I love four-year-olds. A lot. I love to see them begin to become independent and develop their own ideas. They really become themselves. But that process often involves a bit of a return to the “terrible two’s,” with a few showdowns here and there. My little guy seemed to forget that he had ever developed any self-control and began whining for what he wanted, flopping to the floor in tantrums, and refusing to do what he was asked to do. No fun…especially when we’re getting ready to go to school next year. We started a new system that is working great for us: a traffic light. Hopefully it will help around your house, too!
What I used:
Glue Gun and Glue Stick
I cut out circles of red, yellow, and green construction paper, and a rectangle ticket. I glued them with a glue stick to cardboard circles the same shape. I cut out a rectangle traffic light, and used my glue gun to glue little pieces of one side of Velcro to my cardboard like a traffic light. The other side of the Velcro went on each colored circle or ticket. I did the same on the back for somewhere to store the other colors. Then I just punched holes, ran some sting through, and put it on the fridge with a magnet clip. You could go fancier and make it out of wood with cute little hooks to hold the different circles, or you could just draw a traffic light on paper and use a magnet to designate which light was on. Whatever works. Mine is obviously starting to wear out…hopefully we’ll be done with it before it’s destroyed!
He stays on green when he is being obedient and in control. Green means “GO!” so when he’s on green, he gets his screen time, toy time, trampoline…everything that he likes.
After the first misbehavior or if he is starting to get a little feisty, I change the traffic light to yellow. Sometimes I tell him I am changing it; sometimes just the “rip” of the Velcro tells him he has had a warning. I give the instruction again, or let him know what behavior was unacceptable. Yellow means “BE CAREFUL” and it reminds him that he needs to self-correct or he will start losing privileges.
If he doesn’t follow the instruction or keeps misbehaving, the red light goes on. Red means “STOP” so all of the fun stuff stops and he loses his privileges. To get back to green, he needs to fix the problem: apologize, clean up the mess, follow the instruction, or do a role play. For big issues, the red stays on for a while, but I don’t keep it on unnecessarily long. If a child plays the system and misbehaves knowing he’ll just get his privileges back, you may want to make red mean the privileges are gone for the rest of the day. For us, getting on red has been enough incentive to turn the behavior around. In either case, in the morning the light is back to green.
In all good traffic systems, there are tickets (unless you are the one getting one!). For some really big misbehaviors, like purposely hurting someone, the ticket gets pulled. This means there is a “fine” before he can begin working back to green, such as an extra job or doing something nice for the offended person.
So far, this has been a great system for us! I find myself getting angry less and letting consequences do the teaching, as it should be. I also have noticed I don’t feel as frustrated by his misbehaviors because I don’t have to decide on the spot each time what I should do. I just go to the chart and let the system proceed. Even when we are away from the chart, I’m able to tell him, “You’ve earned a yellow light. Please get in the car like I asked.” More often than not, the dreaded red light has been enough to help him reconsider and correct his own behavior.
This principle could be duplicated in many ways and adapted for younger or older kids. Use your imagination! Just make sure that you are consistent and calm and you’ll soon see a little less “sour” and a lot more “sweet” coming out of your kids. Good luck! If you use this idea, let us know how it goes!