Image Source: Robin Clement

The Rubber Band Method Changed the Way I Parent

A woman's hands grasp a tea cup — three rubber bands are on her right wrist.
Image source: Robin Clement

You know that feeling of hearing yourself on a voice recording? It’s the worst. Two weeks ago, I was attending my daughter’s final day of swim practice, and for the big finale they all had to jump off the diving board. I had my iPhone out and was ready to record the moment when suddenly, my eldest daughter stood up to get a better view — right in front of me. I thought I was pretty calm and nice when I asked her to move, even as I repeated myself three times until she heard me. It was a non-incident. Until I watched the video and heard my own voice.

First thought that popped into my head: DO I ALWAYS SOUND SO MEAN WHEN TALKING TO MY KIDS?!

Second thought: When did I become so mean sounding?!

I was horrified, and kept thinking, Who was that woman? Something needed to give.

Soon after, I stumbled across an article titled, How to Discipline a Child: The Rubber Band Method.

The author suggests parents use three simple rubber bands as a reminder to praise their child throughout the day. Basically, you start each morning with three rubber bands on your right wrist. Every time you praise your child, you move a rubber band over to your left wrist, with the goal of ending the day with all three moved to the opposite arm.

Here’s the thing: In my endless effort to raise three young kids and to teach them right and wrong, it can often feel like I become a drill sergeant trying to get them all to listen. I frequently refer to raising toddlers as “herding cats” when it comes to getting them all out the door and in the car on time.

If you’ve been there, you know what I mean.

I often find myself coming down on the kids when they don’t listen and taking for granted the times when they do. And sometimes (yes, sometimes) I wonder if I’m raising the most awful kids on the planet. Why won’t they just listen when I ask them to do something the first time?! Gah.

Of course, they’re just being kids, and this is what kids do. Believe me, I love my kids, and try to let them know that they’re amazing. I praise their artwork, their good grades, or their effort in trying to play the piano. But was I praising the times that they listened to me? Or did what they were supposed to do without me asking? Was I praising their actual behavior enough?

The answer to that one is simple: No.

The rubber bands on my wrist served as physical reminders to find those moments when I could offer my children praise. It was like a game; each time I had a kind word to say to my kids, I was one step closer to achieving an opposite wrist lined with rubber bracelets. I figured if I could reduce the rubber band method to listening behavior only, as that’s where I was falling short, then it was worth a try. After all, it seemed easy enough.

Let me just cut to the chase: The results were nothing short of FANTASTIC.

First of all, it switched my perspective entirely. I realized that my “mom radar” was set to find the bad rather than the good when it came to behavior and I was overlooking all the good things my kids do every day. When I started looking for opportunities to offer praise, it was so easy to find three things! The first day of rubber banding, I didn’t even have to try that hard, I was able to move all three over by noon.

With my old drill sergeant morning tactics, I was so busy focusing on getting them to listen to every little thing that I was constantly taking for granted the positive behaviors my kids were doing every day. When the rubber bands incentivized me to “find the good,” it made my brain look at how my children were acting in a totally different light.

My kids aren’t awful. How could that thought have ever crossed my mind? These kids are downright incredible! I just wasn’t using the right eyes to see them with before.

How have I possibly gone this long without doing this sooner?
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The second reason I loved this method was the huge difference I saw in my kids’ attitudes because of it. Especially the oldest one. I could see in her eyes that she appreciated the fact that I noticed. Not only that, this note of encouragement had her doing MORE good behavior in return. Instead of being forced to do her work, she wanted to help me. She wanted the praise. She wanted to know that I saw her.

Was I really overlooking her behavior that much before? I was so busy trying to get her to stop fighting with her brothers and sisters all of the time, that I was forgetting to tell her what a great job she did helping me clear the table. The look in her eyes when I noticed, when I grabbed her attention and said, “I SEE YOU,” it honestly made my heart ache that I wasn’t doing it more often.

How have I possibly gone this long without doing this sooner?

It’s still a work in progress, and I don’t think you actually need to wear rubber bands every day for the rest of your life, but just think about it. It’s something so simple, so why not try it? It certainly can’t hurt.

While I can’t change the way I spoke to my daughter that day at the pool, I can change the way I speak to her in the future. And I hope to do exactly that.

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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