Friday, November 20, 2009

I Loooooove Santa

Jessica came home from preschool the other day and informed me that Swiper was on the naughty list and wasn't going to get any presents from Santa. For those of you without little ones, Swiper is a character on the Dora the Explorer show. He is a fox who is always swiping things from Dora - he's very naughty. They must have talked about him during story-time that day. Jessica went on to declare that she was on the nice list. It didn't occur to me at that point, what a goldmine this was. I began incidentally reminding her, during bouts of naughtiness, that Santa was watching. She would pause and declare that she was on the nice list. She clearly understood that the naughty list equalled no presents but she wasn't grasping the concept that Santa could see her.

Then it happened - I had a brilliant idea. We were getting ready to go to cheerleading practice and she was being ridiculously uncooperative. For the last several weeks she had been terrible at cheerleading: refusing to practice; flopping on the floor; running across the gym and refusing to stop; in general, wreaking havoc during the entire hour long practices. Each week I walked out exhausted and frustrated. I knew that most of this was a result of her Autism and had become a ritualized habit, but I also knew that she was capable of better behavior than this. This is a cheerleading squad for special needs kids but she was the worst behaved one BY FAR. I had been toying with the idea of letting her quit but she loved it the first few weeks and I hated to see her quit just because she had recently decided that it was "too hard." On this particular evening I was at my wits end. I knew we needed to get out the door soon or we would be late but she refused to cooperate: kicking her shoes off after I put them on; flopping on the floor when I tried to pick her up; and finally declaring that she "wasn't going" (with a stomp).

I grabbed a notepad off the kitchen counter and wrote "naughty" at the top of one column and "nice" at the top of the other. I then said: "Jessica, this is a naughty or nice list and Mommy is going to mail it to Santa." She froze mid tantrum. "I'm on the nice list," she declared. I informed her that just wanting to be on the nice list wasn't enough - she had to act nice. I went on to explain that every time she acted naughty I was going to put a mark on the naughty list and every time she was nice I would put a mark on the nice list. She listened intently - clearly sizing me up to see if I was serious. I then told her again that it was time to go to cheerleading. She screamed and flopped on the floor. I said: "naughty" and made a dramatic mark on the naughty column. She screamed in terror: "NO! I want to be on the nice list." I explained that she needed to act nice to be on the nice list.

Long story short (too late, I know): she had the best practice ever. She tried to follow directions and truly had a good time. Throughout the practice I gave her occasional "nice" marks to reinforce her desired behaviors and she didn't have one tantrum. At the end of the practice, with a huge smile on her face, she told me she had fun. I was so happy. I knew that she would enjoy herself if she just let herself.

The naughty or nice list is still in effect and hasn't lost its potency. Each night we count up the tallies to see if she gets a naughty or nice mark for the day on the big chart I created. She is so proud of herself for remaining on the nice list and can't wait until I "mail" it to Santa. My only question is...can the Easter Bunny have a "naughty" or "nice" list after Christmas is over?

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