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Rewards Don’t Work – Here’s What Does

“Mom, can I have the vacuum?” asked my five-year-old daughter.


I was confused and also reluctant to turn over my beloved cordless Dyson.

“Why, sweetheart?”

Normally you cannot see my daughter’s floor through the forest of books, dolls, and clothes. She grinned while imploring me: “Come see.” She marched down the hall and into her room, leading me by the hand. When we got to her doorway I laughed in surprise. The floor was completely clear. I ceded control of the Dyson until my daughter got bored (about 47 seconds later). After I vacuumed neat rows back and forth over her pink, gray, and white chevron rug, I texted the preschool teacher photos of the immaculate room along with all the happy emojis.

Earlier that day, in frustration, I’d begged the teacher to help me find a way to quell the power struggles that had been erupting between my daughter and me for months. If I’m being honest, years. No sticker chart or time-out could tame her steadfast refusal to do what I asked, whether it was to do her chore (she literally has one chore), to get out of the bathtub, or get her shoes on.

Her teacher suggested a marble jar. Here’s how it works: I put a marble in a jar every time I “catch” my daughter being good. When the jar is full, she earns a treat. The teacher said to follow a rule of never removing marbles as a consequence for bad behavior. I added my own rule: Requesting a marble (e.g., “Will I get a marble if I do my chore?”) precludes you from receiving one.

My daughter’s response to the marble jar was a classic example of positive reinforcement at work. According to Ira Chasnoff, M.D., author of “The Mystery of Risk,” positive reinforcement is the only one of the four types of discipline that actually works. In light of that, the steep improvement I saw in my child’s behavior should not have been surprising.

Still, I had questions. Why had the sticker charts not worked? And why, even as I grew lazy about rewarding “marble-worthy” behavior, did the power struggles continue to decrease both in frequency and intensity? There had to be more to the equation than simply positive reinforcement.

I talked to Sarah MacLaughlin, parent educator and author of “What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children” to fill in the gap. She cautions parents to use positive reinforcement only “as training wheels” – and even then, only if they’ve already tried approaches emphasizing the relationship. In other words, while a reward system may get kids into the habit of behaving in the desired manner, it’s not a long-term solution.

MacLaughlin cites the work of education and parenting expert Alfie Kohn, who calls rewards and punishments “two sides of the same coin” in his book “Punished by Rewards.” As MacLaughlin explains, whether you’re rewarding good behavior or punishing bad behavior, “the goal is to influence/control/coerce a child and their behavior, [a strategy that has] a rapidly approaching expiration date.” She recalls offering her son candy as a reward for taking a necessary dose of bitter medicine when he was five years old. “He burst into tears and wailed, ‘Why are you threatening me?’ It took me a minute to work out how offering him M&M;’s to take the stuff was a threat, but then I realized – the threat was that he wouldn’t get the chocolate unless he took the medicine.” MacLaughlin says she then realized she’d inadvertently attempted to coerce her child, something she’d never advise parents to do.

While MacLaughlin feels positive reinforcement may be effective, it should be used sparingly, if at all. She says children tend to respond well to positive reinforcement for the same reasons adults do. Most of us would be more motivated to meet performance goals for a manager who rewards our efforts than be subject to punishment for poor performance. However, MacLaughlin points out “I’m also not likely to care much about positive reinforcement or rewards from someone I don’t respect or feel connected to.” Both MacLaughlin and Chasnoff agree on one important point: When it comes to motivating our children, no system or method can (or should) take the place of a loving relationship.

One of the risks of using positive reinforcement, says MacLaughlin, is raising a child who becomes an extrinsically motivated adult. Extrinsic motivation is when a reward or recognition motivates a person to perform. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is what causes people to accomplish something simply because they want to. According to Daniel Pink, career analyst and author of “Drive,” when it comes to creative problem solving, the prospect of extrinsic rewards actually hurts performance.

But the main issue with positive reinforcement is that it ignores the greatest source of influence on your child – your relationship. Says MacLaughlin, “Behavior is always driven by either development (i.e., it’s normal and to be expected), an unmet physiological need, or emotion/stress (children don’t have a fully wired brain and their off-track behavior is often a result of a dysregulated brain state).” As parents, it is crucial to understand that it’s our connection with our kids – not any “sticker, star, gummy bear, [or] punishment” according to Dr. Becky Bailey – that can help get them back on track. Bailey is a developmental psychologist and early childhood expert whose TEDx talk “Wiring the Brain for Success” explains the neurology responsible for this phenomenon.

But if offering a marble isn’t the way to go when your kid is not cooperating, or worse, having a meltdown, what is? MacLaughlin advises parents to listen. And listen some more. If your child is having a fit, she says it is futile to attempt to give consequences or feedback when a child is an elevated emotional state (e.g., crying or screaming). That does not mean you should ignore bad behavior, however. If for example, your child becomes physically aggressive, MacLaughlin recommends you first help her calm down. Only when kids are calm do they have the capacity to listen and learn. At that point, she says,

“You can validate a child who is heated by saying, ‘You tried to kick me because I said NO to dessert. I understand you’re upset, and I won’t let you hurt me.’ Then listen more, say less, and offer no ‘consequences’ or feedback until they are calm (the Hand in Hand model calls this Staylistening). Once you gauge you’re past the point of triggering those big emotions, you can offer feedback and education. For example, ‘I know you know that hitting is not okay. As you grow and mature you’ll learn how to stay in charge of yourself and not hit when you’re upset.” I call this combo a Truth Bomb Pep Talk–information, a reminder, and encouragement all rolled into one.”

If your child is simply refusing to do what you’re requesting, MacLaughlin urges parents to remember that kids are doing the best they can, and to assume that they aren’t cooperating because they need help, whether emotionally or physically. She says there could be something bothering them on an emotional level, in which case she recommends the Staylistening approach. Or it could be that using humor – making your request in a funny voice or with an accent – will get them on board. If that doesn’t work, and before you lose your cool, MacLaughlin suggests stopping what you’re doing and set a limit by calmly, kindly, physically guiding the child to the chore or task. She says parents are often surprised at how well this works.

Whenever my daughter’s marble jar filled up, she chose a treat. We would either hit the bagel shop or the used bookstore, but no matter what, it was just us. Her love languages are apparently carbs, books, and quality time. In light of what I learned from MacLaughlin, it’s clear the positive reinforcement was just the “training wheels” she needed to start rolling in the right direction. I’m convinced that it was the “reward” of spending rare one on one time together that took care of the rest.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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When a baby is born, for many families, the vacations stop. And while it can be intimidating to get out and just go with a little one in tow, with the right preparation, family vacations can be a rewarding, memorable experience for everyone.

All it takes to make your next adventure a success is a little planning―and a great, grab-and-go carrier like a BABYBJÖRN Baby Carrier One Air. Simply pop your little one into the breathable mesh carrier, secure the straps, and you're ready to take on your destination like a pro―all while providing a fresh perspective for your baby or toddler (it's suitable for children up to age three!).

Next, pick your destination. Thanks to easy-to-access beaches, a host of incredible museums, and a variety of outdoor and indoor activities, Chicago is a popular vacation hot spot for families year-round.

Not sure where to start? Leyla Tran, Chicago native and blogger behind Second City Mom, filled us in on her favorite kid-friendly spots around the Windy City.


DO

Leyla Tran, with her husband and twins at Chicago's Garfield Park Conservatory in front of one of her favorite features.

Chicago Children's Museum
Sure, you'll have to battle a throng of tourists to get through Navy Pier most times of year, but it's worth it to reach this gem. From a dinosaur dig to arts and crafts areas, there's something to satisfy every interest at the Children's Museum. Plus, you can face baby out in the BABYBJÖRN Baby Carrier One Air so there will be plenty to hold their attention while they ride along! Check the museum's calendar to find out what special events and exhibits are open during your visit.

Garfield Park Conservatory
If you're visiting during the colder months, the Garfield Park Conservatory is the city's largest botanical conservatory. It's a great place to explore, play, and learn indoors during the Midwestern winter months. To get around hassle-free, check the stroller and take in the sights hands-free with the Baby Carrier One Air. You can carry bigger babies on your back starting at 12 months old. "My favorite thing at the conservatory may not be all the plants but the mosaic fountain in the Horticulture Hall, which was gifted to the city of Chicago from sister city, Casablanca," Tran says.

The Sod Room
Speaking of indoor activities, The Sod Room is another great indoor playspace located in the South Loop neighborhood where the design, toys, and activities are all put together with the Earth in mind. "The play space teaches kids to be creative to reuse things and the importance of being eco-friendly," Tran says. "There are so many different events for parents, caregivers, and kids to enjoy throughout the week such as baby yoga and music concert."

Galt Baby

While you probably won't get to do as much shopping on the Miracle Mile as you might without littles in tow, you should try to squeeze in a visit to Galt Baby for any must-haves. From travel gear (like the Carrier One!) to replacement sippy cups should yours get lost (the horror!), Galt Baby has you covered on the go.

SEE

Leyla Tran with her family in front of the iconic Cloudgate at Millennium Park.

Millennium Park

A trip to Chicago isn't really complete until you've taken a family selfie at the Bean. And while you're there, take advantage of the cultural events, exhibitions, and landscape design (hello, wide open spaces for toddlers to run!). Many events are free, so be sure to visit the park's website to find out what's on the calendar. "Although it is a tourist destination, we love it as locals because there is so much to do here from summer concerts to fun kids events," Tran says. "From the iconic Cloudgate (AKA, the Bean) to Crown Fountain to the Lurie Garden, there's something for everyone in our family. Our six-year-old son loves Crown Fountain, with the changing faces on the LED screens waiting for the water to spray out."

Harold Washington Library

The Harold Washington Library is a book worm's dream, no matter your age. Explore the Children's Library, which is broken up into "neighborhoods" based on age with an interactive puppet stage, STEAM-based activities, a digital media center, and more. Parents will love the indoor Winter Garden (with free wifi!) and taking in the local art throughout the library. Let your little one fall asleep in the Baby Carrier One Air while you enjoy the interior architecture—quietly.

Seasonal festivals

From holiday markets to beerfests to parades, there are seasonal activities to take advantage of year-round in Chicago―and many are free! Check the city's calendar during your trip to find out what's available. With so many wearing options on the Baby Carrier One, little ones from newborn to 3 years can stay close while you stroll, sip, or shop. Partner it with the Cover for Baby Carrier and baby will stay warm in all seasons.

EAT

Little Beans Cafe

All the best family vacations start off with a little caffeination. We love Little Beans Cafe because it doubles as an indoor playground for kids, meaning parents get to enjoy a good cup of coffee while kids get to play and learn. "We've had so many fun playdates here with our first child that we're looking forward to more playdates with the twins," Tran says. "It's a great place for new moms to meet during the week."

Giordano's
If you go to Chicago and don't eat deep dish pizza, did you ever really go? Don't take the chance. Book a table at Giordano's and indulge in a slice of Chicago's finest slice. Besides, how often is the local delicacy something you don't have to beg your kids to eat?


Making the time for travel is one of the greatest gifts you can give your family―and yourself. And thanks to BabyBjörn, now everyone can come along for the ride.

This article is sponsored by BabyBjörn. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

If you use U by Kotex tampons, you should check your box before your next period, mama.

Regular absorbency U by Kotex Sleek Tampons are being recalled throughout the U.S. and Canada. According to the FDA, defective tampons have been coming apart when people tried to remove them, "in some cases causing users to seek medical attention to remove tampon pieces left in the body."

The FDA notes that there have also been a "small number of reports of infections, vaginal irritation, localized vaginal injury, and other symptoms."

In a statement on its website, U by Kotex explains that the recall is specific to the U by Kotex Sleek Tampons, Regular Absorbency only. The Super Absorbency or Super Plus Absorbency tampons are not part of the recall.

The recall is for specific lots of the Regular Absorbency tampons manufactured between October 7, 2016 and October 16, 2018.

The lot numbers start with NN (or XM, for small, 3 count packages) and can be found near the barcode on the bottom of the box.

To check if your tampons are part of the recall, type your lot number into this form on the U by Kotex site.


The FDA says if you've used the tampons and are experiencing the following you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • vaginal injury (pain, bleeding, or discomfort)
  • vaginal irritation (itching or swelling)
  • urogenital infections (bladder and/or vaginal bacterial and/or yeast infections)
  • hot flashes
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea or vomiting

If you have a package of the recalled tampons you should not use them and should call Kotex's parent company, Kimberly-Clark at 1-888-255-3499. On its website U by Kotex asks consumers not to return the tampons to stores.

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I grew up watching the Fresh Prince of Bel Air so pretty much anytime Will Smith pops up on my Facebook feed, I click. (Also, I happen to live near West Philadelphia, so you know, there's a lot of theme song singing. My husband finds me hysterical.)

Anyway...

The last time I clicked on a Will Smith video, he was telling a story about when he went skydiving. He had made the decision to go with his friends, and then spent the whole night and morning leading up to it terrified, envisioning all the things that could go wrong.

When he was finally up in the plane, the guide explained that they would jump on the count of three. "One… two…" except they push you out on "two" because everyone throws their arms out and stops themselves at "three." So before he knew it, he was flying.

And he found it to be absolutely amazing.

He said, "The point of maximum danger is the point of minimum fear. It's bliss. The lesson for me was, why were you scared in your bed the night before? What do you need that fear for? You're nowhere even near the airplane. Everything up to the stepping out, there's actually no reason to be scared. It only just ruins your day… the best things in life [are] on the other side of [fear]."

Motherhood is skydiving.

If someone came up to you one day and said, "Hey. I have this job for you. You are going to grow a human in your body, kind of like it's an alien. And then that human is going to come out of your body—and that process is really intense. And then the human will be really helpless and you will have to turn it into a fully functioning adult with an important place in this world. Okay… go!"

You'd smile politely and walk run away as fast as you could.

Because if you think about it, the idea of doing all of that—motherhoodis pretty terrifying. The amount of responsibility and work is sort of incomprehensible.

The grand scheme of motherhood is scary.

The thing is, though, that the grand scheme of motherhood is actually made up of millions of tiny moments in which you will be a total boss.

Whether it's a jump-out-of-the-plane moment, or a get-the-toddler-out-of-the-car-seat moment, you will face it with bravery.

Remember, being brave isn't the absence of fear, it's being afraid and doing it anyway.

Being brave is taking a pregnancy test—and seeing that it's positive. Or seeing that it's negative, again.

Being brave is waiting for the adoption agency to call you and tell you that she's here.

Being brave is watching your body change in a hundred ways, and lovingly rubbing your belly as it does.

Being brave is giving your body over to the process of bringing your baby into the world—yes, even if you cry, or complain, or cry and complain. You're still brave. Promise.

Being brave is bringing that baby home for the first time. Oh, so much bravery needed for that one.

Being brave is giving that first bath, going to that first pediatrician visit, spending that first full day at home, alone, with the baby,

Being brave is your first day back at work—or making the phone call to tell them you won't actually be coming back at all.

Being brave is ignoring all the noise around you, and parenting your child the way you know is best for your family.

Being brave is letting go of her hands when she takes her first steps.

Being brave is sitting next to her and smiling when you're in the emergency room for croup—and then sobbing when you get home.

Being brave is bringing her to her first day of school—and going home without her.

Being brave is saying "yes" to her first sleepover and "no" to her first car.

Being brave is hugging her the first time her heart breaks, when your heart might possibly hurt even more than hers does.

Being brave is listening quietly when she tells you she plans to "travel the world."

Being brave is bringing her to her first day of college—and going home without her.

Being brave is watching her commit her life to another person, who is not you.

Being brave is watching her become a mother.

And one day, sweet, brave mama, you'll look back and realize that you just jumped out of an airplane—you raised a child.

All of the things that seemed terrifyingly impossible—you just…do them. One at a time. You will wake up every day a little bit braver than the day before. And before you know it, you can look back on any aspect of motherhood and realize that little by little, you just increased your flying altitude.

Things that was seemed daunting are handled with ease. Ideas that once seemed impossible have become your reality one thousand times over.

So yes, motherhood is incredibly scary. But you are incredibly brave.

One... two... jump!

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There's so much noise.

All. The. Time.

It feels like it's 24 hours, 7 days a week.

There's whining, crying, chatting, banging, tapping, scratching, singing, buzzing, yelling, snoring, crunching, schlopping, chewing, slurping, stomping, clapping, singing, laughing.

There's sound machines with crashing waves coming at me around every corner. There's a baby (doll) crying, and then my real baby crying. There's toys going off even when no one is playing with them.

There's requests, questions, demands, negotiations, plans, adventures, stories, performances—at all times.

There's ringing phones, alarms going off, voicemails, television theme songs (Daniel Tiger, I'm looking at you), Moana and Sing soundtracks playing. There's random loud videos playing when you're scrolling through Facebook and think you have your phone on silent.

I even hear things when there's nothing to be heard. Like the baby crying when I'm in the shower and she's sleeping. Like a bang from someone falling when everyone is fine. Like Imagine Dragon's 'Thunder' when it's not even on but it's stuck in my head because my daughter has requested to play it over and over and over.

At times, it makes me feel like I am going crazy. Like my brain doesn't work because I can't think clearly because the noise is all-encompassing.

This noise, paired with the never-ending, running-forever list of things to do in my head is one of the areas of motherhood that is hard for me. Really, really hard. It triggers my anxiety more than anything else does.

Sometimes, I just want to sit in silence. Alone. Not listening to anything or anyone.

Sometimes, I just want to hear myself think.

Sometimes, I just want the whining to stop.

Sometimes, I just want the brain fog to go away and never come back.

But what I've realized is that this is part of motherhood. Of my journey. Because, I have three children and it's never going to be quiet.

I need to get used to the noise, embrace the noise and know when I need to step back and take a break from the noise.

And I am used to the noise on some level.

I function fairly well on a daily basis getting work done and to-do lists checked off and taking care of my (loud, but wonderful) children. When all of the noise is overwhelming me, I've gotten into the habit of taking deep breaths and focusing on my task at hand.

It's not perfect, but it's something.

And I can definitely embrace the noise—especially the lovely noises of childhood.

Because when I think about it—is there anything better than hearing my 4-year-old belt out 'Thunder'?

Is there anything better than hearing my 2-year-old giggle uncontrollably?

Is there anything better than hearing the coos of my 3-month-old?

Is there anything better than hearing one of my daughters say "I love you, Mama"? Or "See you later, alligator"?

Is there anything better than hearing cheers from my kids to celebrate their siblings' accomplishment? ("Lucy went potty! Yay!")

Is there anything better than hearing your preschooler say "sh-sh-shhhhh" over and over to soothe her newborn sister like she sees her parents doing?

No, nothing is better. Not even silence.

But there will be days when it feels like it's too much. And I just want to say—

It's okay.

It's okay to want to sit in silence.

It's okay to look forward to the quiet that nighttime offers.

It's okay to admit to ourselves that sometimes the noise is too much.

And it's normal.

Our brains can only handle so much at one time. So, be gentle on yourself, mama. I know I'm trying.

I am learning to recognize when I need to step back and take a break from the noise.

I stay up late sometimes to enjoy the quiet—to listen to my thoughts.

I wake up early sometimes—to meditate and look inward.

I plan "me time" outside of the house—to spend time with myself and decide on choosing noise or not.

I hop in the shower when my husband gets home—to hand over the noise for a while and enjoy only the sound of rushing water.

There are moments of motherhood that challenge me—mind, body and soul. The constant noise is one of them. But these challenges will never beat me. I love being my children's mother too much.

So on the days when the noise is taking over, know that you're not alone. And know that peace and quiet is potentially just a shower away.


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This past year, I was diagnosed with depression. I was fighting what I believed to be a stubborn case of PPD. I thought things would get better as my baby grew, when I wasn't postpartum anymore. I was in denial, not receiving any kind of help, and definitely not getting any better.

Finally, I sought out help from a doctor and was diagnosed with clinical depression and am now receiving treatment. Part of this treatment involved visiting with a therapist for the first time in my life in hopes of combating the powerful force of negativity that has insidiously planted itself inside my mind.

I learned something significant in that meeting: that my thoughts were caused by something that was physically going wrong inside of my brain. Deep down, I believed I had been allowing the darkness—that it, too, was my fault. I found hope in that meeting, the hope of rewiring my brain.

I now know there are steps I can take to change how I think, to find the true me again. That is why I am going to take better care of myself this year. In fact, that's the only resolution I care to make.

My therapist advised me to do an exercise that's proven difficult for me. I literally have positive affirmations about myself taped to my bathroom mirror. My sarcastic side really fights this. I envision that I'm wearing a colorful collared shirt or sweater combination (a la Stuart Smalley) as I repeat these mantras to myself. The truth is they're a powerful counterbalance to the way I normally think about who I am.

Most people struggle with this at one time or another. I think we could all benefit from practicing a little self-love.

So for this year, I resolve not to make any resolutions about losing weight. I am at a healthy weight, and although I would love to re-lose the 10 pounds I lost when I began depression medication, I will instead resolve to replace the negative thoughts I have about my body with healthy ones.

My critical observations regarding my body began very early for me, as they do for most women. It may take some time, but I'm going to work on appreciating my body for what it can do, instead of worrying about how it appears to others.

I resolve to be the best mom I can be. And that is only possible when I work on taking better care of myself. For many years, I've devoted myself completely to my children, believing it was best for them. But you can't pull water from an empty well, and this past year my well went dry.

I resolve to take more breaks, indulge in some mental health days, and spend more quality time with my family.

Society is hard on mothers, so I'm going to pull a Taylor Swift, and "shake it off." I will ignore the negative commentators who feel compelled to troll my writings. I will look to the positive instead of dwelling on the negative.

I will support and seek to uplift other mothers. We should be each other's biggest fans, not harshest critics. I will stand up for those who are belittled, judged, or misunderstood.

I resolve to let go of past mistakes and less than perfect parenting moments. I will seek to learn from the past instead of dwelling on it. I will work on treating myself with more kindness, moving forward in hopes that my three boys will learn from my example and speak kindly toward themselves.

I will continue my treatment—even the daily affirmations—and be patient with my progress.

So here's to a new year and a new way of thinking, to not giving up, and to practicing kindness that begins from within.

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