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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.

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Parents in New Jersey will soon get more money and more time for parental leave after welcoming a baby.

This week New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed off on legislation that extends New Jersey's paid family leave from six weeks to 12.

It also increases the benefit cap from 53% of the average weekly wage to 70%, meaning the maximum benefit for a parent on family leave will be $860 a week, up from $650.

It might not seem like a huge difference, but by raising the benefit from two-thirds of a parent's pay to 85%, lawmakers in New Jersey are hoping to encourage more parents to actually take leave, which is good for the parents, their baby and their family. "Especially for that new mom and dad, we know that more time spent bonding with a child can lead to a better long-term outcome for that child," Murphy said at a press conference this week.

The law will also make it easier for people to take time off when a family member is sick.

Because NJ's paid leave is funded through payroll deductions, workers could see an increase in those deductions, but Murphy is betting that workers and businesses will see the benefits in increasing paid leave benefits. "Morale goes up, productivity goes up, and more money goes into the system," Murphy said. "And increasingly, companies big and small realize that a happy workforce and a secure workforce is a key ingredient to their success."

The new benefits will go into effect in July 2020 (making next Halloween a good time to get pregnant in the Garden State).

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Whether you just need to stock up on diapers or you've had your eye on a specific piece of baby gear, you might want to swing by your local Walmart this Saturday, February 23rd.

Walmart's big "Baby Savings Day" is happening from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at participating Walmarts (but more deals can be found online at Walmart.com already and the website deals are happening for the rest of the month).

About 3,000 of the 3,570 Supercenter locations are participating in the sale (check here to see if your local Walmart is).

The deals vary, but in general you can expect up to 30% off on items like cribs, strollers, car seats, wipes, diapers and formula.

Some items, like this Graco Modes 3 Lite Travel System have been marked down by more than $100. Other hot items include this Lille Baby Complete Carrier (It's usually $119, going for $99 during the sale) and the Graco 4Ever 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat (for as low as $199).

So if you're in need of baby gear, you should check out this sale. Travel gear isn't the only category that's been marked down, there are some steep discounts on breast pumps, too.

Many of the Walmart locations will also be offering samples and expert demos of certain products on Saturday so it's worth checking out!

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Any Schumer has not had an easy pregnancy. She intended to keep working, but if you follow her on social media you know she's been very sick through each trimester.

And now in her final trimester she's had to cancel her tour due to hyperemesis gravidarum, also known as HG. It's a rare but very serious form of extreme morning sickness, and on Friday evening Schumer announced she is canceling the rest of her tour because of it.

“I vomit every time [I] ride in a car even for 5 minutes," Schumer explained in an Instagram post.

Due to the constant vomiting she's not cleared to fly and just can't continue to the tour.

This is not the first time Schumer has had to make an announcement about HG. Back in November, just weeks after announcing her pregnancy, she had to cancel shows and again broke the news via Instagram.

She posted a photo of herself in a hospital bed with her little dog Tati, and spelled out the details of her health issues in the caption. "I have hyperemesis and it blows," Schumer wrote.

Poor Amy. Hyperemesis gravidarum is really tough.

Kate Middleton, Ayesha Curry and Motherly co-founder Elizabeth Tenety are among those who, like Schumer, have suffered from this form of severe morning sickness that can be totally debilitating.

As she previously wrote for Motherly, Tenety remembers becoming desperately ill, being confined to her apartment (mostly her bed) and never being far from a trash can, "I lost 10% of my body weight. I became severely dehydrated. I couldn't work. I couldn't even get out of bed. I could barely talk on the phone to tell my doctor how sick I was—begging them to please give me something, anything—to help."

Thankfully, she found relief through a prescription for Zofran, an anti-nausea drug.


Schumer probably knows all about that drug. It looks she is getting the medical help she obviously needs, and she was totally right to cancel the tour in order to stay as healthy as possible.

We're glad to see Schumer is getting help, and totally understand why she would have to cancel her shows. Any mama who has been through HG will tell you, that wouldn't be a show you'd want front row seats for anyway.

Get well soon, Amy!

[A version of this post was published November 15, 2018. It has been updated.]

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As a military spouse, Cydney Cooper is used to doing things alone. But when she delivered her twin daughters early after complications due to Influenza A, she was missing her husband Skylar more than ever.

Recovering from the flu and an emergency C-section, and trying to parent the couple's two older boys and be with her new infant daughters in the NICU, Cydney was exhausted and scared and just wanted her husband who was deployed in Kuwait with the Army and wasn't expected home for weeks.

Alone in the NICU 12 days after giving birth, Cydney was texting an update on the twins to her husband when he walked through the door to shoulder some of the massive burden this mama was carrying.

"I was typing up their summary as best I could and trying to remember every detail to tell him when I looked up and saw him standing there. Shock, relief, and the feeling that everything was just alright hit me at once. I just finally let go," she explains in a statement to Motherly.

The moment was captured on video thanks to a family member who was in on Skylar's surprise and the reunion has now gone viral, having been viewed millions of times. It's an incredible moment for the couple who hadn't seen each other since Skylar had a three-day pass in seven months earlier.

Cydney had been caring for the couple's two boys and progressing in her pregnancy when, just over a week before the viral video was taken, she tested positive for Influenza A and went into preterm labor. "My husband was gone, my babies were early, I had the flu, and I was terrified," she tells Motherly.

"Over the next 48 hours they were able to stop my labor and I was discharged from the hospital. It only lasted two days and I went right back up and was in full on labor that was too far to stop."

Cydney needed an emergency C-section due to the babies' positioning, and her medical team could not allow anyone who had previously been around her into the operating room because anyone close to Cydney had been exposed to the flu.

"So I went in alone. The nurses and doctors were wonderful and held my hand through the entire thing but at the same time, I felt very very alone and scared. [Skylar] had been present for our first two and he was my rock and I didn't have him when I wanted him the most. But I did it! He was messaging me the second they wheeled me to recovery. Little did I know he was already working on being on his way."

When he found out his baby girls were coming early Skylar did everything he could to get home, and seeing him walk into the NICU is a moment Cydney will hold in her heart and her memory forever. "I had been having to hop back and forth from our sons to our daughters and felt guilty constantly because I couldn't be with all of them especially with their dad gone. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life and I won't be forgetting it."

It's so hard for a military spouse to do everything alone after a baby comes, and the military does recognize this. Just last month the Army doubled the amount of leave qualifying secondary caregivers (most often dads) can take after a birth or adoption, from 10 days to 21 so that moms like Cydney don't have to do it all alone.

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