Praise for a parent

We often talk about what the most powerful rewards and reinforcers are for our kids. Nintendo? Ice Cream? Movie Night?

What is the most powerful parent reinforcer?

Praise about their child.

Make a point to praise a friend’s kid today. Tell your friend something great about their kid. These things too often go unsaid.

The difference between attention and ignoring

When thinking about what to reinforce, what to ignore, and what to punish, it is important to know its not necessarily how awesome the reinforcer is or how well you ignore, or even how powerful your punisher is. The important thing is the difference between them and when you use them.

For example, ignoring an undesirable behavior will not be effective if you ignore all the good ones too. If you reinforce a great behavior, it will not be as powerful if you indiscriminately reinforce all other behavior in the same way.

See more about better reinforcement,side effects of punishment and effective ignoring strategies.

The Competition of Motivation


I could not have been more than 4 years old at the time and riding in the back of a hot baby blue Oldsmobile station wagon, skin sticking to the seat. Laying down, I pretended I was asleep. I was on the way to “swimming lessons” taught by the local guy who dressed up like a clown and was well known for throwing kids off the diving board, and I did not want to go. My mom carried me in though, not falling for my failed attempt at a snoring sound. Next thing you know I was on the end of a diving board with the clown from some Steven King novel more frightened by him than by the water (although it was pretty close). It was horrifying.

Gasping for air and swimming to my mom who was socializing with her friends seemingly not caring about my fight with a clown, I survived. I was able to swim and to dive off the diving board. I received so much enjoyment out of that, everything was OK. I loved the water…I learned to water ski not long after that…there were so many things about being in and around water that did (and still do) motivate me, that those fateful steps off the plank were helpful.

Motivation is a strange thing. We talk about it very freely…

“He’s just not motivated today…”

“I can’t seem to get motivated”

“Her motivation is different than mine”

We often do things we truly do not want to do because other “motivations” are stronger than our desire to avoid what we are doing. There is always a competition of motivations.

For example, I don’t necessarily like cleaning the dishes after dinner. However, I do it (sometimes).

My motivations are generally to:

a) make my wife happy,

b) get the mess out of the way so we don’t have to live in a roach infested dungeon 

c) I don’t want someone to unexpectedly come over and see that we are a bunch of lazy slobs.  

Therefore, I do the dishes. Those things won the motivation competition. I am sure you can think of a variety of things that you do (maybe even every day) that you don’t necessarily enjoy, but you do because there are OTHER motivations involved that overpower your drive to avoid the work and sit on your couch eating bon-bons.

But, just like the diving board, it was not always that way. I had not built the social motivation for doing those things. When I lived at home as a kid, I could care less if people thought my parents or I was a slob. I had to be motivated in other ways when I was that age.

We cannot avoid this constant battle of competing motivations when thinking about how our kids operate and behave.

I think parents often think the most powerful motivation for our children is the motivation to make us (their parents) happy and possibly to avoid us being mad at them. I gotta be honest…at younger ages this is pretty weak. But, we rely on it so much. One day, hopefully.

Should we teach our kids to do things they do not want to do to build an understanding of selflessness and duty to others? Yes. Should we rain Skittles and M&Ms every time they pick up their socks when we ask them to? NO. Should we teach them the social, environmental and safety reasons for listening to their parents despite their stronger desires? Absolutely.

It is all in how we get there 

If we teach our kids to be motivated by the avoidance or escape from discomfort (i.e. FEAR), you run the risk of setting up false or undesirable motivations: “I will do it, but only because I dont want to get yelled at.” That gets in the way of stronger motivations that can be the result of pushing your kid through something they don’t initially like.

We need to attribute positive reinforcers and positive experiences with doing those things that will, one day, be motivated by the “natural consequences” of their behavior. These social reinforcers are built over time…its your job to create them as powerful forces. Doing so through force and anger will not get you there and could result in damaging results later.

Pick it up! An Easter egg hunt and dirty socks

At the time I am writing this, we are closing out a week of Easter activities and fun. Amongst the chocolate bunnies with no ears, headless Peeps, and halves of plastic eggs in every corner of the house, I sat back and thought about how many times we had “egg hunts” this week. I chuckled to myself when I thought further about it…we threw a bunch of plastic around in the yard and the kids thought it was FUN to pick them up. Literally hundreds of kids at the neighborhood hunt lining up for an opportunity to fill their baskets. We spend the other 51 weeks of the year trying to get our kids to pick up after themselves, but they have been begging to pick up Easter eggs all week.

What can we learn from this? Continue reading

Chores? Ugh.


So far, much has been talked about on BehaviorBandAid about getting your kids to do something they might not want to do: The Premack principle (a must read), “sitting practice”, and the most recent post simply titled “how to get your kids to do what they should” are a few examples you might want to review.  Topics of reinforcement have been covered, even the one where I confronted the issue of some who say “he is just doing that because he gets an ice cream” and the difference between bribery and reinforcement.

But I think it is appropriate to be direct and specific about a four letter word around most families: CHORES (wait, that was 6 letters…you know what I mean).  How to get kids to start doing them, how to be more successful with a “chore” system, and the important question of “to pay or not to pay?”  Here are my thoughts.

  1. Plan ahead – Don’t wake up one morning and decide you are sick and tired of the house being a mess and “its about time those kids learn some responsibility.”  This is a process to teach your kids how to do chores and learn some responsibility, NOT to keep your house clean.  Think it out.  Where do you want to start?  When?  Choose a day when you will start and let your kids know.  Be prepared (AND in a good mood).
  2. Start small – “Clean your room” is NOT small.  It is also not specific enough.  When you start out (or restart after reading this), make the chore short and sweet, give guidance and have a very clearly defined measure of “done.”  I can’t tell you how important this is. For example, “Shoes in a line…just like this…under your bed…just like this.  You try.”  For now, that is all.  They have to know and it has to be appropriate to their age, NOT your desires for a clean room.  
  3. Be there to begin – Think of this as a delegation and you need to make sure you are there at the beginning of the process to make sure everything starts off correctly.  I recently heard on a Podcast with Steven M R Covey something that I thought was directly linked to this: “You cant expect what you don’t inspect.”  Put that on your refrigerator.
  4. Resist reacting poorly to resistance-  You are likely to get some resistance, especially if you go too fast or expect too much.  Use this as a bit of a barometer for how much you are asking, how well-defined and specific your criterion are, and fade back/move forward based on this.  DO NOT slide on the requirements directly after whining or add incentives AFTER the whining.  For example, you ask him to make sure his clothes are put away (as you have specifically defined that) and he whines, then you say, “How ‘bout we get some ice cream if you do it right” or “OK, just put away your shirts and I will do the rest…stop whining.”  Bad timing.  And please, dont get angry and FORCE it.  You will make chores more punishing than they already are.  Dr Glenn Latham said in his book, The Power of Positive Parenting, something to the effect of “a clean room is not worth a dirty relationship with your child.”  I highly recommend this book, by the way. 
  5. Gradually increase the demand – but make sure you are still very specific (even write it out if you have readers) about what the expectation for completion is.  Slowly but surely, “clean your room” will be an OK “chore” to require because you have, over time, defined it very clearly and have successfully increased the demands over time.  You might even have a checklist by this point that you can refer to when checking on things (ex.: shoes under bed in a line? Bed made with pillows under sheet and sheets not showing under the blanket, clothes off floor, etc.).  This length of this process depends on the age of your kid AND how successful they are.  The usual fault here is asking too much too quickly.  Be slow.  Remember, you are teaching them, not hiring them.
  6. Payment for services rendered? – There are a bunch of opinions about whether to pay allowances or not, or to pay for chore completion.  I will not lead you one way or the other, but will suggest there might be some benefit to using some reinforcers/rewards other than “because you should do it.”  For some families, I suggest simply having a “chore” a day (planned and following the rules above) and preferred activities (iPad, Nintendo, computer, etc.) will be available after that chore is completed.  Click here to see a post about that or  my thoughts on token systems/sticker charts if you want to learn more about that.  Some families do quite well with an allowance system.  I will suggest there is also something to be learned from the money management side, and for that, I suggest Dave Ramsey’s insight on this (if you are unfamiliar with Dave Ramsey, check him out at

A good plan and a good attitude will go a long way with this process.  I am sure there will be more to be said on this, but for now, let me know what you think, either here or on the BehaviorBandAid Facebook page.

Three strikes? Who’s out?

Recently, on the BehaviorBandAid facebook page, I posted an article by renowned parenting expert, John Rosemond.  In this article, a mother asked a question about loud, screaming kids.  Apparently, when the kids play together, they are super loud, banging stuff…well, Im sure you get it. Kids being kids, but a little much for inside the house.

He proposed the “Three strike rule,” which is fairly simple: if the kids get too loud, they get 1 strike.  Loud again, two strikes, and after the third strike the two are separated from each other for an hour (“each in their respective rooms”).  After the hour, they can begin play again.  Three strikes two times in a day?  He says they spend the rest of the day in their rooms and go to bed early.

Here is why I am writing about this article:

  1. I don’t always agree with Rosemond, but there are some things in here I like
  2. If misused, you can be in some trouble
  3. Explain why this works and how this works so you are less likely to make those mistakes. Continue reading

Should do??? Won’t do!! – How to get your kid to do what they should


Just because you think your kid should be doing something does not mean that he will just up and do it one day…”just because he should.”

Look, there are a lot of things parents think their kids should do, but ultimately the question remains: IS he doing it?  If the answer to that question is ever “NO,” lets talk about it a bit more.

The source of this comment is usually about getting up in the morning, going to bed at night, completing chores, taking a bath, following general directions and simply being “respectful” to parents and other adults.  Here is the thing though…it has to have some benefit to the kid for him to do those things without throwing a fit, complaining, or pouting as he takes out the trash.  

Why most kids do what they should

Yes, some kids do such things so they can avoid making you mad, keep access to the game system, or simply preserve the ability to sit down without wincing (have a sense of humor…I am not saying spanking is a good idea).  There are also kids who do these things because they have sufficient experience with these things resulting in positive things such as praise, high fives, parental acceptance or even access to a little extra time in front of the TV or computer that night.  For a lot of kids, these two things are enough.

For some, it isn’t.  Here is the help:

To turn the should do into did do you need to begin with a three step shaping process:

1.  Arrange certain things to make the behavior more likely to occur.  This might mean shortening the task, making it less effortful, less time consuming or more interactive with someone fun (like YOU, for example). 

“Clean your room” becomes “pick up those socks, put those shoes under your bed and throw me that towel and we will get out of here!”  “Clean the bathroom” turns into “squirt some of this weird blue stuff around the inside of the toilet, flush it and lets go…”  “Get dressed” gets done by you going in, putting everything on but the socks and then saying “put your socks on and meet me in the kitchen for those awesome PopTarts.”

2.  Reinforce the completion of the task since you just made it much more likely to happen.  Be nice.  High five. A pleasant, “I appreciate you getting that done this morning.” 

Rewards have not been successful up to this point because the task was too aversive or too difficult.  The reward did not work because they never got access to it.  Now they have…now the reinforcer can begin to work.

3.  Slowly fade into higher levels of demand: “Here is your shirt, now all you need is your pants and socks…see you in a second,” “Make sure you get that towel off the floor too, please” or “rub that brush around in that blue toilet stuff before you flush then spray the shower while I get the movie going.”  

You see…to make sure something happens, whether or not YOU think it should, it sometimes means taking a few steps back to make it more likely to happen so you can reinforce it.  

You should do this…