“Intrinsic motivation?” Part 2

Photo by Michael Bentley via Flickr

Embrace the M&Ms and worry about “intrinsic motivation” later.

Last week, I wrote a pretty lengthy response to a question about whether parents should praise and reward their kids for everyday things. Since then, I continue to see articles written about the subject with people talking about the “harmful” side effects of praising our kids. Unreal! Continue reading

To reward or not to reward…that is the question

photo by terren in Virginia via Flickr

“In regard to increasing motivation… I hear so much conflicting advice! And granted, this is all just advice and you have to do what you think best for your own child. But you suggest offering rewards for good behavior, yet many studies suggest that gives the child a sense of entitlement for doing something simple that should just be done without fanfare. And that later in life they expect rewards for showing up to work. Can you explain this disconnect?”

This comment recently posted on the BehaviorBandAid Facebook page portrays an unfortunate but understandable confusion about when and how to reinforce/reward your child’s behavior. Continue reading

“The only way I can get her to do it is to yell and scream…and I don’t like that” – How to switch from negative to positive.

photo by martinak15 via Flickr

Recently, I posted an article on the BehaviorBandAid Facebook Page that was intended to be about discipline techniques for children with ADD/ADHD (read it here). I thought the discipline techniques they listed were true for ALL children, so I posted it. The article included a list of common mistakes:

-Not communicating with the child what he or she did wrong (what you need to tell them is what they can do instead…and be specific)

-Flying off the handle

-Failing to follow through

It also included simple reminders and lessons for what to do: Continue reading

Good grief! How long is does it take you to do that?!?

Photo by Aniket Thakur via Flickr

Sometimes the most important things can be the hardest to notice…getting dressed and ready in a timely manner is one of them. Here are some things to do about it.

7:25 pm –

Walking out of the room where my child stands naked after taking a bath, I quickly say, “Alright, man…here are your pajamas. Go ahead and get dressed.”

From Thomas the Train undies to the Toy Story PJ set, this is a 2 minute task…OR SHOULD BE.

Ten minutes later I open the door ready to read the bedtime story and all I see is our son in some naked Yoga pose over a set of trains perfectly lined up on a new track (like, “new” in the last 10 minutes “new”). “Why are you not dressed yet?” I ask, not expecting an answer I would approve of.

Why this is important

I tell this story because it reflects two bigger issues I think we all deal with as parents:

1. We often forget to notice and reinforce behavior that doesn’t seem really great, but really makes a difference when it doesn’t happen (i.e., there is a big difference between a morning before school with a kid who gets ready on time vs. one who messes around and requires constant nudging to get ready).

2. When kids are slow in doing something you want them to do, they are simply being kids. The behavioral explanation for this is there are competing reinforcers. This is not hard to understand, but sometimes difficult to get through. I will help you out.

Hard to notice good behavior

Simply stated, there are a lot of behaviors that are just not that noticeable, like getting dressed in a decent period of time, picking up something when dropped, closing a door instead of slamming it, NOT freaking out when told “no.” Sometimes we refer to these as the should behaviors (i.e. “he should be able to do that”) and other times the behaviors are nearly impossible to notice (e.g., a flushed toilet, socks put away, having a bookbag put together).

Do this today…yes, you

Sit down and make a list of these behaviors that happen frequently enough, but when they don’t happen, it really annoys you or it causes a hitch in your day. Put this list somewhere that will help remind you to pay attention to these things. Remind your kids before the behaviors happen (i.e., right before they are getting dressed, when you know they are about to go to the bathroom). When it happens, pay attention to them…praise them…thank your kids for doing these things.

Sounds simple. It is. It is as important as it is simple.

Find more powerful motivation if you need

I have written about competing motivations before, but it is worth mentioning again. If your  kids are consistently dragging and taking forever to do things, you might need to set up some other reinforcers or things to motivate them at the time these things usually occur.

Make sure the requirements/criteria are clearly stated (written on a list for older kids). This can be something as simple as a special breakfast choice if ready for school before a specific time (state the time and use the clock in the kitchen) or as easy as “as soon as you finish getting dressed you can _______.” You could even read the posts on token systems and use something like that for these times.

Try to make the reinforcer/reward as close to the behavior occurring as possible. The quicker the fun thing occurs after the behavior occurs, the better it will be. For older kids, can you get away with something special after school for a job well done in the morning before school? Yes, but it will not be nearly as effective as something that they get in the morning.

Hopefully things will speed up a bit for you…having the night-time 10 minute episode of Thomas the Train turned on when we leave the room at PJ time sure has sped up our little man.

Behavioral Momentum…ride the wave to more compliance

“Heading into the final weeks before the race, it seems Mr. Soandso has the momentum that will likely take him to the promised land”

There are so many ways we speak about momentum in our lives. You can hardly get through 15 minutes of Olympics coverage or, gag, the “Race to the Presidency” coverage without some mention of who has the “momentum.”

Momentum is an incredibly important and real factor with the behavior of your kids too, and is a bit more scientific than the sometimes mythical version you hear elsewhere. It is a strategy…a way to get from noncompliance to compliance. Simple, if you really think about it, but not used enough as far as I can see. Continue reading

Burps, fart noises, and dirty words

What do these things have in common? They are all things kids do for attention. Maybe it is to tick you off, make the little sister laugh, or get the friends hooting. BUT, what is also important here is these things are also very naturally funny and exciting to kids (and most adults…let’s be honest). Because these things are naturally funny/entertaining, it changes how we need to respond to them to make them less likely to happen in the future.

I have written multiple times about how behaviors that are fed by attention need to be ignored rather than “punished” because the primary reason they occur is for the attention, sometimes regardless of the type of attention it is: positive or negative. You have seen this happen: kid does something for attention, a parent calls them out, “don’t you make that face at me young man!” and the kid laughs and walks away fulfilled. Winner.

There are plenty of these attention-seeking behaviors that are totally ignorable and the best case scenario is to either completely ignore it or redirect your kid’s attention to something else.

But, there are behaviors that are fueled by attention, but also are naturally/automatically reinforced. For example, I have heard many children (including my own) do things without others around that make them laugh or that are appealing to one of their senses. Funny noises, bad words, bodily noises, etc.

My son likes to hear himself burp. My daughter likes to hear herself say “poopy.” They will both do these things in front of people, but also in isolation. This is problematic because even if you do ignore these behaviors, they will fuel themselves and will continue to be funny or entertaining for an undetermined period of time. They will also be intermittently reinforced by the attention from others, which will also give the behavior a bit more strength.

So, there are two things you need to do with these behaviors:

1) Make up your mind as to what consequences you will use for such behaviors when they occur. This could be one of the “three strikes” types of systems I have discussed before, or some other way you can respond to the behavior without getting caught up in the moment. This might be something like, “if you want to watch your shows tonight after bath time, you need to go without making that sound with your mouth at dinner.”

The reminder or the rules should be exact and simple and should be stated positively. Another example, “Danny can stay over to play as long as you use kind words and do not say potty words. If you do, he will have to leave.”

The important part here is not necessarily the consequence (although that is pretty big), but is the fact you are thinking about it, making your decision and talking to your kid ahead of time…before the behavior happens.

2) Specifically and appropriately reinforce the absence of it. If you are having a lot of trouble with dirty words or with body sounds, etc., then make a consistent and concerted effort to apply a little extra emphasis on the non-occurrence of the behavior. For example, “if Danny comes over and you can play until dinner without using potty words, we can order a special pizza” or “you can have a special treat when we get home if you don’t make those noises at the park today.”

This is important because you have to overcome the power of the natural reinforcer (i.e., the word “poopy” is naturally funny) with something else. Doing this will not only allow you to focus on something positive (i.e., earning something), but will also help you get traction on the behavior not occurring for a bit so it will have a chance to die a natural death.

Good luck…poopy pants. BWWAHAHA

5 things your kid’s swimming teacher can teach you about parenting


Alright, so you’re not ready to listen to parenting advice from a hunky college kid teaching your kid how to swim?

Not learning anything from the “too skinny to be healthy, but I’m secretly jealous” local high school girl teaching the backstroke?

Maybe you should pay a little more attention, because deep down inside those tanned bodies, they are teaching you valuable lessons about parenting:

1. Anytime your mouth is below water, blow bubbles (Simple rules win!)

Look, the consequences of breathing under water are a bit more daunting than the consequences of not picking up after playtime, so its important for the kids to follow this direction. But the rule is very simple…blow out of your mouth when under water. It is that simple, because it is that important.

At home, make very simple rules when its really important. Follow through with them. At the very beginning, do not let them error. Be there to make sure they do it the right way. Encourage them and remind them…

2. See how big a splash you can make with your feet (Turn things into a game)

Your swim coach would never try to get your kid to kick their legs and feet by talking to them about propulsion and flotation. They get them to kick their feet by simply making it fun to kick their feet AND by giving them a way to get immediate feedback for doing it correctly (if they do it correctly, the larger the splash will be).

I think too often parents get into the mode of over-explaining, over-rationalizing and lecturing about the “whys” instead of the “hows.” Really, it is more important, at their age, how they engage in the behavior and experience the benefits of it rather than understanding why they should do it, why it makes sense, etc.

3. Swim to the edge (Early success matters)

Your kid’s swimming coach would never start your kids at the middle and tell them to swim to the edge…hope you make it! Hunky McSwimmerton starts your kid close to the edge and with his hand holding your little swimmer up, he gets the legs kicking and gently pushes him to the edge of the pool. Then the cheering begins! You’re a swimmer! Success not only breeds success, but it also builds a history with making it to the edge. Slowly, Tini Bikini backs up with your kid, but only to a distance she knows your kid will make. 

Too many times we start our kids “in the middle” and expect them to “swim” to the edge. We start with “clean your room” or “do your laundry” without starting them at a point of success and fading out to what we really want. This goes for quality too. Your “clean” room might not be your kid’s “clean” room. Start with success and fade out…maintaining that success.

4. Roll over if you get in trouble (Teach self-help and resiliency)

One of the things I recently saw a few kids do in the pool which was pretty neat was when they got in trouble (swam too far out or got too far from the parent), they rolled over on their backs to catch a few breaths and either called out for the parent or reset themselves to make it to the edge. Turns out, this is something they were taught in swimming class.

There are times when kids get upset for good reasons and also for reasons that are pretty ridiculous. Its gonna happen. They need to know how to reset themselves and calmly be able to access help or calm themselves enough to assess the situation and get out. When another kid takes a toy, when milk is spilled, when the show turns off all of a sudden when the power goes out. Resiliency is huge for kids. Teach them to be able to handle when things don’t go their way. This is huge (as is rolling over in the water to catch a breath).

5. I’ve gotcha (Be there to ensure success, reward effort and protect, just in case)

Teaching your kid that you will be there to support them, to make sure they learn easy and hard lessons (what it feels like when water goes in your nose or when you get a little too ambitious and have to roll on your back to breathe), and to catch them if they really get in a hard spot is something we can all strive to do on a daily basis.

When it is all said and done…we are still parents. We will protect above and beyond all things.

Alright guys, spread some Zinc on your nose, spin a whistle around your fingers and slide on a new pair of shades…you’re ready!