Should you bring your child’s school behavior home?

Having a bad day at school does not mean they have to have a bad day at home.

3:12 PM: Mary’s pouting face at car pickup is all her mom needs to know. Her bookbag is dragging behind her as she walks slowly to the car. NOT normal.

“Did you have a good day, honey?” her mother says, knowing the answer. “NO,” Mary is quick to answer. “Can I see your folder?”

As Mary flops the folder onto the console, her mother can read the teacher’s note and see the color drawn on the calendar.

“Red day, huh? Why did you hit Joshua on the playground today? It says here you had to be reminded to be a good friend several times today? You did have a bad day.”

“Red” days happen, but should your plan at home include behavior from school? Continue reading

“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

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 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.