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Positive Reinforcement or Damaging Declarations?

compliments_graphics_07Good job! Nice coloring! “Good swinging!”

Adoring our children with love and praise couldn’t be a bad thing, could it?

Well, it mostly depends on why we’re doing it. Positive reinforcement with toddlers is practically instinctual. “Good job!” is a phrase my husband and I often exclaimed, usually after our daughter had done something rather benign and developmentally appropriate, but to us was the most brilliant thing in the world.

You know, like when she put on her shoes by herself or her pants – even though they were backwards. It proved an amazing feat of concentration and we just wanted to show her that we were proud of her so that she would know that we loved her no matter what!

Surprisingly, that’s not the totality of what is being conveyed with the use of praise. Good-Job

I don’t mean to criticize the loving intuitive expressions of appreciation and excitement – only to examine the praise we use to manipulate our kids into repeating a desired behavior.

Sure we think it’s great that Sam just shared his toys and it was exciting that Mia cleaned up her room without asking but how we share our appreciation can be tricky.

With general or overused praise – the overriding message that kids hear, see and understand is “People like when I do this and that makes me feel good.”

I know it seems inconsequential. A “Good job eating all your dinner!”  – here or a “You’re such a good girl for helping!”  – there, especially with our young ones, seems innocuous.

Positive reinforcement appears to be the most popular and effective form of toddler discipline, next to distraction – especially when faced with a time consuming search for alternatives to the more assertive discipline methods.

But, studies show again and again that kids who are praised for their behaviors tend to become more hesitant and unsure of themselves, less interested in trying new things, and worse, they actually lose interest in the activity they were previously praised for – once the praise stops coming.

Now I am not suggesting that our children are doomed because we cheered every and every hand-washing and tied shoelace.

But, please consider the very real possibility that children will become less likely to share of their own accord, feel empathy, or continue playing piano, reading or finishing any activity if they are fielding and filing a constant stream of performance evaluations.

More and more research shows that by providing extrinsic motivation we risk decreasing the likelihood that our children will fully develop their own passionate desire or internal motivation. The problem is that when external motivators are offered, children learn to assess their own value and interest on something they can’t control: external rewards and the approval of others.

Judgment, whether positive or negative, creates children who come to rely on that verbal incentive and to look for it unnecessarily for their own self-guidance. It can affect their motivation to take interest in anything wholeheartedly or complete a task without verbal encouragement or tangible rewards.

I do not mean to discount the beneficial aspects of “positive discipline” nor do I mean to bemoan all praise and rewards. To exclaim your heart-felt excitement the first time your toddler puts on her shoes by herself is a perfectly legitimate reaction but to blurt out “Good Job!” as a knee-jerk response to the most negligible of activities (eating, drinking, coloring, jumping, swinging) in hopes [however unconscious] that our children will repeat the desired action in the future is detrimental to their overall ability to learn and self-motivate.

When the praise stops coming, kids stop trying. Eliminate the praise and teach your kids how to find joy and satisfaction in the experience of things, not just the outcomes.

Ask yourself: Are my responses are rooted in love and encouragement or are they self-serving and evaluative?

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Parenting Tools

small-boy-2 - CopyAs you transition to a less punitive view of parenting, it may be helpful to post the following parenting tools and reminders around the house, on the refrigerator or wherever you are likely to see them everyday.

The first question most parents ask after learning about Conscious Parenting is – “Okay I get it, but what do I say now?”

There is a natural hesitancy to try any new technique, especially any action that may be judged negatively by others or perceived to be coddling or indulgent.

Choosing a new set of parenting tools such as respectful communication, cooperative problem-solving and incorporating sensory tools for stress relief are at the crux of shifting your beliefs about children and parenting.

Parenting Tools

  • Conflict Resolution
    Peaceful conflict resolution is seriously lacking in our homes and educational systems. It is time to familiarize our children with the tools and processes of getting clear about what they want and need. Teach them to know how they feel so they can approach conflict with enough self-satisfaction and confidence to be open to hearing and considering other perspectives, and prepared to creatively solve problems.
  • Language Guide
    Most of our language trips up the connection process because we are stuck in patterns of laying blame, denying responsibility or shifting our focus to right and wrong behavior rather than staying focused on resolution and cooperation.
  • Self-Tests
    Be honest. Self-awareness leads to great shifts in understanding. Take time to get to know your shadow side and learn to be okay with ALL of YOU.
  • List of Needs
    At the core, we all have the same basic needs that dictate our emotional states and drive our behaviors. Unmet needs lead to stress and disconnection. This parenting tool will help you identify some needs which may be unknowingly sabotaging your interactions.
  • Stress Regulation
    A core issue affecting families and kids today. We need more tools to help us manage our stress and help our kids learn to manage theirs.
  • Positive Feelings Guide
  • Negative Feelings Guide
    Our emotions, like our needs, dictate what choices we make and how we process and perceive events. Our feelings do not have to control us, but we must become aware of what our emotional states are -in order to shift them.

Questions to ask yourself before punishing your kids.
Is it helpful, is it kind, is it necessary?

    • Does this act uphold my family’s value/belief system?
    • Does this act respect my child’s feelings?
    • Does this act respect my feelings (or others involved)?
    • Is this act developmentally appropriate for my child?
    • What lesson am I hoping to impart?
    • Are my actions consistent with my intentions?
    • How does this act make me feel?

Conflict Resolution always begin with two questions: (1) What are we feelings? (2) What are we needing?


The TEACH tool gives you an active five-step process to follow when behaviors are clashing with needs and feelings.

The Language Model will help you, and your child, develop emotional literacy by show you words that work. You will be able to name emotions and use compassionate listening to move through conflict and back to a state of calm and emotional regulation.

Self-Awareness Quiz

Being emotionally aware of your habits of responding, interacting and relating to your children has a profound impact on the way the brain wires up. Are your wiring your child for potential or survival. Take this quiz from John Gottman’s book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, to measure your level of self-awareness.

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Homeschooling: How To Develop A Learning Environment

HOMEschoolIdeas you can use to develop a learning environment without losing control of your home.
When you walk into a house where children are homeschooled, it often becomes apparent by the “homeschool décor”. There are piles of books on the floor, time-lines and artwork taped on the walls, and signs of experiments everywhere. Here are some ideas you can use to develop a learning environment without losing control of your home.

Well-stocked Library: A well-stocked library with classic books by authors like Mark Twain and Shakespeare in addition to some contemporary favorites is necessary. In order for your children to develop a love for reading, books must surround them. They must also see their parents reading. Place several full height bookshelves along the wall in the living room, den, or hallway and fill with them with books that you have purchased from the thrift store, garage sales, and online. In the beginning, you may have a few empty shelves, but you can fill them with pictures and figurines as well as books borrowed from the library that you change out every two weeks.

Computer Research: Any educational question your child might have can be answered quickly with an internet search. Therefore, you will need to make computers accessible to your children. You can put one or multiple computer centers in Armoires anywhere in your house. Alternatively, you can install a computer room if you have the space. Just remember to make sure your computers are in a place were the children’s internet activities can be monitored. In addition, install child safety programs on your computers to prevent them from seeing offensive material.

Art and Experiments: Create a place for your children to do art projects and perform experiments without worrying about making a mess. You can create a “messy workstation” in the garage or basement that can be cleaned up easily. If such as space is not available, give your children scheduled times once or twice a week when they can do their messy work in your kitchen. You can lay down sheets of plastic and tarps on those days and plan to eat out. When their masterpieces are complete, take the time to frame them and hang them on an art wall somewhere in your home. As new art and creations are developed, swap out old masterpieces for new ones.

Music: Get children into the habit of choosing music over television and movies. Play soft classic music in your home from the time you awaken and keep the television off until prime time if you can. If this makes your children miserable set a time when the music can go off and the television can go on and make the time later and later. In addition to playing music in the home, purchase or rent a piano or other musical instrument. Give your children every opportunity possible to learn to play the instruments.

Comfort: Mare sure your home has comfortable areas (other than their bedrooms) where your children can relax. There is really no need for wooden desks and tables when homeschooling. A big comfortable chair and a blanket is all they need when they are reading. When they are writing, a clipboard or kitchen table will suffice.


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Family – How To Teach Your Child To Develop Good Study Skills

You can help your child develop good study skills by encouraging her to become better organized helping her to take better notes, and communicating with her teacher.
In order for children to excel in school, they must develop good study skills. Parents can do much to thankful kidsencourage their child to become more organized and more proficient in their academic work. If you help your child develop good study skills when they are young, those skills should help them through the rest of their academic career.

Parents should start instilling good study habits with their children as early as elementary school, and there are several things that you can do to help your child become a better student. One of the most important steps you can take is to help your child develop a good study schedule.

Some children like to come straight home, do their homework, and then play. Other children, especially those who are learning disabled, may need a break between their school day and homework. This is perfectly acceptable as long as you do not let them put off their school work until almost bedtime, when they will be tired and are likely to do lesser quality work.

Children who have attention deficit disorders may need to work on their homework in short increments of time. If your child has a learning disability, you may want to let her work on one assignment for about fifteen or twenty minutes, then let her move on to something else. She can come back and finish after a short break.

Be sure that you have a specific place set aside for your child to do her homework. It should be free from distractions such as the television, computer, video games, etc. Although your child may have a desk in her room, if she is younger, she may benefit more from working near you. If she is in the kitchen, dining room, or living room, you can easily check to see that she is remaining on task and give her help when she needs it.

Once you have established a routine and place for her to work, you need to help her get organized. Teachers will typically assign what type of notebook and other school supplies they want their students to have. It is very important that you initiate communication with your child’s teacher as soon as possible. Many teachers will willingly give their school e-mail address, and this is an excellent way for you to stay in contact.

If your teacher has not assigned a specific system of organization that she prefers, you will need to help your child develop one of her own. Make sure she has a notebook with pocket dividers. If she has several classes, she may want to have two or three notebooks that she can divide into classes. The pocket dividers will give her a place to put any handouts she may receive. Check her notebook periodically to see what work she is doing.

If your child is having trouble completing assignments, you can make a simple check sheet that lists such things as “homework assigned today”; “no homework today”; “study for test”, etc. Leave a line beside each notation, and ask your child’s teacher to check off anything that might pertain to your child for that day. Be sure and check the assignment sheet every day. If your child knows you will hold her accountable, she will learn to be more responsible.

Your child needs to develop good note-taking skills. Help her learn how to find the main point and supporting details of textbook chapters. Show her how to list the chapter and section names of her textbook, and then have her summarize each section in her own words. You can help her study by asking her to tell you key points from each section or from her study sheets. If she can’t answer it the first time, have her look over it again, and then quiz her.

Finally, encourage your child every step of the way. Not every student is an “A” student, but you should let your child know that you are proud of her if she is doing her best work.

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Should You Give Kids Rewards?

rewards-for-kids-01As parents, we’ve all been there before: maybe it’s potty training or trying to get your child dressed in time for school. Perhaps you’ve offered a little treat—a sticker, a cookie or a trinket—for motivation. But what’s an appropriate reward? And are we raising little Connors and Maddies with a sense of entitlement?

While motivating children with incentives of money, toys or even a special activity can be very effective, some experts believe this prevents youngsters from developing their own sense of responsibility. Alfie Kohn, author of “Punished by Rewards,” believes that giving incentives—even nonmaterial ones—only serves to control youngsters. “While dangling extra TV, ice cream or story time in front of a child asks less of us,” Kohn says, “it can never get anything more than temporary obedience—and it buys even that at terrific cost.”

But not all experts agree. According to Dr. Virginia Shiller, a psychologist and instructor at the Yale Child Study Center and coauthor of the book Rewards for Kids, rewards can help parents teach their children new habits. Shiller says the key is in how the incentives are given; in setting appropriate, realistic goals; and in figuring out a strategy to achieve them. “I was inspired to write this book by my own parenting experience, and I’m happy to say my sons—now in their late 20s—are very responsible people,” says Shiller. “This is not purely behavioral modification. I’m much bigger on using it as a learning opportunity.”

Whether or not to offer rewards is a personal decision. Here are some tips to help your family:

>> How to Use Rewards Effectively

  • Kids can begin to understand the concept of a reward around age three. Developmental age is just as important as chronological age. The main thing is that toddlers are past the stage in which they are locked into oppositional battles (“No! I don’t want ice cream!”).
  • Make rewards fairly immediate. Younger kids may need more immediate goals, while older kids can understand working toward longer-term rewards. Incentives can be small, and they don’t need to be money or a toy. Even a trip to the library or park can be a treat.
  • Use charts. A sticker can visually remind young children of their achievements. Or have fun and draw a scene and add stickers of trucks or animals to it.
  • Set realistic, specific goals. Don’t try to change too many things at once. If you try to work on getting to school on time, being nice to siblings and cleaning up toys all at once, that’s too much. It’s better to target just one or two actions in a particular chart.
  • Help your children reach their goals. Work with them to figure out how they’re going to achieve their goals. “If it’s a chart about getting out of the house in the morning, and they think, ‘I could find my shoes in the evening instead of a last-minute search for shoes,’ then they’re actually learning a strategy,” says Shiller. And don’t forget to take the opportunity to praise your child!

>> The Dangers of Rewards

  • Leads to nagging. With a rewards system, the burden often falls on the parent to remind kids to do the necessary tasks. “After the first couple of weeks, it doesn’t work very well,” says Christine Carter, author of “Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents.” “If you are in this bribe, threat, nag cycle, then it’s not working. And the kids know it’s not working.”
  • Could prevent children from developing a sense of doing the right thing.” Psychologists refer to intrinsic motivation as the desire to do something based on enjoyment of the action itself, rather than on achieving an outcome or reward. “The type of reward doesn’t much matter,” says Kohn. “The problem is with the whole idea of carrot-and-stick control. More than 75 studies have shown that extrinsic and intrinsic motivation are not just different; they tend to be inversely related.”

>> If rewards are not working for your family, be flexible!

  • Make sure theres not an underlying issue. For example, if your child has a strong resistance to going to school, you may want to look into whether there is an underlying problem, such as bullying or an undiagnosed learning problem.
  • Rethink your requests. Are the tasks you’re asking of your child age-appropriate and beneficial? If they are, instead of trying to entice your child into doing things, spend time explaining the value of those actions. “First, we let kids know what’s important to us and why,” says Kohn. “Second, we engage children’s minds, helping them to reflect on—indeed, to wrestle with—moral questions.”
  • Have a family meeting. If you have been using a rewards system and decide it’s not right for your family, hold a family meeting and explain to your kids that things can work differently around the house. “Know that they’re going to resist and it’s going to be horrible for a couple of weeks,” says Carter. “But if you’re consistent, eventually they will feel much more in touch with their own personal power and how much they contribute.”