My Friend, The Genius

So, I have this friend. Her name is Erin. She also goes by the moniker “The High Priestess of Boogie“. She has been an educator for a number of years in a number of different settings with diverse populations. She teaches (among other things) acting, stagecraft, drama, and comedy.

She is a genius. Not just as an actor, or teacher, or all-around awesome woman. She can clearly see things — and isn’t afraid to tell you what she sees. Goddess bless her.

She also has a soft spot for my Kate. As she emailed me not too long ago, “…my personality is much more like Kate’s than like yours, and I remembered what it was like for us to live together.”

I have no idea what she is talking about. (Okay, I have a vague idea of what she may be alluding to. I may be difficult to share space with. I have boundary issues — as in high boundary issues. You know that scene in “Dirty Dancing”? “This is my dance space. This is your dance space.” Yeah, that’s me. The Patrick Swayze of the South Side House of Babes.)

I tossed out an off-hand remark not too long ago about Kate’s behavior being “off the chart“.

And Erin emailed me and said (I’m paraphrasing), “What’s this chart that Kate is off of look like?”

It made me realize that Kate and I do not share a language about her behavior. I don’t share a language with any of my children about their behavior. I react to their behavior — and that’s it. I give M time outs; I tell Flora to chill out; I tell Kate to calm down. When things get too overwhelming, I give myself time outs.

So I came up with a chart. It looks like a giant color wheel:

And now we have a language. We worked on the language together, mostly Kate and me.

Our starting point, our goal, is to be in Green. Green is good behavior, a calm place, nice manners, appropriate behavior. Green means specific praise. “Kate, thank you for saying please and staying in your seat. Flora, thank you for doing your homework right away.” Being in green long enough, or being “extra green” means you get to Blue. Blue is being helpful with the dishes, calming your little brother down, asking to borrow someone’s toy or pencil before using it.

Yellow means, “Think about it.” Yellow is, “What are you doing right now? What are you *supposed* to be doing right now?”

Orange is for when the behavior has gone from merely questionable to “Stop it right now.” We start trying to redirect our energy, try to refocus on green, try to take the deep breaths. And red is when the behavior is completely out of hand and it’s time to leave or time for consequences.

It’s been an interesting exercise for us. Flora will be in green all night — until bedtime, when she will suddenly escalate into orange or red with no warning. Kate in yellow can still get herself under control — even in orange, she can find words, take breaths.

Red is bad for all of us. We’re still figuring out red.

The next thing I want to do with my children is make a list of actions, a list of options for when we are getting into oranges and reds. What is appropriate? What are you allowed to do now that you are in orange? For example, grabbing, hitting, and suddenly screaming are all on the DON’T list. What’s on the DO list?

I am still working on these lists with the children. I’ll post them here when have ’em!


Do you have a chart for your children, or a common language? What are some options as everyone is inching toward red?