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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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10 Specific Compliments to Give Your Children

Fact is, children look to their parents and teachers for encouragement, and finding affirmation at home is foundational to positive emotional development. Parents need to be in the business of building our children up.  But we also need to be honest, and it’s important to use compliments that really mean something. Kids can sense disingenuousness and empty praise. Making stuff up is harmful; false praise is dishonest and the practice breaks trust.

Here are 10 compliments all kids need to hear:

  • Recognize and compliment character: We live in a world where integrity is neither consistently taught nor widely expected. When our children demonstrate honesty, kindness, trustworthiness and reliability, that’s a great time to take them aside and offer a sincere compliment.
  • Compliment obedience and respect:  It’s too easy to fall into patterns of disapproval, where the only time we notice is when kids do wrong. Rather than waiting for disobedience or disrespect (then coming down like a ton of bricks) try noticing obedience and respect: “I don’t always remember to tell you, but you are an awesome young man, and I appreciate the way you treat your mother”.
  • Appreciate them for simply being part of the family:  “Every time I see you, I’m thankful that I’m a dad.” Kids need to understand that they are valued simply because they are.
  • Compliment contributions to the family:  “Clearing the table (sweeping the porch… putting out the trash) makes a real difference. I appreciate your contribution.” Kids need to understand that what they do makes a difference, that the adults notice, and that pitching in is a good part of family life.
  • Compliment the quality of a child’s work:  “This is one clean porch, mister!” “You mowed the lawn right up to the edge.  Way to go!  I’m so glad you take this job so seriously, it shows.” Doing a job at a high standard is always worth noting.
  • We can compliment the effort, even when the result is not the best:  “Your willingness to help makes me happy! Now we need to take a look at how you can get the trash to the curb without leaving a trail!” Compliments can be an important part of our role as teachers.
  • It’s important that we compliment children when they achieve something new:  “Wow! That’s a huge leap forward for you there in math, pal.” “Awesome! I’m not at all surprised after you worked so hard.” A well-placed compliment can keep a positive ball rolling.
  • We can compliment sense of style even if we don’t exactly share their taste:   We don’t want to hedge kids into being clones of dad, or mom. “When it comes to putting together an outfit, you certainly have some flair!” “I can tell that you put a lot of thought into the way you look.” “I’ve never seen a table set quite like that before – you have an amazing imagination!” It’s not useful to limit compliments to the narrow range of our own taste.
  • Compliment steps towards a long-term goal:  “Son, the improvement you’re showing is commendable. Thanks for trying.” Waiting for perfection before we’re willing to dish out a compliment is inefficient, may dampen enthusiasm, and does little to help the process of growth.
  • Try complimenting their friends:  But only do this when you can do it honestly! “Your friends are the greatest!” “That Jimmy is such a positive young man.” “You know, it gives me a lot of confidence to know you use common sense in choosing your friends.”


Start building your child’s self-esteem and stretch their potential to their fullest! Confident with MathsExCEL!


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When Kids Do Not Get What They Want?

When kids find it hard to get what they want, they go to “fairy land”, where magic and fairies (or other grown-ups) grant them their wishes. Unfortunately, they learn this irresponsible technique from the grown-ups around them. Even parents, when they do not get what they want, go to the “fairy land” of wishing for a winning big money, drawing a big prize and having more luck, so it is really no wonder their kids do exactly the same. They justify their unhappiness as bad luck or blame someone else for it.

Thus it is very important to educate our kids to be a REAL Muslim Kids.

I agree there is some benefit in developing the imagination with wishes and dreams, but it is very important for kids (and parents) to understand we have the responsibility to create our own luck by actively working towards our goals. If kids want to have friends, they need to do something about it. If kids want to be successful at school, they need to do something about it. If kids want to be able to swim, they need to do something about it. When kids do not wait for things to fall from the sky onto their lap and know they have to go actively looking for them, they are empowered. And their parents are there to help them succeed.


Ask your kids this question:

“If I could help you achieve 3 things in the next 3 months what would they be?”

Let them speak their mind. Listen to their words. This is the time where we can hear more of our child from their inner thoughts, which we parents often neglect. Insya Allah, our kids will be more open when they realize that we acknowledge and respect their say.



  1. Adjust the question to the right age. Remember the emphasis is on “helping THEM get what THEY want”
  2. Make sure your kids ask for something THEY want and not something they believe you want to hear. If you suspect this is the case, ask them “Why did you choose this?” or “What will you get if you do this?”
  3. Do not belittle any desire or they will keep some desires away from you
  4. Hold yourself back from doing the job for them. Remember you are not the genie. You are just helping them move towards something they want
  5. Every process of going forward has some setbacks. You want your kids to learn the process. Talk to them about the progress, the movement, the improvement, not about being 100% successful. As long as they are moving forward, they ARE successful
  6. Encourage your kids to write their current goals down somewhere to allow both of you to see them and read them in the next 3 months. If your kids are too young to write, they can draw or cut and paste pictures from a magazine
  7. Remember to write the date on each of the goal statements, drawings and collages and keep them as memorabilia