Want your child to learn to finally clean up after herself, stop pushing people, or sit down in class? There’s an app for that. Seriously.
A Culver City, Calif., dad, Kevin Spiteri, created the Behavior World app, a positive-reinforcement tool for parents, teachers, and kids, released July 22 — with his Helping Hand Systems business partner, Bryan Saavedra — as a way to help Kevin’s son, Kyle, now 9, who was having a difficult time after Kevin split with Kyle’s mom in 2010.
“The divorce was very tough, on all of us,” Kevin tells Yahoo Parenting. “Kyle started struggling with his behavior in preschool. He was always a superactive kid, but he began doing things like pulling hair and not listening at all, and he kept being sent home.” As occupational therapists who work with children with and without special needs, Kevin and Saavedra (also a dad) know a thing or two about helping kids. But easing this difficult family transition for the boy was proving tough.
“I went as far as paying someone to be with him during the day at school, to make it through the day and not be disruptive to the class,” Kevin says. “I was willing to do anything to help him.”
When Kyle got to kindergarten, Kevin says his boy continued to act out. “There was a period of time when I tried everything to get his behavior under control,” says the single father. “I took away things. I punished him. I was desperate to try to help him gain control over his behavior, and nothing was working. It wasn’t until I used positive reinforcement that I started seeing a lasting change.”
The most effective way that Kevin says he helped his son adjust his attitude was through a Candy Land-style game he came up with one day, jotted out on a poster with colored squares and the promise of a reward after progressing 10 spots on the chart documenting good behavior. “Kyle wanted this toy that shoots marshmallows,” says Kevin. “So I took a picture of him with it in the store, put that photo at the end of the chart, and worked with his teacher to put a happy-face sticker on his school sheet when he kept his hands to himself and listened well, which advanced him on the board.” It worked, and Kyle got his toy.
“Around the same time, about a year ago, I began using apps and iPads with my students in therapy, and one day I just thought, I could totally turn that poster into an app.” Voilà — the idea for the Behavior World app was born.
Just like Kevin’s poster, the video-game-style app lets kids progress along a path by earning “Buddy Tokens” toward a prize at the end. The customizable program allows adults to select up to three areas that their children, ages 3 and up, struggle with (think: “I kept my hands to myself” and “I completed all my class work”) and lets kids select a character to depict them on the path. Photos of selected prizes allow parents to show kids what they’re working toward, and a downloadable certificate adds to children’s feeling of accomplishment when they reach the end.
And the guinea pig, Kyle, has transformed into the poster child of how successful it can be for parents, teachers, and therapists trying to help a child modify his or her behavior, as well as learn new skills. “Kyle really looks forward to earning things now,” explains Kevin, who is thrilled to report that his son’s behavior is pretty much under control these days.
“During kindergarten, I was afraid he’d be labeled as the kid who couldn’t behave and wouldn’t get invited to birthday parties,” admits Kevin. “Now he’s definitely still working on listening, but his behavior is so improved. The things we’ve targeted in his app now are just about working on independence.”
And the best part? “Kyle has a lot of friends in school and is a lot happier.” Turns out when kids play this game, everyone wins.