A few weeks ago, we took all of the cars away from Wil (and Sam by extension, unfortunately) because Wil has been acting up, running off in stores and parking lots, laughing at punishments. It was time to do something that would sink in. Even though he isn't a bad kid, we decided to nip the bad behavior in the bud and he loves his cars, so giving them an extended time out while he earned them back seemed a good way to go.
It's been a rough few weeks. We had a few days early on where he managed to earn some of his larger trucks back, then a week and a half of bad behavior. The last 2 days seem to have been a bit of a breakthrough.
Wil understands that his cars are in time out. That's an established punishment for the rest of a day if a toy misbehaves (is used in misbehavior like being thrown). I think the trick here was to create the link between 'if you keep doing what you are doing, you will get a time out' and 'if you get a time out, you don't earn any cars' to 'if you keep doing what you are doing, you won't earn any cars.'
I think one of his a-ha moments was last night. Sam dumped a box of blocks on the floor; Wil was upset for some reason that I haven't figured out. Wil picked up the blocks, put them in the box, and put the box back on the shelf of his own volition. Without being asked. And immediately earned a car (his school bus) right then and there. Bingo! If he does something good, he gets a coveted car!
He was pretty good the rest of the evening, so I let him pick 10 small cars (he has enough that we have to do them in batches or he may never earn them all back) before he went to bed. Today he was pretty good again, so about half an hour before bedtime, I let him pick another 10 small cars. He was ecstatic to play with them again. He knew exactly which ones he wanted.
I've felt bad for Sam since he's being punished by Wil's bad behavior. Today, he was really good while we took one of the cats to the vet, so I let Sam earn his school bus today. I think it's fair that they both can get a reward for good behavior. I'm also trying to reward more good behavior rather than just an absence of bad behavior. I think that is a little more concrete for them. Let's hope they earn all the cars back soon. I really don't want to keep them in the holding tank forever!