27 Feb

The Sticker Chart — What Are We Teaching Our Kids?

sticker chart

America loves the sticker chart.

Google “sticker chart,”  “reward chart,” and “chore chart” and it will return over a million hits. Pinterest searches bring up pin after pin of different charts and rewards that parents have tried to get their children to comply with rules of good behavior. Amazon has more than a thousand products for sale that use the same motivation.  Proponents of the sticker system swear by it, saying that it prevents power struggles over things like brushing teeth, doing homework, or going to bed on time.

And in the short term, it works.

But what of the long term? Reward systems, like the sticker chart, do work—too well, in fact. The powerful psychological effects of rewarding good behavior can have significantly long-term negative consequences to the child trained by them. Children’s mindsets can be molded by the reward for good behavior system that reaches beyond the immediate behavior to affect relationships as well.

It’s a common complaint among parents that their children eventually want to be rewarded for everything, and that they won’t cooperate without the promise of a reward. One mother said that her son refused to help his brother clean up a spill because there was nothing in it for him. Eventually, even rewards stop working. Especially with older kids, negotiating for bigger rewards becomes common.

Erica Reischer, a clinical psychologist and parent educator, calls this phenomenon in which a family’s system of rewards becomes pervasive, a “reward economy.” Children in these situations learn to exchange desirable behavior for rewards, and finally adhere to a transactional model for good behavior. They refuse to offer good behavior without a reward.

What’s the motivation?

Children who expect a reward for good behavior often have their intrinsic motivation undermined by the very rewards that are offered for that behavior. In cases where children are offered stars on a sticker chart not only for tasks like cleaning their rooms, but also for pro-social behavior, the results can be very bad. Things like sharing their things, cooperating with others, or helping should be things that children want to do because it is the right thing to do. Studies show that offering children rewards for pro-social behavior can lessen their desire to be helpful and caring.

According to Erica Reischer, “Insights from behavioral economics help explain this effect. From that perspective, the problematic attitude of children raised in a reward economy—“What’s in it for me?”—is a predictable response to the collision of social norms (the invisible forces that shape how humans act) with market norms (a system of payments, debts, contracts, and customers).”

In other words, children respond to requests for proper behavior by expecting rewards. They want to be “paid” for everything instead of integrating themselves into the family social norms. Unfortunately, the market norm mentality can also affect relationships.

Duke University professor Dan Ariely, who has written a book called Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, questions the quality of relationships based on transactions. “If you created a relationship [with your kids] that is very transactional, what do you expect when everyone gets older?” Ariely said. “I’m not saying that giving kids a sticker is going to make them send their parents to assisted living, but if you think about the idea, it’s a step in that direction.”


27 Feb

How to Strengthen Your Child’s Listening Skills

listening skills

How important are listening skills?

You know how frustrating it is to have to say something two or three (or more) times before your child will listen to you. And half the time, you don’t know if she’s just ignoring you or isn’t actually hearing what you say.

Let’s change that.

Listening is a skill that is among the most important to a successful life. When your child is actively listening, she is able to gather information, store that information, analyze it, and eventually retrieve it. She’ll have stronger communication skills, enabling her to ask for clarification, and share ideas and thoughts. When she listens to others, they will find her more empathetic, able to handle conflict better, and find common ground among her peers. And her interpersonal relationships will improve.

Ways to improve listening skills

Playing sound games is a wonderful way to build good listening skills. From the time your child is an infant, reciting nursery rhymes and simple songs will help her learn to listen. Take her on a “sound walk,” and encourage her to listen to sounds she can hear as well as looking at things she can see. Listen first, then try to find the source of the sound.

“I Spy” and “Twenty Questions” are both games that encourage listening, as is “Simon Says” for the younger ones. In all three games, children have to listen closely to extract the information they need to formulate an appropriate response.

Kids imitate adults. Your listening skills must be up to par if you expect your child’s to improve. Practice really listening when your child talks to you, and model the behavior you hope to see.

Here are my top ten techniques to help you talk so your child will listen.

  1. Use your child’s name. You like to hear your own name; we all do. So does your child. Start any conversation with your child’s name and gain brownie points right off the bat. Repeat her name until she looks at you or otherwise acknowledges that she is paying attention. Making eye contact is the best way to know she is listening.
  2. Speak positively. Try to avoid saying “no” and “don’t” as much as possible. Unless there’s a really good reason for saying no, try to say yes. Keep ridiculing and shaming words out of your vocabulary. Use a positive tone, encouraging and affirming. Watch your self-talk, too, as kids are great imitators. If you have a low self-esteem, chances are your child will, too.
  3. Volume is great. Yelling is not. Use volume appropriately. When your child yells at you, yelling back will only escalate the problem. Try whispering instead.
  4. Offer alternatives. Kids cooperate better when they have alternatives to choose from. Use “when…then” statements to help them cooperate. “When you have changed your clothes from school, then you can play outside. Would you like a snack first or after you’ve changed your clothes?”
  5. Get down at their level. Making eye contact is best done on the same level as the child. Adults are big and intimidating, so getting down to the child’s level makes it easier for him to listen. Be sure when it’s your turn to listen that you maintain eye contact and are quiet while the child talks.
  6. Eliminate distractions. Turn off the computer and silence the phone. Pause the movie or turn off the TV. Do these things when your child wants to talk to you, not just when you want to talk to him. If you simply cannot break from what you’re doing, politely tell the child that you will give him your undivided attention in (be specific) minutes.
  7. Ask open-ended questions. Your child will learn to think out responses if your requests for information are open-ended (can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”). For instance, instead of saying “Did you have a good day today?” try asking “What did you learn in school today?” Then show interest in the answer. Respond by rephrasing their answer or seeking more information. “You did? I bet that was fun. How did you feel about it?”
  8. Give warning notice. No one likes to have what they’re engrossed in interrupted. Adults don’t and neither do children. When it is nearing time to change activities or leave, give your child some notice. “Andy, we are going to leave in 10 minutes. Start saying goodbye to your friends.”
  9. Don’t interrupt. It is rude to interrupt anyone, including your child. Be patient as your little one tries to communicate with you. Don’t finish sentences or show impatience with them as they try to find the right words to convey thoughts.
  10. Prioritize communication with your kids. The more you communicate with your kids, the more they will communicate back. Your interactions with them sets the stage for their interactions with others. Good communications with parents develops confidence, self-esteem and cooperation with others. It is also the cornerstone for good relationships.

Here’s a wonderful post from Happily Evermom on getting your child to listen, and one from The Child Development Institute that is also useful.


24 Feb

9 Great Online Sites for Educational Games and Activities

technology and kids

It’s a technology thing.

In order for kids to function in this age of technology, they need to have the skills to compete. That’s okay, though, because the kids of today have a world of technology to explore. Learning to use a computer seems like second nature to children now, and I marvel at how young they can master keyboarding and mousing techniques.

But how do you know what’s a good website for kids?

I’ve done some of the legwork for you. Here is a list of places that I’ve explored and found safe for my kids. Please note: I am not responsible for the content of these sites. Please check them out before you let your little one go at it. Remember that you are the parent, teacher, or caretaker of your child and the ultimate responsibility for what they do online lies with you. With that caveat in mind, here are some links I can recommend. The descriptions are taken from the websites.

Fun Brain

Parents can trust Funbrain to deliver a fun and safe experience for even the youngest children. The Playground helps parents introduce their preschoolers to the Internet and teaches them how to manipulate the mouse and keyboard. Selected by FamilyFun magazine in its September 2010 issue as one of the top ten websites for kids, Funbrain is committed to providing a safe gaming environment that bridges learning and entertainment.


Starfall.com is a program service of Starfall Education Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity. The website has been a free online resource since 2002, teaching millions of children to read and inspiring a love of learning through exploration. The website is kid-safe. There is no advertising and we do not collect any personal information from children— in fact, we’re one of the safest children’s websites on the internet! Members enjoy mathematics, additional reading activities, and songs.

Kids National Geographic

Nat Geo Kids inspires young adventurers to explore the world through award-winning magazines, books, apps, games, toys, videos, events, and a website, and is the only kids brand with a world-class scientific organization at its core.


Welcome to the wonderful world of Dr. Seuss! Here you will find resources to share with your students, news about special events and annual celebrations, and tips on how to incorporate Seuss books into your plans throughout the school year.


ABCya is the leader in free educational computer games and mobile apps for kids. The innovation of a grade school teacher, ABCya is an award-winning destination for elementary students that offers hundreds of fun, engaging learning activities.

Highlights Kids

Because children are the world’s most important people™, our company’s mission is to serve children, their families, and others involved in their development. We do this by offering only superior products and services that nourish children’s minds and hearts, by adhering to the highest standards in business methods and practices, and by fostering an environment that strengthens our employees’ desire to give their best efforts every day.

Switcheroo Zoo

This website started as a small project. We were playing around with the idea of making new animals by switching their parts, and the result was Switch Zoo. At first, the zoo had just nine animals, and it was the only attraction on the website. Today, Switch Zoo has 142 species, and the website features additional animal games, music created from animal voices, a reference section about all the animals in Switch Zoo, lesson plans, and poetry, stories and artwork created by students and other visitors.

ABC Mouse

ABCmouse.com offers a glossary with definitions of over five hundred words in child-friendly language, as illustrations and photographs that can help your child get a clear understanding of the meanings of the words.

Get Smart

Links to hundreds of interactive activities for use in your classroom.

Now that you’ve got some places to explore, what will you do with your kids online today?

20 Feb

Will A Reading Nook Encourage Your Child to Read?

This post contains affiliate links.

Children love their own spaces.

But they like to share, too. Most kids would prefer to share a bedroom with a sibling, suggests Martin Ford, senior associate dean in the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and an expert in child social development. He says, “A strong argument could be made for shared living arrangements based on how peer relations facilitate social, moral and intellectual development.”

Yet when it comes to independent reading, it might be more fun to have a private space just for that activity.

That doesn’t mean each child needs his or her own reading nook. One nook for the whole family is probably sufficient, if space is at a premium. Then it’s just a matter of managing time so each child has ample opportunity to settle with a book and read for awhile while siblings are involved in something else. Learning to take turns is a natural outcome of sharing space.

While kids can read anywhere, they enjoy it more in a reading nook.

Reading to your children is where a lifelong love of reading begins. Snuggled together on a couch or in a big chair makes for some really great memories. Your voice, melodiously reading a favorite story over and over again, is something your kids will always remember. But comes the day when little ones want to “read” to themselves (even before they’ve mastered the actual mechanics of reading). Giving them a creative space to enter that world can make reading a lifelong habit.

Whether the reading nook is a colorful tent, a corner with pillows and a bookshelf, or an elaborate nest is really not the point. Having a place designated just to read, is. Here are a few ideas for making that place special.


Kids love tents. Tents come in all sizes and shapes, and you can get one that uses their favorite cartoon characters, too. Although there are a lot to buy, you can just as easily make one by hanging a blanket over some chairs or a table, too. Shelley Bergh has a great tutorial on making a tent on You Tube. BuzzFeed offers 5 Steps To Building Your Own Epic Blanket Fort. And, of course, there are a world of options at Amazon.com.

Kids love tents. They just do.

 Even a princess needs her own place to read!

Floor cushions

A few floor cushions thrown in a corner near a bookshelf may be all it takes for your child to have his own space. Whether the cushions are store-bought or homemade, comfort is paramount. If it’s comfortable, kids will naturally gravitate toward it.

 Shaped floor cushions are exciting and comfy.

Bring some sunshine into their nook.

 Give each child his or her own.


While they enjoy snuggling with you in your chair, one made just for kids will be really appreciated. Especially if it’s really unique, like this hanging chair. Who wouldn’t want to curl up and swing gently while you read?

A hanging chair will entice kids to sit and read.

An overstuffed armchair is a quiet place to read.


Little things make a big difference to the kids in your life. Clipping a light to a book lends an air of adventure and engages their imagination, too. And a colorful place that houses just their books makes a bookcase really special.

Clip-on book light is so much fun and good for the eyes.

A colorful place to house books.