Here are 78 of my favorite behavior rewards I’ve used with young children I work with, as well as with my own children. And the best part is that they are all low-cost or free!
Dinner time conversations can be hard, especially when you have a child who doesn’t like to talk much when you ask things like, “How was school?” or “What did you do at school today?” This would be my child. The one who would rather eat brussel sprouts than to answer questions about his day at school. Now that my own child has been in school for several years, I’ve learned the trick to getting him to talk more about his day is to initiate a conversation about something else first – something they really don’t mind talking about. Even though my child doesn’t necessarily come right out and talk about his day after I do talk about something else, it does seem to increase the likelihood that at some point that day, I get some information about how his school day was.
Here are 39 of my favorite questions to ask my own children. Hope they help initiate more conversation in your home too!
The unfortunate truth is that if we live, we must also one day die. And death can be confusing, especially for children, who are constantly receiving confusing messages about the subject. Many parents have difficulty talking about death with children, particularly young children, and we frequently avoid the subject for as long as we can… usually until someone close to us or close to our child dies.
I have a confession. I’m human. I work with lots of kids and families, but I’ll be the first to admit that I am NOT a perfect parent. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed, sometimes I am too strict, sometimes I’m too lenient. Sometimes I even raise my voice (okay, sometimes I even yell). The truth is, some days I just don’t feel like being a parent, and that makes it awfully hard when you know that you still have to be, regardless of whether you feel like it or not.
Sometimes I get caught up in making sure my kids know what they “should” be doing or what they’re doing wrong, trying to make them responsible and raise them to be good, decent human beings. Sometimes I forget to tell them all the great things they’re doing right, because believe me, regardless of how tough the day’s been, they’re doing A LOT of stuff right too.
Realizing this, I came up with an idea (because I’m a problem solver). I needed something to help me remember to let them know that they’re doing some really great things, and I needed a reminder for myself to stop focusing on the misbehavior so much and start focusing on all the ways my kids are actually really awesome. By doing this, it’s actually a pretty neat strategy to get more positive behaviors from your children. It also helps your kids to start thinking more positively about themselves – and to realize that hey, you were paying attention after all.
In all my years of training and experience, I’ve learned to emphasize “Catch Them Being Good.” That’s the idea behind my idea: making Good Behavior Jars for my own children. I was afraid my own kids weren’t hearing enough of what they we’re doing “right,” and maybe too much more about what I thought they were doing “wrong.”
So I found two mason jars (because I have two children), and I labeled each with my children’s names. Each night (or early morning), I write them little notes about how proud I am of them or examples of things I caught them doing that I thought were really great that day (or the day before). Then I slip the notes in their own individual jars and let them open them in the morning so they can know that I really did see those good things! If you’re like me and have a child who can’t read yet, this is a great opportunity to sit and read the notes together. (Actually, it’s pretty cool to read the notes together with your older kids too!)
Sometimes when I sit down to start writing, I think I’ll only be writing a couple notes, particularly when we’ve had a particularly rough day, but more often than not, I find that once I start writing, I can’t stop remembering all the great things they did do! Some things I caught in the moment, and most things I didn’t realize in the midst of our rough day.
Here are some examples of the notes I’ve left my own kids:
The notes cheer me up, and more importantly, they help my kids know that they are doing some pretty amazing things (some that they themselves may not have even realized). The ten or fewer minutes I take to write these notes each day helps them think more positively about themselves and actually promotes an increase in positive behaviors throughout the day! Now I’m not saying that this is a miracle cure for those rough days. Rough days are normal. You’re going to have them. You’re human! Your kids are human! But if nothing else, the jars sure help me to remember to focus more on what they’re doing right and to help them know that I noticed. And ask any kid, that’s a pretty big thing in itself.
In general, most researchers recognize four main types of parenting styles, and each parenting style uses a different approach to discipline. These four primary styles include authoritarian parenting, authoritative parenting, permissive parenting, and uninvolved (or neglectful) parenting. There is another style of parenting, however, that many people aren’t aware of: Hostile Aggressive Parenting (HAP).
Have you ever heard of it? Most of those who do have knowledge of HAP will tell you that they wish they didn’t because it’s frequently deeply connected with parental alienation. Is it possible that you’re an offender and don’t realize it? Or maybe you know someone guilty of practicing this type of parenting. High conflict families come from ALL socio-economic statuses, as does HAP. Spousal conflict is normal and an expected part of divorce. However, when one or both parents allow the conflict to become excessive, the impact on the children is harmful and destructive.
The inabilty of the parents (or caregivers) to contain and manage their conflict, for the benefit of the children, is an expression of psychological immaturity on one or both parents and shows an inabiity to manage and regulate one’s own emotions. It also represents a profound failure of parental empathy for the kids’ experience.
Take a minute and think about your child. Picture that excitement in their face right after they learn that their team won that first t-ball game. Can you see that surprised look on their face on Christmas morning when they get that much longed-for gift? Look at their face. Aren’t they the sweetest things ever? Their big round eyes, those long, beautiful eyelashes, that precious little nose, and those sweet lips that kiss your cheek every night before they fall fast asleep in their bed. Look at them. See how sweet they look while they’re fast asleep? And when they wake up so pleasant and well rested every morning and smile at you as they brush their teeth and get ready for school (without even having to be asked!), can you see them?
One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to “be a better parent.” Okay, so it’s one of my resolutions every year. Every. Single. Year. Yes, I strive for this every year because the truth is that I’m by far not a perfect parent. I sometimes lose my patience. Sometimes I get frustrated and raise my voice. Okay, honestly, sometimes I even yell. Yes, I know, this is what every single parenting book I’ve ever read says not to do. But I’m human. I have emotions. And some days are hard. Really hard. My mind is on something else, I’m overwhelmed, I’m stressed, I’m tired, I’m in a hurry. And on top of everything else we grown-ups have to do, we’re expected to be “perfect parents.” Our society tells us that anyway. But the truth is, there are no “perfect parents,” just parents who are, darn it, doing the best we can.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t strive to do “better” in my role as a parent. Even those that we perceive as excellent parents still aren’t sure they’re doing it right. We’re all just doing the best that we can, and honestly, that on top of loving and caring for your kids, is what I consider to be good parenting. We don’t have to be perfect for us to be good parents, so let’s first preface this article with a resolution to stop being so hard on ourselves!
Even though I know with one hundred percent certainty that I will never be a “perfect parent,” I still strive every day, moment by moment, to do the best I can. So I came up with eight parenting resolutions for us parents who made this one of our goals this year.
In all likelihood, you’ve probably already figured out in your years as a parent that kids seem to speak a language of their own. The way kids “speak” is most often portrayed in play and behaviors. With children and adults alike, all behavior is purposeful. This is actually one of the major premises of Dr. William Glasser’s Choice Theory. Dr. Glasser, who is also the founder of Reality Therapy, notes that almost all behavior is chosen and that we’re driven to satisfy five basic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. In essence, behavior has a purpose. “All of our behavior is our best attempt at the time, given the resources at our disposal (knowledge, skills, etc.) to meet our needs.”
Let me briefly summarize.
Imagine this common scene between a caring mother and her child (found in “Positive Discipline Parenting Tools” by Dr. Nelsen, Mary Nelsen Tamborski, and Brad Ainge):
Billy is sad because his friend doesn’t want to play with him.
Billy’s mom tries to comfort him by saying,
“Don’t feel sad, Billy. You have other friends, and I love you.”
Okay, raise your hand if you have been an actor yourself in this play. Don’t be shy, my hand’s raised too. Raise your hand again if you remember being the child actor in this scene when you were younger. My hand’s raised.
Let me first preface what I’m about to say with the fact that, maybe like your own parents or caregivers, Billy’s mother cares and loves him a lot. She’s in no way intentionally trying to do the opposite of what I’m getting ready to say here. Just like you and I are also not trying to purposely do the opposite when the same scene plays out with our own kids. Billy’s mom loves Billy and is sincerely trying to help him and comfort him. Unfortunately, she’s not validating her son’s feelings here.
As children, we’re often taught that we shouldn’t feel certain feelings. Not because of malicious parents and caregivers, but because of parents and caregivers who are actually trying to protect us and shield us from those negative feelings. Often we do the same with our own children. It’s important that we instead, validate our child’s feelings and experiences: “You‘re sad because your friend doesn’t want to play today. I know how much that hurts. I felt the same way when my friends didn’t want to play with me.”
Do you see the difference? It’s an important tweak to the wording. By validating our kids’ feelings we’re allowing them to discover that all feelings are normal and okay, that they can work through their feelings, and that they can even learn from them. Just something for us all to remember the next time we feel like fixing, squelching, or denying our child’s feelings. If you’re not quite sure what to say in responding to your child when they’re feeling their big feelings, try something like “How are you feeling about that?” or “I can see that makes you very mad,” or “Little brothers can be so annoying.” Obviously you would want to substitute the appropriate words based on the situation. 😉
Finally, one more thing for us parents and caregivers to aim for is to strive to empower our kids. Share control with your kids so they can develop the skills they need to have power over their own lives. Some suggestions for how to do this (Positive Discipline):
Alright, there you have it. Eight of my parenting resolutions for the new year. Wish me luck (and lots of patience)!