Parenting Made Easy


By March 25, 2016 Behavior, Punishment, Reinforcement


Whenever people bring up positive reinforcements or rewards parents always assert, “My kid should do it just because!” or ,“My kid should do it because I want them to,” or even, “My kid should do it because it is right.” When our kids are getting trophies for participation, they are not going to clean their rooms because it is right. This is a misguided understanding of human motivation.

There are two different kinds of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  Intrinsic motivation means doing something because it is right or someone else benefits.  Extrinsic motivation means doing something because you are going to get a reward, something positive from the environment. We call this positive reinforcement.

Many parents push kids to be intrinsically motivated.  Do it just because. Very few people and even fewer kids are intrinsically motivated.

Ask yourself if you would go to work without getting a paycheck?  There might be a few people in the world who would say yes, but only a very few.

School is essentially work for a kid.  They receive grades and praise for their work at school.  They also will eventually receive a college education or a good job if they do well in school.  It is hard to wait that long for a reward.  If we’re honest with ourselves, we recognize we wouldn’t work or work very hard for brief praise and a piece of paper with the letter “A” on it.

Next you’ll ask won’t this make them dependent on only working for rewards.  Yes!  Which, if you think about it, is the way our world works.  Most people operate with the understanding that they will be rewarded for hard work.  There is very little in this world that isn’t a give and take.  Take of the strongest intrinsic contingency as an example.  Whether the gift is money or time, when a person donates to charity, they do not receive anything in return, past praise and acknowledgement.  These givers still feel good about doing good.

These feelings are brought by a neurological process.  Dopamine and other neurochemicals are pumped into the brain.  (People have ruined their entire lives and died for these neurotransmitter via the abuse of drugs. ) Some people get these happy chemicals from charity work and some don’t.   These people who get a lot of happy chemicals from charity probably do it all the time, or possibly dedicate their lives to it.  The point—they still get something, something invaluable. No one does anything for nothing.

We humans don’t act without motivation.  Sometimes motivation comes from a hug, a smile, and some neurotransmitters and sometimes we need more to motivate our actions.  Instead of getting caught up on “he needs to do it because it is right,” realize that simple praise is not enough and start looking for an extrinsic way to motivate your child.  And if trophies for participation create lazy adults who expect everything handed to them on the proverbial a golden platter then rewards for grades, chores, and good behavior will create an adult who realizes you need to work to earn something.


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Emotional Responses

By September 7, 2015 Behavior, Punishment, Reinforcement

shutterstock_angryParents need to keep in mind one important point when trying to change a child’s behavior: never allow emotions to become a part of the equation.   First, you need to think clearly. Emotions only cloud the goal. Often large emotional responses actually excite behavior in children. What was an otherwise ho-hum, boring day becomes suddenly exciting when mom has a huge emotional melt down. When a child accidental scares an adult (oftenthis starts with the kid standing behind a door looking at something and mom becomes startled when she find the kid) it will without doubt become a game of hiding behind ever door and jumping out at people. NO doubt about it: emotional responses can increase behavior.

If you do become angry during a child’s behavior (Hey, it happens to the best of us!) the best thing to do is take a break. If possible (after ensuring your child’s safety and the safety of anyone else involve) ignore the child for 20 minutes.   Researchers have identified 20 minutes as this magic timeframe that large emotional responses disappear. If you have ever had an argument or small fight with your significant other, it is often at about 20 minutes that you become calm, stop fighting, and start moving toward resolving the conflict and reconciliation. You may be still angry but you can start making the right decisions on how to nip the behavior in the bud.

Even if you already have a plan for the behavior and you find yourself getting angry, it is best to wait and until you are emotionally calm and in control. Children sense anger and they respond differently when you are angry.

I’ve learned this the hard way. Behavior therapist (people who work with kids with autism) are pros at staying calm. I’ve been bitten, hit, slapped, by many children.   It took a long time, but with practice I can stay calm even with the most aggressive children.

Though this video is a bit hard to see, you can hear the therapists never raise their voice, and never seem mad. This is harder with your own children, but with practice it is possible.
In fact, often finding your own calm center can decrease your child’s anger, tantrums or aggression. No punishment or reinforcement was needed.   The emotional response of the parent was maintaining and reinforcing the behavior for many of these kids.   Bottom line: the first step to changing a child’s behavior is to change your emotional response to the behavior. Take a deep breath, know it will be okay, and let your calm center shine out.

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Punishment Fails!

By August 27, 2015 Behavior, Punishment

Punishment fails are often very funny. What was intended as punishment in order to change behavior becomes humorous when it instead increases the undesirable behaviors.

Recently, I was working with a family who has a darling, but challenging toddler. The little tyke was prone tantrums, ones that often involved hitting. While tackling these issues, another behavior emerged.  The little boy began to curse like a rap star but at the top o2932a45b9d0e510c8e604d975b37effff his lungs. The swearing bothered the Mom even more than the other behaviors and before I could intervene, she used the archaic method of forcing hot sauce into his mouth after he swore. This thrilled him. He immediately announced, “I like it! F***, F***, F***!”.   Mom doubled the dose and got double the curse words.

It reminded me of a similar incident with my Newfoundland puppy—my very large Newfoundland puppy. Unlike most Newfies, she is a barker! She’ll go downstairs into our backyard and start  barking at passing birds, neighborhood noises, even  the occasional beetle bug. She also goes to  doggy  day care (We have to do this; she is not the k

cutedoggie copyind  of dog you can leave alone in a house; my        husband  and I would like a house to  return home too!) Anyway,  at doggie  day care , when she plays too rough  they put  her in a crate for one minute.  This is similar to a time  out procedure.  Beluga is also very sensitive and she   becomes depressed all day when this  happens. She learned very quickly to  be the gentle giant the breed is known  for. Since this punishment worked at  the doggy day care center, I decided to  try it at home. Every time she barked, I placed her in our bathroom for a five minute time out. I believed everything was going well until she began barking and then promptly move into the bathroom for her time out. Basically, what I thought was aversive to her was probably neutral or even a positive for her. The bathroom was cooler and quieter for naps. She probably thought when she barked she was warning me of something and in reply I put her in a safe place.  This of course did not decrease the barking.

The last example of a punishment fail comes from another client. I always ask parents what they do if their child misbehaves. Many, like this mom, reply “time out”. Now very few people use time out appropriately, but because I provide so much information for parents and ask them to make so many changes I decided to tackle the “time out” problem at a later date. I arrived at the house one day and the child was upstairs in time out because he had hit his sister. I found the child in his room playing with an elaborate train set. Most parents send their children to their rooms for a time out. Children’s bedrooms are like toy stores these days. Contrary to being aversive, most children’s rooms are their amusement parks.

Do you have a good punishment fail story of your own? Please email it to me and I will include it on the blog.

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Bad Behavior In The Moment

By August 23, 2015 Behavior, Reinforcement

adhd_boy When sorting through why your kid  engages in that attempting behavior it is  very important to understanding the  difference between trying to escape and  trying to get attention (remember the two  reasons kids misbehave).

If your child is trying to get attention or  items (remember any type of attention) the  quick easy solution is to not attend and not  give the item. This is called planned  ignoring. Always move a child if they are being unsafe (bad tantrums in an area with sharp objects), but simple ensure safety and nothing else. Even statements such as “Why are you upset?”, “Can I help you?”, etc., is attention. Once your child is safe completely ignore them, no matter how loud they get. The best way to do this is attend to something else, pull out your phone, or have a conversation. If you aren’t sure why the kid is engaging in the behavior than default to planned ignoring.

I was on a small boat with friends and their 3 year old. The 3-year was able to drive the boat for a few minutes but than an adult needed to drive it because of the traffic. The 3-year erupted into an intense tantrum. Mom began saying, “take 10 deep breaths”, “try to relax”, long explanations of why he can’t drive and assurances he would be able to drive later. This is nonsense! First off do not reward kids for tantruming, driving a boat is a big reward. At the very least tell him that if he calms down he will get another turn. Don’t promise a turn unless it is tied to good behavior. If you do this you are saying, “If you tantrum I will give you whatever you want.” Secondly, all the calm down techniques are attention. Though this tantrum didn’t start as a cry for attention, it can continue because he is being provided attention.

Well I got a little annoyed with the screaming, and engaged her in a conversation. Although I could tell she was a little overwhelmed and wondering why I did this, it worked. As soon as I got her to look at me and answer my questions about her job and little boy stopped screaming and was sitting on the boat pouting.   Bad behavior should never ever get attention. Though this tantrum was initially for an activity (driving a boat) it continued due to attention. By removing the attention the child realized there was no reason to tantrum.

If you have a little one misbehaving to get out of something or escaping, simple do not let them get out of anything. You also know this is occurring because you introduced something aversive right before the behavior occurred. The typical things are homework (any type of work), bath time, bedtime, and cleaning. So if you have a kid tantrumming before bath time you can try introducing things to make bath time more fun (if that works great keep doing it): games, gentle shampoo, eye protectors, filling the bath up only a little bit, adjusting temperature of the water, etc… But if you are still having the tantrum problem, do not let them escape. Physical prompt them into the bath time (i.e. carry them and put them in the bath), while ignoring the tantrum. Don’t talk to them during this process if they are crying, just go about the bath. You can make bath time quick, and you need to praise the child the second they calm down providing a lot of attention.

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How To Read to Your Child.

By August 20, 2015 Education, Language, Reading


Reading is one of the most important activities to do with your child. I highly recommend reading (at least one and a half hours a night) to a child until they hit their teenage years. This is precious time. Reading fosters intimacy, love and learning. I cannot emphasize the power of reading time enough.

Here are some basic guidelines:

  1. Start in the womb. Yes! They might not understand what you are reading, but they will enjoy the sound of your voice. Research, supports the idea that the parents voice in utero calms and relaxes a child. Both the father and the mother should read. Find a book you enjoy and start reading out loud before bedtime.
  2. Once you’ve got the munchkin in your arms, keep going. Make this a special time you commit too, no matter how busy you are. Infants especially like books that rhyme.
  3. By seven months, you should read out loud at least an hour a day. Children this age especially love books with pictures and words. There are many excellent children’s dictionaries that kids love. YOU point to the picture and say the word. Rhyming books
  4. Work up to an hour and a half a night.

Once you have sustained attention (which mean the child can attend or whatever you are attending for at least five minutes) you can begin what I call active reading.   This is done with picture books.

Steps to active reading (this works best when you allow your child to pick the book).

  • Read the words on the page one by one, while pointing to the word.
  • Ask 1 receptive question about the illustrations.
    1. “Point to the blue bird”
    2. “Point to the biggest bed”
  • If your child doesn’t point physical prompt (move their hand to point), and praise.
  • Ask one expressive question about the illustrations.
    1. “What is the boy cooking?”
    2. “What color is the cow?”
    3. “How many legs does the dog have?”
  • If your child doesn’t answer, you can answer the question.   Afterwards ask can you say _______. Give the child a minute to try. If they tried praise, if not move on.
  • When you finished say “turn the page”.   If the child doesn’t turn the page, physical prompt them into turning the page and praise.

Active reading promotes: language acquisition, vocabulary, pre-reading skills, comprehension, and compliance.   Even with a 4 month ago (you will probably be helping them point and they probably can’t attempt any words) will be learning during this activity.

As you child grows up begin using harder and harder books, and asking harder questions. When you move into chapter books, trade off reading with your child. Ask comprehension after each section you read. Have you child ask you a comprehension question after they read a section to you.

Now go read to your child!

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Baby Talk

By August 15, 2015 Babies, Education, Language

Baby_talk_204211aOne of the most important developmental milestones is baby’s first word.

Give them more! This is easy, fun and best part, research demonstrates these simple tricks increase baby’s intelligence.

How does it work? One word: Modeling

If you want a baby to talk, then simply talk to baby. The best way to do this is to narrate your day. Channel a sport’s announcer, describing a game to radio listeners, except use simply language.

“This is your bed. Bed. (Touch bed.) Here is your pillow. (Touch pillow.) Your pillow is pink. Your tee shirt is pink. Let’s go in the kitchen. Down the hall we go.  This is the hall. Here we are in the kitchen. “

Target concepts that a child leans in kindergarten: basic nouns, colors, numbers, and simple adjectives.

Move around the house, naming each item. Include floors, walls and ceilings. Open drawers, name things. Go outside, name things. “Look at the trees. See the tall tree? Tall tree. Here is a small tree. Small tree.”

Play this game with body parts.

Here are your toes. Here is your foot. Here is my foot. My foot is bigger than your foot. This is your hair. See my hair? Touch my hair.

For instance, pick one color in the room and walk and point to each item. “Here is a blue vase. Your pants are blue. The picture is blue. I have blue shoes. See mommy’s blue shoes. (Point.) Let’s go outside. See the blue sky. The sky is blue. “

Group things under one name, and then go through the individual items. For instance, “Here is our silverware. Fork. (pick up fork.) Spoon. (pick up spoon.) Knife. (Pick up knife.) Knifes are sharp. Knifes cut. Never play with a knife.”

Do this throughout the day. You cannot do it too much. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Your child will demonstrate excellent language skills.

Think of it as introducing the world to your child!

I was babysitting my non-talking nephew (aged 18 months, which is a little late but expressive language isn’t as important as comprehension.) We went to a playground and instead of simply following him around keeping him safe I began talking to him.

“Andrew, look at the red slide.” , “Look at the little girl. She’s wearing a pink dress . She is going down the slide “, “Feel the green grass”, “Doesn’t that feel good?” ,“We can lie down on the green grass” ,“Look at the bird in the blue sky”

You get the point. Basically, in a matter of a couple minutes, I had 4 other toddlers following me around listening and participating.  Babies are desperate for language.  Their little brains are thirsty for language!  Give it up.  After love, this is your number one job as the parent of a toddler

You can do this anywhere, anytime, but one great time is while you are cooking. There are so many basic actions, items, and colors you can describe while cooking. You can also include child participation by letting them crack an egg, stir something, pick a tomato out, etc. No one is too young to help. Be sure to use full physical prompting. Hold your child in one arm and put the egg in their hand, your hand over their hand and crack the egg. Act like they did something amazing afterwards. This helps with compliance later on.

As your child soaks up language, start asking them to point to items. “Point to the chair.” If they are unable too, take their hand and point to the right item. This is called errorless learning. Always praise after. Even if they start to point to the wrong thing, take their hand and move it to the right area and act amazed.

Be creative. Go to the supermarket , store or mall. Walk around describing items, the colors, and what they are used for, possible modeling what they are used for, etc… This is not only free but your child will learn a lot and love it.

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Let’s Learn About Reinforcement

By August 13, 2015 Behavior, Punishment, Reinforcement

It gets a little complicated from here, but stay with me!

There are two types of reinforcement. Positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement is introducing something new to increase behavior. This could be anything: attention, a cookie, a sticker, screen privileges etc… Anything that the child wants and therefore, will engage in behavior to obtained.  This is the most basic behavior change procedure. You probably use it a lot. The dog sits on command, but only for a treat. The child cleans his room in order to watch a favorite television show. A child does homework in order to play outside.  You get the idea.

Negative reinforcement is also another commonly misused term and drives me nuts to hear people incorrectly talk about.   During our puppy training class, my husband had to hold me down to keep me from correcting our teacher when she misused the term negative reinforcement.

Negative reinforcement is removing something to increase behavior. It starts with an aversive or uncomfortable condition, which is removed when the child engages in the target behavior.   The best example in real life is that annoying noise your car makes when you forget your seatbelt. You start driving forgetting your seatbelt, the annoying noise buzzes and when you snap your seatbelt in place the annoying noise will be removed. The removal of an aversive condition is contingent on your seatbelt wearing behavior.

Many people wrongly call punishment negative reinforcement. The intention of punishment is to reduce a behavior, the intention of negative reinforcement is to increase a behavior. These two terms are as opposite as can be.   Usually negative reinforcement is often used to describe reprimands, which are is actually a punishment.


I’m going to teach you to use positive reinforcement. There are very few situations where we purposely use negative reinforcement to change behavior.   However, negative reinforcement is very important for understanding why kids do the thing they do.



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Why do kids do the things they do: The golden ticket.

By August 10, 2015 Behavior, Reinforcement

golden-ticket-imageThe major question I get asked. It is so simple. All the jargon we discussed was to get to this point. Let me change your world by allowing you to understand your kids. (Note: this gets a little more complicated with older kids, but the concepts still work).

There are two reasons any living being does anything. Thankfully, little kids are some of the simpler examples of this. The first reason is to gain something.   This can be food, attention, toys, electronics, really anything they might want.   The second reason is to avoid something aversive. This can be homework, going to sleep, a cold room, an uncomfortable sitting position, a loud noise, really anything. Once you start thinking about your kid’s behavior this way, things get easy.

I often hear that emotions drive behavior. This is a perspective the people in this field take. I would argue that emotion might be behind behavior or created by behavior, it is not the reason for behavior. A child doesn’t tantrum because he is angry. A child tantrums because you took away the toy or wouldn’t let them start a fire.  Anger is probably part of the tantrum but it is not the reason for it. A technique commonly taught t0 parents it to teach your child to identify their emotions and then use coping skills (deep breathing, counting down from 10, etc…) to control themselves. I’m not saying this won’t help the child, but rather if you don’t treat the problem at the behavioral level (why the child is tantruming) it will not work. In many cases you can do both, but in some you can’t. If the child is misbehaving for attention you do not want to teach a coping skill because this is a form of attention.  You need to understand the why of the behavior before you choose a method.

The key to treating a behavior at the behavioral level is to never reward maladaptive behavior (tantrumming, screaming, pestering etc…) In other words, never let them get what they want by behaving badly. The worst thing you can do if a child is tantrumming for a you is to give them the toy to stop a tantrum. By doing this, you just taught your child that the best way to communicate is through tantruming. Instead, ignore the tantrum, and when they appropriate ask for the toy they can have the toy.

It is important to always allow the child to earn the things they want, just not through bad behavior.

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Oh No! Not Punishment!

By August 10, 2015 Behavior, Punishment

teacher-paddlingThe evil word of parenting. This word is so misunderstood, misused and generally just mistaken for what it is not. Having a conversation with a so called “parenting expert” about punishment drives me nuts. Here’s some advice: If you want to be a parenting expert, at the very least learn the proper definitions of the terms.

Let’s take a close look at Punishment.

Punishment is anything that reduces behavior. We have all heard the morally superior parent state emphatically: , “I don’t use punishment!” The trouble is they are actually saying “My kid is perfect. I don’t want to reduce any type of behavior at all.”

This is not true. All parents want to reduce certain behaviors. (Interrupting while you’re speaking, begging, whining, pestering siblings, nose picking, irritating the cat, lethargy, tantrums, let’s face it, there are a lot of behaviors most parents would love to reduce or eliminate). No doubt you can a generate a long list of behaviors you would like to reduce in your child, and probably a couple in your spouse and friends as well.

You might ask why does this matter? When someone announces that they don’t use punishment, aren’t they simply stating that they aren’t going to spank or yell at their kid? Of course. However, in the way that reinforcement is an important key to parenting, so is punishment. You will be more successful with these techniques if you systematically start to think about behavior.  Think about the behaviors you would like to reduce (you’ll use a punishment technique) and the behaviors you would like to increase ( you’ll use a reinforcement technique).

The most basic type of punishment is a reprimand. I’m pretty sure you have probably used this a thousand times with your children. “Stop that,” even in a soft voice (which it should always be) is a reprimand.

Another confusing aspect of punishment is intended punishment versus actual punishment.   For example you are on the phone with a friend. Your kiddo begins to pull at your shirt and poke you (clearly wanting attention), you say “Stop it!”. Or, “I am on the phone.” This is an intended punishment.  You are hoping that the reprimand stops the behavior of poking in future.  However, the kid just got attention, this is exactly what he wanted and so he continues.   You eventually get so frustrated with your kid’s pestering, you tell your friend you have to go. Perhaps you reprimand the kid again but you are now free to fully attend to the kid.   What was intended punishment actually turned out to be reinforcement.

Punishment is only actual punishment if it works. If it reduces the behavior in the future.   You know the punishment is working when you see the frequency (the amount) of the behavior go down. If you are using an intended punishment (such as time out) and the kid continues to engage in the behavior eliciting the time out at the same frequency over three months, it is not working. It is time to try something else. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is continuing something that does not work.

There is an emotional cost to punishment. Punishment is almost always emotionally taxing for both the parent and the child. This is why we use is sparingly. We can’t eliminate it, but we do have to be thoughtful and careful when we use it.

Even over reprimanding can be emotional taxing. We have all seen the parent who continually reprimand their kid without providing any positive interaction. (This is especially common in parents’ interactions with teenagers. “You should do this… Why didn’t you do this? If only you had done this, then…” etc. Just when humans are at their most vulnerable and insecure, parents often find themselves literally bombarding the teenager with negative messages.)  For our toddlers, it is also quite common.

Here is how to avoid this. For instance, the phone conversation above, when your kiddo starts poking and pulling, you should simply ignore it. Continue with your conversation until your child stops pestering you. When you do get off the phone, praise the little munchkin for not bugging you during the end of the conversation and reinforce by providing some uninterrupted conversation. The child very quickly learns pestering will be ignored, and if they can wait for attention, o, boy, they will get it.

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Let’s start with reinforcement

By August 10, 2015 Behavior, Reinforcement

Let’s start by defining reinforcement. It is anything, which increases a behavior: Things that a kid wants can usually increase behavior: cookies, stickers, new toys, hugs, etc.

However, one of the biggest reinforcers is often overlooked by parents: that is attention. Children crave attention even more than candy.

Watch this video

The behavior (making evil eyes) was not taught . Rather it was reinforced by something. Do you know what that was? If you guessed attention that is correct. You can hear the people laughing in the background and you can clearly see the baby enjoying it.  Most likely the baby made this evil eye face by chance, got laugher from parents and audience and did it again.  She connected the dots attention for evil eyes and suddenly a youtube star is born.

Most behavior starts with attention as the consequence or reinforcement.   Often times saying things like “Don’t do that”, “That’s bad”, “Stop that” actually works to reinforce, or increase behavior. An example of this is the class clown. The class clown will make a farting noise in class the teacher yells “Stop that!”, and the other students laugh.   The student has received attention from both the teacher and the students.   This is pretty much one of the greatest dilemmas of being a teacher. I spend hours consulting and helping teachers with the class clown problem.

Often times kids receive more attention for doing bad things, and less attention for doing good things.   A little kid might get a bigger reaction from mom and dad for pinching his sister and less of a reaction for hugging his sister.  A kid gets a bigger reaction for throwing food on the ground and less of a reaction for eating a bite of food without throwing.

When your kiddo does something bad (cry, scream, whatever) think about your reaction. Is my reaction big or small?  If it is big make it small.   Then decide what would you rather your kiddo do  (ask for help, give you a hug, etc.).  Again, think is my reaction to this big or small for this behavior?  If it is small make it bigger.  Kids need to get more attention for good things and less attention for bad things.

It is important to understand reinforcement is anything that increases behavior.  It might be something you intended as reinforcement (a cookie for eating a cup of peas) or something you did not intend to be reinforcing (yelling “no!!!” when a kid draws all over the wall).

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