Posted in Parenting

The Power of Natural Consequences

Talking about and using rewards and consequences is such a big part of my job, and for good reason!  Consequences and rewards are some of the best ways to motivate a change in behavior.  However, consequences aren’t always “handed out” by parents, sometimes they just happen… and it’s called a natural consequenceA natural consequence is something that “naturally” happens as a result of someone’s behavior.  And I said “someone” rather than specifying children because, guess what?!  Natural consequences happen to adults too.

A few “adult” examples:

  • I forgot to take my trash out last week.  The natural consequence?  My garage smells because I have week-old diaper trash that has to wait to go out.
  • I chose not to workout for a month.  The natural consequence?  Well, there are a few, but for starters I gained a few pounds.
  • I forget to take my umbrella to work on a rainy day.  The natural consequence?  I got wet on my walk to the car after work.

What these consequences have in common is that nobody else interfered or made them happen… they happened naturally as a result of what I did.

So now for a few “kid” examples:

  • My child chooses to run through the house (despite a “no running” rule) and falls down – that’s a natural consequence.
  • My child refuses to eat what I’ve made for lunch  The natural consequence?  They’re probably going to be hungry while waiting for their next meal/snack.
  • My child refuses to brush their teeth and gets a cavity.
  • My kiddo doesn’t clean their room and it starts to smell.
  • My child doesn’t pick up their dirty clothes, so they don’t get washed and he doesn’t have clean clothes to wear to school.

Natural consequences can be really powerful, depending on the situation and the person.  So many times children see their parents as “bad guys” for “giving” them a consequence, but with a natural consequence, the parent has nothing to do with it.  Instead, the consequence is what naturally happened as a result of what the child did (or didn’t) do.  Because of this, many kids feel a bigger sense of responsibility (rather than just blaming mom and dad for the “punishment”) for their actions.  And THAT can be very powerful.

When dealing with natural consequences, parents should try very hard not to rescue their child from the consequences (unless they are in danger, of course).  If you remind your child to take their umbrella and they forget, don’t make an extra trip to bring it to them.  If your child is refusing to pick up their dirty clothes, don’t go do it for them, even though you know they wore their last clean pair of pants to school today.  If your child refuses to eat a reasonable meal for lunch and you don’t normally give a snack before dinner, don’t bail them out of their hunger (the natural consequence) by giving an extra snack.

While you don’t want to rescue your kiddo from a natural consequence, it’s still appropriate to comfort them and empathize.  But do so in a way that doesn’t take the responsibility away from them and do so in a way that isn’t “rubbing it in.”  If you child refuses lunch and is hungry before dinner, avoid saying something like “bet you wish you’d eaten lunch now, huh?”  That would be “rubbing it in.”  Also avoid saying something like, “hopefully you’ll like what I make for dinner better.”  That could send the message that it’s your fault because your kiddo didn’t like their cooking.  Instead, trying something like, “it must be uncomfortable to be so hungry after choosing not to eat your lunch.”  Then you can possibly remind them how long it is until the next meal and suggest they find something to do to distract from their hunger.

One last point is to consider whether or not you would like the natural consequence to replace any other consequence your child would normally earn.  You can take into account the severity of the natural consequence before deciding if you want to also give out an additional one for the behavior.  If your child doesn’t seem phased by the natural consequence, then you might want to consider using one for their negative behavior.  However, if they are really affected by the natural consequence, you might decide that’s enough of a deterrent.  There’s really no wrong or right answer here, so just use your best judgment.

Natural consequences can be really inconvenient and frustrating, but sometimes they really “do the trick” in motivating kids (and adults!) to change their behavior.

Posted in Parenting

Bribe vs. Reward: What’s the Difference and What’s Better in the Long-Run for You and Your Kids

So many times I hear parents talk about giving their kids a “reward,” when really what they’re doing is bribing.  So what’s the difference?  A reward is contingent on a specific behavior having already happened – the behavior happens before they get the reward.  A bribe is given either before the child has a chance to earn it, or is given to stop a behavior (while it’s happening).  To break it down into simpler terms, a reward is given after a child does something good.  A bribe is given before a child does something good, or used in-the-moment to stop them from doing something bad.

Some examples of rewards:

  • A child gets all A’s in their school subjects and is rewarded with a pizza party at the end of the school year.
  • A child gets to pick a piece of candy in the checkout line at the grocery store because they stayed next to mom and stayed quiet throughout the store.


And some examples of bribes:

  • “If I give you a cookie, will you be good at the store?”
  • “If you stop screaming right now, I’ll let you pick out a candy bar.”


So what works best for improving behavior?  A bribe rarely works consistently.  In the first example, where the child is given cookie as a bribe for behaving at the store, whether or not the kid behaves doesn’t affect his chance of getting the cookie… because he already got it.  So it’s not likely that he/she will be motivated to behave at the store.

A bribe given to stop in-the-moment bad behavior can sometimes be effective short-term.  Many children will stop what they’re doing if promised a candy bar or some other item.  However, if you think about it, the child is indirectly being rewarded for the bad behavior… that was what prompted the use of the promised item.  Also, some kids (because they’re smart little cookies!) will pick up on this and will then intentionally engage in the negative behavior, so that they will be offered an item to stop.

A reward is your best option, both for short-term and long-term improvements in behavior.  It motivates your child to behave how you want them to because they have to do so before they get a reward.  One of the arguments I hear from parents about using rewards is that they don’t want to have to give their child a reward for something forever.  BUT with use of proper fading (decreasing how often a reward is given), you won’t have to reward them forever.

Posted in Parenting

5 Benefits of Having Your Children Do Chores + How to Get Started

My face scrunches up just thinking about chores.  I don’t like scrubbing toilets or showers, I groan every time I have to wipe down my kitchen counters (which is, like, 5 times a day), and I don’t even want to think about cleaning the oven… which is why it hasn’t been done in almost a year (oops).

I had to complete chores as a child.  I’m not talking about a few chores a week.  Basically, my sister and I cleaned our entire 3 bedroom/2 bathroom house between the two of us each weekend.  In my opinion, this may have been a bit over the top (sorry, Dad).  It took all of Saturday morning for us to do those chores and we weren’t allowed to do anything fun until they were done.  We still complain about it as adults!  While I think cleaning half of the house was a little extreme, I am a proponent of having children do chores on a regular basis.

There are multiple benefits of having your children complete chores:

  1. Doing chores can build kids’ confidence and self-esteem (especially if they are praised for quality in completing their chores)!
  2. It can take a load off mom and/or dad, which might mean more time to spend together as a family doing fun things.  If you divide the chores between more people, they (theoretically) get done faster.
  3. Completing chores teaches responsibility… that can carry over into adulthood.
  4. Doing chores can improve motor skills (especially for young kiddos).  Think of all the different movements your little one can master while picking up small objects or helping you dust furniture.
  5. Doing chores can help your child feel like part of a family (or team), and that they’re contributing to how the family/team functions.

To get started, you’ll need to think about a few things: how many chores you want your child to complete per day, what chores you’d like them to do, and if there will be any kind of reward/allowance for completing chores.

Regarding the number of chores you want your child to do, a good place to start might be a daily chore and 2-3 more on weekend days.  You can always start small and build your way up to more.

To help decide which chores your kiddo will be responsible for, here are a few links to give you some ideas:

Keep in mind that, depending on age, they may need some help.  You can start having children as young as 2 or 3 complete some chores – they’re definitely going to need help, but it can be fun to do those chores together!

Lastly, it’s your personal choice on whether you want to offer a reward/allowance.  There are benefits of both giving a reward and not giving one.  If you do decide to offer a reward/allowance for chore completion, keep in mind that 1) it doesn’t have to be a big reward and 2) remember to use contingency – your kiddo only gets the reward/allowance after they’ve met expectations for when and how well chores are completed.

Posted in Behavior, Parenting

Problem Solving Flower Worksheet

Due to the way kids’ brains develop, they’re not always great at problem-solving.  It can be difficult for them to think about all the choices they have in a situation, think about the outcomes of those situations, then make a decision based on that information.  BUT with some help from an adult, they’re usually capable of doing so… they just need some help going through the steps.  Also, a visual representation usually helps make the process more entertaining for the child.  Below, you’ll find a problem-solving worksheet that can be used to help guide a child through the problem-solving process (printable copy here).

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Start by having your child write (or write for them) the “problem” in the center of the flower.  Then, have them come up with 5 different choices they could make to try to solve their problem.  If it’s a not-so-great choice (or a TERRIBLE) one, go ahead and let them write it down.  After each choice they come up with, have them identify what the outcome might be and talk about it.  So, if their “problem” is that their brother is calling them names and the “choice” is to kick him, talk about how his/her brother might get hurt, and that your kiddo will get in trouble for kicking his/her brother.

If you need more than 5 spaces, fill up the back.  Once you and your kiddo have all the choices you can think of, sum up each choice and the outcomes, then help your kiddo pick the best option and follow through on it.

Note: this worksheet can also be used if your kiddo has ALREADY acted (and made a not-so-great choice).  Just have them write out all the choices and outcomes, pick which one would have been a better choice, then practice it.  We can’t go back in time and change what they did, but going through this will make it more likely that they’ll make a better choice if/when the same situation (or a similar one) comes up in the future.

Posted in Parenting

7 Rules for Co-Parenting

Divorce can be (and usually is) such a difficult process for adults, but I have seen so many children suffer as well.  I’m not saying it’s easy, but if parents can put aside their own hurt, there are some things they can do to make the process a bit easier for their children.  Here are 7 tips (RULES) for co-parenting:

  1. Keep your child’s best interest in mind at all times.  Imagine you’re in your child’s shoes and think about how your actions are going to impact them.  Sometimes you won’t have a choice, but sometimes you will.  When you do, choose what will be the least hurtful to your children.
  2. Don’t argue in front of your child.  I’ve had a lot of children in my office worried and upset because their parents fight.  Sometimes they even think that it’s their fault.  Please do your best not to argue in front of them.  If an argument starts, cut it off and continue the conversation when your child isn’t around.
  3. Do not make your child a “middle man” for scheduling/arranging.  All arrangements for plans and visits should be made between the two adults.  Do not put that pressure on your child(ren).
  4. Don’t force your child to choose one parent over the other.  Don’t ask questions like, “wouldn’t you rather be with me this weekend?” or “don’t you wish you could stay with me longer?”  It’s not fair to your child and it will only lead to hurt feelings.
  5. Do not talk negatively about your co-parent in front of your child.  I know this one will be hard, but do your best.  Even if you no longer love the other parent, your child (probably) still does, so don’t bash them when your child is around.  Save that for your friends (or therapist!).
  6. Do not make your child be a “spy” to get information about your co-parent.  Don’t interrogate your child about their other parent’s new significant (or anything else).  This is not fair to your child.
  7. Make a plan and try to be consistent.  Children typically do best when they’ve got a consistent routine.  It’s inevitable that something will come up, but try your best to be consistent as far as visits.  This can dramatically help with your child’s ability to adjust to going back and forth between two parents/homes.

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A printable version of this document can be found Coparenting Rules.


Posted in Behavior, Parenting

Should You Let Your Child “Earn Back” a Privilege?

I recently was asked if it’s “Ok” to let a child earn back electronic time that was taken away as a negative consequence due to behavior.  My opinion on the subject is that it’s appropriate, but only sometimes (like, once in a blue moon!).  Here’s my stipulations:

  • Don’t get into a habit of letting them “earn back” a privilege.

You took that privilege away for a reason!  Regularly letting a child earn back a privilege will make that consequence seem less severe for them.  Why be upset about losing a privilege if you know you’re probably going to earn it back?  This then decreases motivation to choose positive and pro-social behaviors.  It all comes down to follow through.  Let’s look at an example for adults: If my boss tells me that I have to stay late every time I hand in a report late, but almost every time he lets me leave early anyways…?  Guess what, I’m not going to be all that motivated to hand in my report on time… because I’ve learned that there’s no follow through on the consequence.

  • Don’t undo the entire consequence.

When using negative consequences, the best (fastest) way to decrease negative behavior is to use a negative consequence every single time it happens.  So if a parent does decide to let a child “earn back” something, don’t let them earn ALL of it back.  For example, if your child lost 15 minutes of electronic time, give them maybe 10 or 5 back.  Or it they lost ALL electronic privileges (computer, phone, Xbox, etc.), pick ONE device that they can use.

  • IF you are going to let them earn back a privilege, make sure they’ve gone above and beyond to earn it.

 Your child should do something EXTRA special and out of the ordinary in order to earn that privilege back.  Maybe your kiddo didn’t do their chores and lost TV time for the day, but later did their normal chores AND extra chores to.  Maybe your child hit their sibling and lost phone and computer privileges, but apologized (without being prompted) to their sibling and helped them with a task.

One last hint: if your child comes to expect to earn their privileges back (i.e., by asking “so do I get my time back since I apologized to my sister?”), then you’re likely letting them earn back privileges too often.  Also… the answer to that question should be “no.”  Don’t give in if your kiddo asks for their negative consequence to be undone!


Posted in Therapy

Favorites Ice Breaker Worksheet

When I start seeing a new kiddo for therapy, I like to give them an easy assignment to do before their second session.  I usually have kiddos with emotional concerns do a worksheet pertaining to feelings (see Inside Out Emotions Ice Breaker), but for kiddos with more behavioral concerns I usually start with a “favorites” worksheet.

Having kids write down their favorites (and least favorites) is a great “ice breaker” tool for me to get to know them and start building rapport in that second session.  As a bonus, it’s also a great tool for me to use to recommend rewards (from the kiddo’s list of favorites) and negative consequences (from their list of least favorites) to the child’s parents for behavior contracts.

I created a super simple worksheet that I hand out to kiddos when they’re getting ready to leave that first session.  It looks like this:

Favorites screenshot


You can find a printable version here.

Posted in Emotion Identification, Therapy

Inside Out Emotions Ice Breaker

When I see a kiddo for their first therapy session, I usually give them an easy, getting-to-know-you assignment to complete before their second session.  For kiddos who are dealing more with emotional issues than behavioral, I like to have them make a list of 5 things that make them feel happy, 5 things that make them feel sad, 5 things that make them feel worried, and 5 things that make them feel mad.

This list is a great way to “break the ice” and going over it is beneficial for building rapport.  It also helps give me an idea of their knowledge and awareness of emotions.  Additionally, it’s easy to fit in questions about how they cope with the situations, which also gives me an idea of how they are at coping with emotions.

To make the assignment more fun, I created an easy worksheet with the Inside Out characters for kids to take and fill out.  Some kids are turned off when they hear the words “assignment” or “homework,” but show them a piece of paper with an Inside Out character on it, and it doesn’t seem so bad. 🙂

Here’s what the worksheet looks like:Screen Shot 2018-01-01 at 7.26.19 PM

Printable version here.


Posted in Parenting

Tips for Making Consequences More Effective

Just like praise (see my blog post Tips for Making Praise More Effective), there are some things to consider when deciding on a consequence.  Consequences can be both positive (rewards) and negative.  Some of the tips below are relevant for both positive and negative consequences, but this blog post will focus on tips for making negative consequences more effective.  Components to consider include:

Immediacy: the consequence will be more effective if it immediately follows the behavior.

Limit verbals: this is where a lot of parents go wrong.  It can be easy to fall into the habit of “lecturing” and re-hashing the behavior with your kiddo.  However, this can actually be reinforcing, as you’re giving the child lots of attention and one-on-one time during those fun talks.  Therefore, it is typically recommended that you limit verbal interaction – label the behavior and what you’d like your child to do differently, then let the consequence do the “talking.”

Neutral facial expression/voice: I’ve mentioned before that some children are reinforced by parental reactions… there are some kiddos who think it is hilarious when they can get other people worked up.  Therefore, try to use a neutral facial expression and neutral voice tone when giving a consequence.

Consistency: this one is SO important.  If you decide that a behavior is undesirable, then you have to do something about it every time your child chooses to act that way.  If they think they can get away with it sometimes, then they’re going to keep doing it.  This is why adults speed while driving.

Size: make sure that the size of the consequence fits what the negative behavior is.  Losing electronic privileges for a week might not be appropriate for forgetting one daily chore, but might be appropriate if your kiddo gets in a fight at school.

Follow through: Once you hand out a consequence, you must be able to follow through with it.  If you tell your child that they’ve lost television time, then let them watch television with you that night, that consequence means nothing.  Therefore, before you decide on a consequence, think about if it’s realistic and something you’re able to follow through on.


I have created the following handout for caregivers.  It might be beneficial to print it out and pin it up somewhere as a reminder.  A printable file can be found here.

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Posted in Behavior, Uncategorized

Crash Course on the Four Functions of Behavior

There is a purpose behind all behavior; sometimes the purpose is fairly obvious and other times it can be hard to tell why someone is behaving a certain way.  There are 4 general functions of behavior and they are Tangibles, Escape/Avoidance, Attention, and Sensory.  I have created a (very colorful!) informational handout that summarizes the four functions of behavior.  This can be very helpful for therapists, teachers, and parents.


Once you figure out the function of the behavior, you can then determine the best approach to decreasing the behavior.  For escape/avoidance, the intervention is to follow through no matter what. For tangibles, the intervention is to not give in (and probably use what they want as a reward later…).  For attention, you want to limit the attention you give for the negative behavior AND increase attention for positive behavior.  And for sensory behavior, you want to replace any socially inappropriate behaviors with ones that meet the needs of the kiddo but are more appropriate.

However, my recommendation is that you seek help from someone who has been trained in behavior therapy to assist in assessing the function behind a behavior and then making recommendations for what to do as a caregiver.  Why?  Because assessing this stuff can be fairly tricky!  It typically takes a lot of observation and data collection before you can be sure what the function of the behavior is.


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You can find the file to print here.