“First finish your vegetables, then you can have dessert.” Is this statement, made nightly around dinner tables across the globe, a bribe or a promise of positive reinforcement? Does it matter, as long as it works?
The answer lies in the timing. Take the following example:
Before entering the food store, a mother tells her son, “Timmy, if you stay with me and listen in the store, you can get ice cream.” Timmy wants ice cream, so he stays with his mom and listens to her directions. He gets to pick out his favorite fudge pops and eats one on the way home.
Another mom goes to the store with her daughter. As soon as they walk in, Annie runs away and nearly knocks over a display of lemons. Her mom tells her to come back, but Annie ignores her. Her mom says, “Do you want ice cream? Then you need to stay with me and listen.” Annie wants ice cream, so she listens to her mom. She gets to pick out her favorite ice cream cones and eats one on the way home.
Both children ended up listening to their mothers and got rewarded. However, Timmy was positively reinforced, while Annie was bribed. Does this distinction matter? Absolutely.
Timmy’s mother offered him ice cream in return for appropriate behavior, whereas Annie’s mom offered her ice cream once she was already engaging in inappropriate behavior. Timmy learned that if he does what he is supposed to do, he earns something he wants. Annie learned that when she does something she ISN’T supposed to do, she gets offered something she wants.
The key to positive reinforcement is being proactive and anticipating situations which may prove to be challenging for your child. If you cross your fingers and hope your daughter behaves well in church or at a birthday party, you run the risk of needing to bribe her to sit quietly or to not put her fingers in cousin Johnny’s cake. Instead, prepare her for the situation beforehand and enlist the power of positive reinforcement.
For example, if you know the vegetables you’re serving with dinner are more likely to be eaten by the dog than by your son, tell him BEFORE dinner that he can have dessert if he eats them. By employing positive reinforcement instead of bribery, he will learn to eat his vegetables in order to get dessert, instead of learning that once he throws them on the floor, you offer him dessert in desperation.
Is it time to toilet train my child? How will I know if my son or daughter is ready? Are there certain signs I should be looking for before we get started?
These are burning questions that many parents ask themselves as their child enters toddlerhood. Research indicates that most children are ready to start potty training between 27 and 34 months of age, but each child is different. How do you really know when your child is ready?
Maybe your son or daughter asks to go to the bathroom occasionally. Maybe he has sat on the toilet and peed right before a nap or bath time. Perhaps she asks to pee when she first wakes up in the morning.
I recently spoke to 3 parents about their children and they each shared a different experience:
“I’ve noticed that my 2½-year-old son squats down, then touches his pants. When I check him, he’s wet…”
“My 27-month-old son hides behind the chair to poop. When I approach him, he tells me to go away…”
“My 32-month-old daughter asks to sit on the toilet like her big sister, but she still doesn’t pee or poop unless she’s wearing a diaper…”
While there isn’t a magic age at which children are ready to learn to use the potty, there are physical and cognitive signs that many children will show when they are capable and ready to begin their adventure.
These signs include following simple instructions, pulling up and pulling down their pants, tugging at or touching a wet or dirty diaper, hiding to urinate or have a bowel movement, showing interest in others’ use of the toilet or copying their behavior, and showing signs of wanting to be more independent. When children have dry diapers for around 2 hours, awaken dry from a nap, or tell you that they are about to go, are going, or have just gone in their diaper, they are showing signs of readiness.
Unfortunately, your child is not likely to wake up one day and say, “I’m ready to wear underpants” or “I want to start peeing in the toilet.” More often than not, parents have to lead the process. Waiting for your child to ask for the potty often leads to trouble, since delaying toilet training for too long can make the process more challenging. Going from wearing a cozy diaper to using the toilet is a huge transition for children. If you’re noticing some of these signs, praise your child. Talk to them about the process, include them in some of the decisions, and encourage them along the way.
Once you have determined that your child is ready, make sure you are ready, too! Toilet training requires time, energy, and patience, especially in the early stages. While there may never be an ideal time in your busy life to start training, try to avoid excessive stressors or disruptions to your schedule, such as moving, a change in your childcare arrangements, the birth of another child, a vacation, or dealing with an illness or death of a loved one.
To say “no” or not to say “no”? That is a hotly debated question in playgroups and on parenting discussion boards these days. It seems that most parents fall into two categories: those who avoid saying “no”, afraid that it is too harsh and will lead to resentment and rebellion, and those who feel that saying “no” is a necessity, but are unsure of its effectiveness and even feel guilty about overusing it.
I was recently part of a conversation in which one mother commented, “I don’t like saying ‘no’. I just try to redirect my daughter and only say ‘no’ if she’s doing something dangerous”. Another mother responded, “I feel like all I do is say ‘no’! But it doesn’t work anyway. My son just tunes me out”.
Wherever you fall on this topic, your little one will encounter the word “no” at some point, whether it’s at school, at a friend’s house, or out in the community. Learning to listen and respond appropriately when limits are established is an important life skill.
So where exactly should we draw the line between behavior that warrants a “no” and behavior that should be ignored or redirected? If we choose to say “no”, how can we do so more effectively? What if “no” could actually be delivered in a way that would encourage good behavior, instead of only as a reprimand or punishment for bad behavior?
These guidelines will help you use the word “no” as an effective teaching tool to establish boundaries and promote better behavior:
Pay attention to your tone of voice
Although you may use “no” in a variety of contexts, change the way you say “no” based on the situation and level of urgency. If your child is doing something that isn’t dangerous, but is against your house rules, such as putting her feet on the table or grabbing your phone, say “no” in a neutral tone, as a way of informing her that she’s doing something unacceptable. Reserve a firm “no” or raising your voice for situations where you want your child to freeze in his tracks and listen to you, such as if he is moving towards a hot stove or throwing a fork at a sibling.
Explain why and follow through
When you say “no”, provide a brief explanation as to why the behavior is inappropriate or why your child cannot have what he wants. For example, “No jumping on the couch. You could fall and hurt yourself” or “No, you can’t have candy right now, because we are about to have dinner”. After establishing the reason for saying “no”, follow through. Admittedly, following through is the hardest part; stopping in the middle of cooking dinner to get little Annie off the couch or dealing with Adam’s tantrum after being denied candy can be exhausting. However, the effort put into following through will pay off in the long run, when Annie gets off the couch as soon as you say “no” and Adam waits until after dinner to eat his candy. Once you establish boundaries, be consistent. When you tell Lucy that she can only have one lollipop, don’t negotiate and give her “just one more.”
Teach appropriate behavior to replace inappropriate behavior
We often assume that children know right from wrong and should therefore be able to exhibit self-control and follow rules. However, even once your son understands that it is wrong to hit, bite, or throw things, his impulse control may still be developing. In addition, your daughter might know that she’s supposed to wear boots in the winter, but asserts her independence by demanding to wear flip-flops. It may help to think of these instances as “teachable moments,” especially with younger children who are still experimenting with limits and learning how to behave and communicate. If your child hits when he doesn’t get his way, try giving him a choice of things he can do instead. For example, “You can’t go outside right now, but you can play with your Legos or dinosaurs” or “You can’t wear flip flops, but you can wear brown or purple boots”. Proactively giving children choices helps them have some control and independence, while keeping their options acceptable to you, too. Additionally, provide children who are learning to communicate and express their feelings with appropriate language to replace inappropriate behavior. When we simply tell a child to “use your words”, we are assuming they know which words to use. It may help to be more specific. For example, “We don’t hit. If you want the ball, you can ask: “Can I have the ball please?”
While most parents establish consequences for not listening (“If you do that one more time, I will take your toy away”), we often overlook the importance of reinforcing appropriate behavior. If a child is told “no”, immediately listens, and accepts that they can’t do/have something, rewarding them will make it more likely that they will listen again. Consider the following example: Annie is jumping on the couch. Her mother tells her, “No jumping. You could fall and hurt yourself” and immediately follows through by picking her up and putting her down on the ground. The next day, Annie jumps on the couch, her mom says “no”, and Annie stops and gets down herself. Annie’s mother gives her a high five and tickles her. By following through and praising Annie, her mother has taught her that she needs to listen and is rewarded when she does.
This last guideline is as much for parents as it is for children. It’s important for children to be children, and sometimes that means eating ice cream for dinner and wearing a tutu to the grocery store. But it’s even more important for overworked, overwhelmed parents to let go and have fun now and then. As a mom, I feel like I’m too lenient one moment and too strict the next. Whether you say “no” once in awhile or feel like it’s every other word you say, striking a balance between saying “no” and saying “yes” can be the most important guideline to follow.