggles

I've blogged in the past about how workboxes work for us, and have several posts about workboxes. I have found yet another way to use them. One of my favorite things about workboxes is how using them significantly decreases power struggles. The, "I don't want to do it" is all but gone.

Scootch has Aspergers/ADHD. He is so smart, and learns so quickly, but some things are really hard for him. Writing is at the top of the "hard" list. Right around the time we started homeschooling he was struggling with anxiety. He easily became frustrated to the point of a complete melt down. He'd rather cut off his right arm than do a worksheet. As a result, I really backed off on forcing him to do work that involved putting pencil to paper. That was fine for a few years. Now he is almost 11 and in the 6th grade. He has also made huge progress in regulating his emotions and behavior. I decided it was time to give him a bit of a push. I was starting to feel like some of the accommodations we had put in place to help were starting to enable and actually hold him back. I knew I was signing myself up for a power struggle with the veritable gold medal winner of power struggles. I realized  it would be faced with resistance and intense reactions, but I was ready.

I got the intense reactions alright! There were times when he would throw a fit over writing down a math problem (he would beg me to write it for him-let the power struggle begin). I usually work hard to avoid power struggles in the first place and now I had set things up so that it would happen. I told him that the fit was unacceptable, but he needed more inspiration than a few words from me to stop, and I knew he had it in him to stop. That is when a parent goes for the holy grail: What is important to him? What does he want?

There is one thing he wants: free computer time. We already had a system in place where the kids need to finish their school work (workboxes) and their chores (clean up room etc.) before they can have free computer time. This system takes away a lot of stress and nagging on my part. No power struggles. I don't need to tell them to clean their room, I hear one call to the other, "Let's go clean our room!". With workboxes they can take as long as they like to finish their school work. They can choose to peck away at it bit by bit, and take all day, or they can sit down and finish it all before lunch. No power struggles of me telling them to do an assignment, they get to choose when they do it. They just can't go on the computer until it is finished.

However, now we were dealing with those fits. How could I re-order the system to prevent the power struggles? At first I changed it to "finish school nicely" to get the computer time, but that was a bit vague. We needed to break it down into smaller chunks. What if he did great on all workboxes but one? That is when I decided to put a time token on each workbox. Instead of earning a flat 2 hours of computer time when work was finished, now he earned time for each workbox completed "nicely".

I don't always give the kids the same number of workboxes. They may get as few as 4 or as many as 8 on a given day. I made up a bunch of tokens (laminated them and put velcro dots on the back) with a variety of times on them, 15, 20, 30 minutes. I put them on the workboxes so that they total 2 hours each day. If he finishes the workbox with a good attitude, then he get the token. If he is not working appropriately, then I can take the token.

We spent a lot of time talking about appropriate and inappropriate behavior. A good attitude can include saying that you don't like something, or don't want to do it. I'm even willing to negotiate and will sometimes change an assignment if it is discussed in a calm manner. It is inappropriate, however, to throw the chair over, or crumple up the paper, or scream.

A sample of workboxes with time tokens

We also reviewed ways that he can calm himself down. He has a variety of things that he knows he can do when he is starting to feel stressed, and he knows he has permission to do those things whenever he needs to.

Holding his snake is very calming. We often do lessons with help from the snake.

I really hate using a token economy, it is not the style of parenting I would choose. I must say though that it is working beautifully. It was over a week before he lost a token. He was so upset by it that he has been working really hard to stay calm, and do what he needs to do.

I am now having fun watching him learn and grow! A month ago we could not get through a math lesson without multiple break downs. Now, he does his math, writes out all of his problems like it is no big deal. Success!

Another article: Why workboxes can work for your autistic homeschooler

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