The Absorbent Mind

Do you have a little person in your house between the ages of birth and six years old? Do you know someone who does? Then, you need to know about the Absorbent Mind period because there are some very specific things parents can do to make the most of these very important years.

This week we’ve been talking about the Montessori education method and philosophy, and in our post on creating a Montessori Toddler Room, we touched on the Montessori concept of Sensitive Periods — the developmental stages in a child’s life.

From birth to about age six, Dr. Maria Montessori identified a crucial period in a child’s development that she called The Absorbent Mind, and she believed that what happens during this period lays the foundation for all future intellectual and psychological growth.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

More Posts

Kids Party Favors

This past week we’ve been talking about planning kids’ birthday parties. Today we’re focusing on party favors.

As with decorations, invitations and activities, it’s great to tie these into the party theme.

Whenever possible, we like to incorporate favors into the activities. For example, at our Backyard Habitat party, the kids made mosaic designs on a terra cotta pot, built bird houses out of milk cartons, and made seeded bird treats. Those were the favors.

One year we had a car party, and all the kids took trucks and cars dipped in paint and rolled them across white t-shirts. It was a hit, so at a Bug Party, we had kids dip their fingers in paint and use their colorful finger prints to create bug shirts (lady bugs, caterpillars, spiders, etc.). Painting t-shirts is a fun way to make a wearable keepsake.

As you choose favors, look for things that kids actually enjoy having. It’s a sad day when a party ends in tears because the favors break before they even make it out the door. Punching balloons are surprising hit and are really inexpensive, and you can never go wrong with edible treats or fun how-to’s (i.e. a piece of origami paper with instructions from the internet). 

Tomorrow we’ll talk about Thank You Notes. We’ve got some fun tips to make this easier. In the meantime, leave us a comment with your favorite party favors.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

More Posts

Kids Party Decorations

This week we’ve been talking about planning kids parties, and today, we’re turing our attention to decorations.

Decorations really anchor the theme. When you’re planning the decorations, think of the food and present table, centerpieces and hangables.

Start with colors that accentuate the party theme and then use those colors when planning balloons, streamers, table cloths, cups, plates and napkins. Walmart and the Dollar Store are good places to get these things inexpensively.

Think about fun ways to spruce up the tables. For example, at our Spider Party on year, we took silver Scotch-Brite scrubbing pads and wrapped lengths of solder around the middle of the pad to make funky looking spiders on the tables. For the same party, we found directions on Family Fun to make a few giant spiders out of milk jugs and pool noodles. We hung those in the corners around the room.

After years of doing really elaborate parties, we’ve scaled back some. This year, I made a simple but awesome looking balloon arch to hang over our sliding glass door. Get a bag of multicolor latex balloons. Blow them up, and tie each one to a long curling ribbon. If you don’t space them too far apart, they tend to cluster, making it look very full. Then just tack the ribbon up over an entry way or running up the length of a staircase.

Pinterest has more ideas than you could ever use for centerpieces and other decorations, and Family Fun is another great resource.

Stop by tomorrow. We’ll be talking about party activities.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

More Posts

Activities for Kids’ Birthday Parties

Like decorations, activities for a kid’s birthday party can hinge on the theme. When you’re planning these, think of a welcome activity, an icebreaker and some theme-related games and projects.

Welcome Activity

As kids are arriving, we always have a activity that they can jump right into. This keeps everyone occupied while you’re welcoming guests and chatting with parents.

One idea that we’ve used a few times is to have each kid decorate something that you can add to a keepsake for the birthday boy or girl. At our Thomas the Tank Engine party, the birthday boy decorated an engine cut out of poster board, while his friends each decorated a train car with their name on it. At the end of the party, we hung the train like a border around his room as a reminder of his great day.

One year, our son had a Chef’s Party. As each guest arrived, we gave them an apron and let them decorate it with fabric puff paint. We got the aprons for a great price at Oriental Trading — an awesome resource for activities, decorations and favors.

During our son’s puppet party, we had a puppet show going on that kids could watch as they were arriving.

Icebreaker

Once everyone is there, consider playing a game that can help kids get to know each other. Team games are a good idea (three-legged or relay races, hot potato, tug of war or offer a group project). You can also do a memory game that requires everyone to learn and remember each other’s names. Baby shower games are great icebreakers. Do a Google search on these or team builders or ice breakers to get more ideas.

Games and Projects

Activities can tie in with the theme. At our Monster Party one year, the kids all made slime and fill buckets with it. Then they put on big monster feet that we’d made out of old cereal boxes and foam craft paper, and they raced one another to transfer the slime from one row of buckets to another.

At our American Girl party, we used the Hobo Code introduced in the Kit books to do a big scavenger hunt with each clue paying homage to one of the American Girl historical characters. And at the Puppet Party, kids made sock puppets and watched a puppet show.

Whenever we play games, we have a small prize for the winner and a candy bowl for the non winners. As someone gets out, they get to pick a treat from the candy bowl. It allows for friendly competition without creating sore losers.

Pinatas are always a big hit, and you can find (or make) one that coordinates with the theme. Plus, the candy or toys that the kids collect can be a part of the party favors.

As a homeschool family, we are BIG fans of fun (but also educational) activities. For example, our Backyard Habitat taught kids the essential elements of a habitat, and our Community Super Heroes Party introduced party goers to the local firehouse, ambulence corps and rescue squad.

We also like activities that double as party favors. My son recently had a big sleepover, and the kids made t-shirts. They drew pictures on white shirts with colored permanent markers, then they drizzled rubbing alcohol on the drawings to spread the color and make psuedo-tie dyed shirts. The shirt was their party favor.

Scheduling

As you plan activities, think about the timeframe for the overall party. Plan at least 15 minutes for the welcome activity, and then divide the rest of the party into segments, allotting an estimated time block for each activity, including cake and presents. Keep your schedule handy during the party to stay on track.

 

Stop in tomorrow. We’ll be talking about Party Favors!

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

More Posts

Kid Party Food

Good food is an American birthright, and we are the land of plenty! But party food can mean different things to different people.

There are three basic aspects to planning food for kids’ birthday parties:

  • The Cake
  • Snacks or Meal
  • Beverages

I’m not a huge fan of cooking. My darling husband is the chef and baker in our house. He’s been known to make some fun cakes (a treasure chest, a fire engine, a dinosaur, a spider, and a giant baby block, to name a few). But because I’m not the big cook, I typically schedule all of our parties between 1:00 and 5:00 pm. That way, guests have lunch before they come and dinner when they leave. We choose to provide snacks, drinks, cake and coffee and tea.

The Cake

The cake serves a few purposes. It’s a great way to emphasize the theme, adds to the decorations and feeds the people. If you’re industrious and like to bake (like the dad in our house), you can find all kinds of ideas online. Choose something that will highlight your theme and then start searching. Check out Pinterest, Family Fun, Martha Stewart and iVillage.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the cake pan. For our daughter’s American Girl party, we served beautiful petit fours in honor of Samantha. Cup cakes baked in wafer ice cream cones are another big hit. Cake pops are also really popular right now, and they can help keep minimize portions of the high fat and sugary fare.

Snacks and Meals

When planning other foods, you can either keep it simple, or tie it into the theme. One year we had a Community Super Hero party. For snacks, we made each child a fire truck. The cab of the truck was a juice box wrapped in red paper. The back of the truck was made from a small cereal box (the individual serving kind) with the top cut off. It was also wrapped in red paper, and we cut sandwiches into quarters and lined up the pieces in the cut cereal box. We draw on wheels and ladders, and voila! We had little fire engines.

During our Cooking Party one year, the activities WERE the food! The kids made individual pizzas and chicken cordon bleu, decorated their own cupcakes and had a donut eating contest.

But as I said earlier, we don’t typically get too elaborate. Usually, I like to make a fruit platter and crudite (veggie platter) with dip. If you go that route, I have few tips. Grapes work well, but grab your kitchen scissors and cut off small bunches. Quartered oranges, pineapple, and strawberries also work well. Stay away from apples and pears because they tend to brown quickly, and blueberries are another no no. Inevitably some will fall and be squished, staining whatever they touch.

For veggies, we’ve found that broccoli and cauliflower are not a big hit with everyone. When we did include them, they were always the last to go. Sliced bell peppers, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, and cucumber (cut in lengths) are popular choices.

If cooking is your thing, then you might opt to serve a meal. Buffet style food is always great at a kid’s party, since the last thing kids usually want to do is sit down for a formal meal. Make-your-own sandwiches with a cold cut platter, rolls and condiments are often a big hit. Taco bars are another popular choice, and similar to that (but a little more unique) is a mashed potato bar. Offer plastic parfait cups with delicious mashed potatoes and a choice of toppings such as salsa, shredded cheese, sour cream, chives, nacho cheese and bacon bits.

Speaking of cheese, you can do a psuedo-fondue by keeping a warm ninja crockpot with melted cheese and put out toothpicks and a wide range of dippable foods such as mini hot dogs, meatballs and cut veggies.

Drinks

At the beverage table, leave a permanent marker next to the cups with a little sign asking people to label their drinks. It will save on wasted cups. We like to offer water and ice tea and avoid sugary drinks.

During cake, we put out coffee and a carafe of hot water with a basket of tea bags, along with a gallon of milk for kids to wash down their sweets.

 

What are some of your kid party food favorites?

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

More Posts

The Invitation

This week we’re talking about planning great kid parties, and today we’re turning our attention to the invitation. Sure you can text everyone or send a Facebook message, but if you want to do something more, read on.

Once you have a theme in mind, grab your planning notebook and make a list of who you’ll invite. Jot down phone numbers next to the names because you’re bound to a have few who don’t respond by the deadline, and you’ll need to make calls.

Okay, I have to interrupt myself to air a small pet peeve. I’ve been doing birthday parties for more than 15 years (since our oldest’s first birthday), and I have seen a disturbing downward spiral in RSVP etiquette. With each passing year, I find myself having to make more and more calls (or send texts) to those who have not responded. What’s going on? If you have any thoughts on what’s causing this ugly trend or any ideas on how to fix it, please comment below! I’m dying to know what’s happening. Okay back to party planning.

With your list made, it’s time to decide on the invitations, which can run the gamut from a group text to an intricate note in a bottle. One year our oldest son had a puppet party, and we turned paper lunch bags into hand puppets (girl puppets for girls and boy puppets for boys) and wrote the invitation on the back. 

Another year we did a Backyard Habitat party, and glued a blank card to the back of a packet of seeds. We wrote party details on the card and sent them out in regular envelopes that we had decorated with a garden scene.

If you’re going for a handmade invite, get the whole family involved. Put up a crockpot, invite grandma and aunts and uncles and cousins, and set up an assembly line with each person in charge of a different aspect. Like the old quilting bees, this can be an invitation bee, and it gives us another reason to get together with people — something that seems to be dwindling in this age of digital relationships.

Speaking of digital — if you want to save postage, check out Evite.com, which lets you customize a digital invitation for free. You can add emails manually or link to your email account and/or Facebook to add people. The beauty of this method is that guests can leave messages, ask questions, see who is coming and get directions, and you can track RSVPs and send group messages and updates.

But I happen like to Facebook Events even better than Evite. Like Evite, Facebook let’s you track your list and send group notifications about the party. It also sends reminders to the people who are coming and let’s them talk to each other easily. I use Facebook for a lot of things, so I find it easy for parties because I’m already there a few times a day.

For more party invitation ideas, check out these websites:

Pinterest (my fave for ideas and how-to’s on all aspects of party planning)

Family Fun Magazine’s Blog

Martha Stewart

diypartyplanner.blogspot.com

 

Stop by tomorrow. We’ll be talking about party food!

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody are Christian, homeschooling moms with ten kids between them (ages 1 to 30), including one on the autism spectrum, plus one baby grandchild. Together they host a weekly syndicated parenting radio show, write a weekly newspaper column, freelance for a variety of publications, teach parenting and homeschooling workshops and seminars, speak at conventions and conferences and coach individual families. They are passionate about encouraging and equipping families to Parent On Purpose (POP) with the end result in mind.

More Posts

Start With a Theme

Every good party starts with a theme, but the big secret is that a theme can be virtually anything. We tend to think about movie characters or toys or kiddie cliches like princesses and castles or planes, trains and automobiles. And those are all good, but some of the most memorable parties are the most unusual!

A theme can revolve around a shape (circle party), a place (taste of Italy party), an activity (soccer or theater party), even a website (Instagram or Pinterest party).

Circle_Party

Start by thinking about your child’s interests and personality. Does your kid like to knit and crochet? Have a Needles and Knitz Party. Decorate with balls of yarn and knitting needles. Give guests a few basic tutorials (kids LOVE to learn how to knit and crochet), and offer a goodie bag with a small ball of yarn, crochet hook and simple pattern.

Does your kid like gardening and animals? Do a Backyard Habitat Party. The National Wildlife Federation teaches families how to build a backyard habitat, and you can even get it certified. Center a party theme around this idea by building a small animal shelter, planting a butterfly garden and serving a garden cake.

Cooking_Party

Think outside the box. Is your son turning eight? Do an “Eight” theme where everything revolves around the number eight. 

What’s your child’s favorite subject in school? Have a math party or a science party. There is no limit to what you can do.

The year our son Sam turned four, the librarian read Jack & The Beanstalk at a library reading group, which prompted him to ask for a Jack & The Beanstalk party. We read the book at the party, had an egg race with “golden” eggs (eggs painted gold), started bean plants, played hot potato with a “magic” beanbag, played Mother May I (with giant steps and Jack-size steps), and had cupcakes with beanstalks made out of green icing and green gumdrops cut to look like leaves.

Another year one of our kids was really into superheroes, so we did a Community Super Hero party. We arranged a progressive tour of the town’s fire department, ambulance corps and rescue squad. Then the kids ran through an elaborate obstacle course and won whistle necklaces when they completed it. For lunch, we make a fire truck to hold our drink and sandwich quarters. To make each one, we took a travel-size cereal box with one of the long sides cut off. I glued that to a juice box, and wrapped the whole thing in red paper. We cut a sandwich in quarters and placed the pieces in the cereal box and then decorated the whole thing to look like a fire engine. They were a big hit!

Check back tomorrow. We’re going to talk about some unique invitation ideas.

 

 

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

More Posts

Party Planning 101

The school year is winding down, and my brain is already sliding into summer mode. So I thought I’d dip into a lighter subject. For the next few days, we’ll be in a party frame of mind with ideas and systems to keep it all together and plan a great party.

When my third child was turning three I asked him what kind of birthday party he wanted. His older sister, who was six at the time, suggested a princess theme, but he rejected that idea. Then she proposed a dragon party, hoping for a back door into the princess concept. He didn’t bite on that one either. 

 “I think I want a yellow party,” he said. Yellow was his favorite color, so we ran with it. Everyone came to the party dressed in yellow. The cake was a big yellow smiley face. All the favors and decorations were yellow. Even the food and games revolved around yellow — potato chips, bananas, bell peppers, a yellow pinata and yellow t-ball game, to name a few.

With six kids in our house, we’ve had some great parties, and over the years, I’ve figured out that there is an easy-to-follow formula that can make every idea a success.

I know that the world is going digital. Call me old fashioned, but I still gravitate toward the old pen and paper. Before I plan any party, I grab a small note book for planning. I’ve found that it’s best to keep everything in one place. That way, I can check my invite list as RSVPs come in and keep a running shopping list as I plan decorations, food and activities. I like to attach a small binder clip to the front of the notebook, so that I can print off cool ideas as I research and plan.

All the magic starts with a theme. So check back tomorrow, and we’ll go deeper into choosing the right theme. I’ll have some suggestions to help get your juices flowing and think outside the box!

In the meantime, leave us a comment and tell us about the best party you ever hosted!

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

More Posts

How to Build a Creative Environment

Embracing boredom helps build imagination, creativity and innovation in our kids. Although we can’t stuff these things into our kids, we can set up an environment that will support the journey.

Supplies

Stock the house with lots of supplies in easy to reach, organized ways. Recycle glass jars, boxes, plastic containers, and other things to hold supplies. Collect items to store in these containers. The list is really endless, but here are a few suggestions to get you thinking. Just be sure to group like items together and to make it easy for kids to see what’s available and easy to clean up when they’re done.

  • old socks
  • bubble wrap
  • cork
  • googly eyes
  • pom poms
  • popsicle sticks
  • paint
  • a variety of different glues and other adhesives
  • drawing supplies
  • paper of different colors and textures
  • string
  • shells, rocks and sticks
  • straws
  • empty spools
  • bottle caps
  • Nails, wood, hammers, saws, etc

Painting and Drawing

Limit coloring books, but have lots of paper in all different colors, weights and consistencies, and have a wide range of things to draw with (pencils, oil pastels, chalk, markers, crayons, pens, quill and ink, etc.). Encourage kids to use brush alternatives occasionally when they’re painting: string, cotton balls, bubble wrap, potato stamps, q-tips, wine corks, fabric, Walmart bags, leaves…the list is endless.

Encourage kids to use a variety of different surfaces for drawing and painting: old cereal boxes, blocks of wood, tiles, junk mail, t-shirts, etc.

Music

Music speaks the language of the soul. Fill your house with all different kinds of music. If you’ve got cable TV, chances are you have a wide range of music channels. You can also create customized music lists on Spotify.

Play classical, jazz, blues, rock, rap, gospel, Latin, swing, funk, ska, show tunes, country, hip hop, techno, dubstep, Asian, disco, folk, polka, opera, blue grass, R & B, punk, world fusion…play it all! Sure you want to filter out songs with bad lyrics, but there are plenty of acceptable options within each style.

We find that this is a real challenge for some Christian parents. It’s as though they think the only music that’s acceptable to God is on the Christian radio station. God created music, and He loves it! How do I know? The angels sing; heaven is full of music. David, a man after God’s own heart, was a musician, and the Psalms are all set to music.

Encouraging kids to listen to and play music is God honoring because it explores something He created and is quite fond of. Plus, playing music is one of the few activities that actually builds NEW brain cells!

Language Promotes Creativity

Jody and I must sound like a broken record when we say that conversation is king, but we believe so strongly in the power of language that we just have to squeeze it in at every opportunity. Talk, talk, talk and listen, listen, listen! Filling your home with conversation helps build a creative environment.

Encourage kids to journal. Almost everyday we have our kids do something we call sensory writing. For at least ten minutes, we have them sit somewhere unique (under a desk, in the car, in a tree, on the sidewalk, etc.) and write about all the things their senses are experiencing (what they see, hear, smell, taste and feel).

It goes without saying that books are great boredom busters and obvious tools for promoting imagination. Stock the house with books. Listen to audio books in the car. Read poetry and plays together. Read newspaper editorials and talk about them.

Words are imagination building blocks. In fact, according to readaloud.org, the number of words a child has in his vocabulary on entering kindergarten is a key predictor of his or her success.

Science

Stock the house with science supplies and experiment books. If you don’t know how many baking soda benefits exists, then I suggest a little reading on your poart, everyone should have baking soda, vinegar, glue, food coloring, iron shavings, magnets and other science basics on hand. Home Science Tools has just about anything you could need for reasonable prices.

Fill your bookshelves with experiment books. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

Toys

Toys can either be creativity boosters or busters. Avoid single purpose toys — toys that do only main thing. Instead, look for open play toys — toys that can be used in many different ways. Here are some examples:

  • Blocks
  • Lincoln Logs
  • Tinker Toys
  • Legos
  • K’Nex
  • Snap Circuits
  • Play Silks
  • Dress Up Items
  • Dollhouse
  • Play Dough
  • Cash Register
  • Play Kitchen
  • Sand Pit
  • Water Table

Skills

If we can empower our kids with a wide range of skills, we’ll give them more choices for boredom-busting, imagination-sparking activities. With YouTube and Instructables, Squiddo, Pinterest and Google, your kids can learn how to do just about anything.

Arm them with some basic skills to help them build imagination through boredom:

  • knitting
  • crocheting
  • sewing (by hand and on a machine)
  • drawing
  • origami
  • using a power drill
  • using a hot glue gun
  • hammering
  • using different screw drivers
  • using different saws
  • making paper
  • knot tying
  • paper mache

Here is more info about the tools to use.

Babies

It’s never too early to inspire babies. Make non-toxic finger paint and play dough. Put the baby in a contained place like the high chair, and let him have his way. Don’t worry about whether or not he eats it; that’s all part of the experience.

Give babies big chunky crayons and blank paper and let them play with it as soon as they can hold the crayon. Again, don’t worry if they want to taste the crayon. Just make sure they don’t bite off a chunk that can choke them.

Line the floor with old towels and pull a chair up to the sink. Fill the sink with bubbly water and a variety of utensils like ladles, measuring spoons and cups and a colander, and let baby stand on the chair and play.

Tomorrow we’re going to talk about how to embrace the mess that comes with inspiring creativity. Check back and be sure to leave us a little note!

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

More Posts

Negative Reinforcement is Not All Bad

Negative reinforcement gets a bad wrap! But it’s a real world tool for discouraging bad choices, and when it’s used in the right way and in the right circumstances, it can be a powerful teacher.

Take the transportation system for example. If you get caught speeding, you’ll get a ticket. You’ll have to go to court, pay a fine and get points on your license, which will stay there for a few years, alerting insurance companies that you’re not exactly a safe driver. As a result, your insurance premiums will go up. Get caught often enough, and you’ll lose your license. Car insurance is very important, but don´t forget to get some Private Medical Insurance for those unexpected accidents.

That’s negative reinforcement, and it works!

Some friends of ours have traveled to countries that don’t have these kinds of laws, and they say those are scary places. One friend told me she was shocked there weren’t more dead bodies strewn about. She did see one person who was fatally struck while she was there, but the driving experience was so terrifying, she was amazed that the streets weren’t lined with dead bodies.

I’ll take our negative reinforcing traffic system any day over one where anything goes.

Negative reinforcement doesn’t have to be harsh or unforgiving or hurtful. It’s simply a tool to help teach the concept that bad choices equal bad results.

BAD CHOICES = BAD RESULTS

Negative reinforcement can be useful for helping kids to break bad habits, to get through challenging situations, to correct a repeated bad behavior (bickering, forgetfulness, poor grades), for dishonoring or disrespecting someone…basically, for most bad choices.

An Element of Fun

But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. As Mary Poppins says, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Even bad results can have a fun twist.

For example, when we want to help our kids break a bad habit (nail biting, nose picking — it happens!), we tell our kids to do 10 push ups every time they’re caught doing the bad thing. It works! And they get in shape in the process.

A friend of ours shared something with us a few years that has stopped our kids from mistreating furniture (standing on chairs, jumping on beds, sitting on tables, etc.). If you mistreat the furniture, you lose furniture privileges for the day. That means the kid eats meals that day picnic-style (the table and chairs are furniture, you know), does homework and watches TV from the comfort of the floor and camps out with a sleeping bag and pillow on their bedroom carpet (the bed is furniture too).

The Punishment Fits the Crime

Okay, so we don’t really mean punishment. We’re not our kids’ punishers or jailers. We’re their mentors and teachers. What we really mean here is that a negative consequence should relate to the misbehavior. For example, if your child didn’t do his homework, it doesn’t make sense to say he can’t go out to dinner with grandma and grandpa tomorrow night. First of all, that punishes grandma and grandpa.

Whenever possible, try not to punish other people for your child’s offense (birthday parties, family get-togethers). Sometimes it can’t be avoided, and in that case, you can talk about how their actions affect other people too.

But in the homework scenario, grandma and grandpa didn’t have anything to do with the child not doing his homework. The truth is, he was too wrapped up in a TV show and was too tired by the time it was over. A better consequence would be to ban television until homework is done and inspected.

If the reason he didn’t do his homework had been that he was disorganized and forgot what was due, you wouldn’t take away TV. Instead, you might sit down with his teacher and enlist her help. Ask her to look over his homework before he leaves to make sure it’s accurate, and check his backpack to make sure he has everything he needs to complete the assignments. Then sign his homework list so you know she’s checked it.

When he gets home, have him show you the list and the supplies and together you can make a plan for the evening to make sure he finishes everything. Then have him bring you each thing as it’s done, so you can check it and make sure he puts it neatly where it belongs. At the end of the night, sign his homework list to show the teacher you’re on board. This is a negative reinforcement in the sense that it’s a loss of independence, but it’s also a preventative method as it helps him become more organized so he doesn’t miss future homework assignments.

At risk of sounding like a broken record, the goal of correction is to teach – not to punish!

Time Out

Time out is a negative reinforcement, and when it’s done well, it can be useful. For a complete description of how to do a successful time out, check out the post on Willful Disobedience. Time outs are helpful for young kids (preschool and elementary age) who are having a bad attitude (it can help them cool off and reset their mood) or arguing with you (it’s a reminder that mom is the boss and it’s their job to obey without arguing). But if you are using Time Out as your consequence for Willful Disobedience, it should never be used for any other misbehavior.

Here are some other ideas for negative reinforcements:

Behavior

Negative Reinforcement

Nail biting

Do 10 push ups

Interrupting

Serve others (to recognize that you’re not more important than others)

Complaining

Lose upcoming fun occasions (movies, sleepover, etc.)

Incomplete chores

Loss of privilege (i.e. TV or computer time)

Not doing homework

Loss of freedom (i.e. not able to go to a friend’s house, or loss of cell phone or ipod)

Mistreating a sibling

Do the sibling’s chores that day

Jumping on Furniture

Loss of furniture privilege

Check back tomorrow. We’re going to talk about Positive Reinforcement.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

More Posts