24 June 2010

Carrots and Stickers

How do you get toddlers to behave well?

In my working life I asked/told people what I wanted them to do. I expected that they would do it and they usually did. I wasn't a nasty boss, far from it. I wanted people to enjoy coming to work.

I have tried to apply this 'management style' to my parenting with varying degrees of success.

Andy and I use positive, encouraging language with the boys and give plenty of warning about what we would like to happen. We explain what we are doing that day and the sequence of events so there are no surprises. This works pretty well most of the time.

If we are playing in the garden or the park we tell the boys when there are five minutes to go, sometimes we count down the remaining minutes. When  without a fuss.

There are other times where life doesn't run as smoothly. Some days I struggle to get the boys washed, dressed and out of the door by 9.15 to get to Toddler Group, even though they really enjoy going. Other days they give me the runaround so that it’s too late to go anywhere worthwhile so we end up nipping to the garage for bread and milk (and Jaffa Cakes). They dawdle, hide their shoes or just plain refuse to come near me. This is infuriating, but not really ‘naughty behaviour’.

Sometimes there is hitting, kicking or toy snatching or throwing. Sometimes they swing on the curtains when they know they are not allowed to touch them. Sometimes food is chewed up and spat out. Sometimes water is poured on the carpet.

All of these things are ‘naughty behaviour’. They are ‘unacceptable’. I am emphasising these words and phrases as they are ones used by television Supernanny Jo Frost. There’s no denying she gets results, but her methods seem so punitive and negative.

Following her lead we give a warning to the boys that what they are doing is naughty behaviour and if they do it again there will be consequences. We try to relate the consequences to the behaviour. We are consistent and we carry out our threats. If they spit out their food then that is the end of the meal. If they throw a toy it is taken away. These punishments are pretty effective.

If the boys hurt one another or touch my flippin’ curtains, however, they go in the playpen. This is our version of the 'naughty step'. We just call it the 'playpen'.

In true Supernanny style we place them in the pen, get down to their level, explain what they have done wrong and tell them that they will stay in the playpen until beep beep beep (beep beep beep is the sound of the alarm on our mobile phone countdown timers).

When we hear the beep beep beep, usually after two minutes, we get them out, remind them why they were put in there and ask for an apology. Then they get a ‘Mummy/Daddy loves you’ and a cuddle.

I feel as uncomfortable doing this as I am about typing it.

It works as in it distracts them from what they were doing, but it doesn’t stop them doing it again the next day. It feels wrong to manipulate them by withdrawing affection while they are in the pen.

I had an idea to create a sticker chart for them. My goodness, they love stickers. I’d like to reward good behaviour. Surely that’s a more positve way to parent. I’m stuck though (arf) as to how this would work.

What do you reward with a sticker and when? I can’t see much point in waiting until the end of the day to award a sticker for not hitting your brother over the head with ‘Hippos Go Beserk’. Should I remove a sticker each time they go near the bloomin’ curtains?

Why should they get a sticker for completing everyday actions such as teeth cleaning or letting me give them a wash? This doesn’t seem right either.

I have one sure-fire, never-fail carrot parenting technique up my sleeve that works on any behaviour, it got Presley through a haircut last week and a teary tantrum yesterday and it’s what I call the ‘Jelly Baby Technique’.

Yes, I know. That is unacceptable behaviour on my part, but it is 100% effective.

Please share your wisdom. What works for you? Do you use carrots, sticks or stickers?



  1. I tried stickers once, then oneday found Madam E covered head to toe in them, and I find them months later stuck to things I forgot we had.
    I ran out so often I started using the fruit and veg stickers on our 5 a day chart. How cruel is that 'do you want an apple sticker? then go and sit down nicely'. haha

  2. Oh my.

    I have to say I think discipline is SUCH a personal issue. Only you as a parent know what you can tolerate, and you know what will be effective with your children.

    My philosophy was always to give children choices - to walk or be carried home, to wear shoes or go out in their socks - and in the event they do something unacceptable to simply remove them from my presence.

    So if Flea does something naughty I will just say, "We don't do X" and ask her to go to her room. She will go and cry noisily for a bit, and when she calms down she will almost always come and apologise, and I'll explain again why we don't do X, and then it's done and dusted.

    There's no particular time limit or beeping noise - for me personally I think it's a bit degrading and encourages resentment. It's just about letting Flea know how I feel and teaching her what is and isn't okay.

    I base my childrearing entirely on dog-training techniques of course - you don't ever punish a dog, but you isolate it from the group when it isn't socially acceptable, and praise it when it is obedient. Kids and dogs - almost exactly the same.

  3. Your punishment methods will be what works for you and your children and don't expect one punishment to be as effective for both children.

    I used to shout a lot. I still do, to be honest. I'm not saying it's a brilliant or recommended method but we are a loud household. I do it mainly to get their attention - she who shouts loudest, shouts longest.

    I found that consistansy was the key most times. If I said "no", I meant "no"! Have some basic house rules - and if one of those has to be "don't touch the curtains" then just keep removing them from the curtains when they touch them - don't make a song and dance about it.

    When I have our grandchildren over, the toddler is into everything now. She knows the difference now between a short sharp loud "NO" than laughs and giggles with Nana. She doesn't go any where near the tv now, we don't have a fireguard or a stair gate and she doesn't have a problem with the "rules" we have for those either.

    You do what's right for you and your family and stick to it.

  4. That's such a tough one! We do the playpen thing, too. Almost exactly the same, only not timed exactly, and I don't tell them "I love you" afterwards. I just hug them, and they get to apologise for what they did. I feel saying "I love you" after kind of associates the love with the punishment, and I'm not comfortable with that.

    I do use a kind of carrot - dessert (just fruit or a yoghurt). They get it if they've behaved that day, and they don't if they haven't. Works quite well sometimes.

    Stickers I find only work with specific things you want - potty training, eating well, tidying, etc.

    It's all so difficult isn't it?

  5. A Muse Inner Me, I freaked out in the shower last night. I thought I had a moth clinging to my toe, it was a sticker!

    Sally, hmm, children and dogs. My old dog was a NIGHTMARE puppy, but a lovely grown up dog. It is a personal thing, but all suggestions are welcome and Flea is a lovely girl. I like the choice thing too, thank you x

    Nickie, thank you for the thoughful comment. I shall try to remove them from the curtains calmly, but they only play in them to wind me up and make me shout! I have got a 'no' that they understand means danger and they do respond to that. Mine also don't touch the TV any more, but I think that's because they're older, not because my shouting did any good! x

  6. Mwa, it is difficult. Thanks for the suggestions. Yeah, I'm uncomfortable with the love/punishment associations, I think I'll stop that. I think you're right about the stickers and I will be using them for potty training if I ever pluck up the courage to do it! I haven't tried stickers for tidying, I think that can be our first sticker chart, thank you! x

  7. I just left a lengthy comment, but my laptop lost power and cut off so I've lost it grrrrr.

    Anyway, more succinctly this time, we use an award system whereby our 10 year old achieves points daily for getting up on time for school, setting the table (just getting the cereal boxes out usually but it's a start!), being polite and well mannered at breakfast and supper (we trust she is well behaved at school as never had a complaint from them),doing her homework without complaint (not too much anyway!) having her bath without complaint (ditto) and reading in bed as well as getting into bed having cleaned teeth without being told....she has to achieve at least 8 points daily to have 1 point transferred to the treats chart. When she has achieved 10 treats points she can choose her reward eg having a friend over for a sleepover, renting a dvd and having popcorn, or maybe going to the cinema. It really does work and she is disappointed if she hasn't achieved her minimum of 8 daily points, so will get up the next morning and make more effort to set the table etc. She does have some falling off the rails if she has a tweenie storm but she knows as soon as she starts that she has blown the awards points for that day if she continues, so it tends to diffuse a potential rant....it works for us but, as others have said, we are all different.

  8. I have a points system, it works for me, they get points for specific behaviors, I have posted about it before, just search shop or reards. I find that stickers only work for specific behaviors ie when I want to encourage drinking or not hitting etc a nd then we do a reward at the end of each day. Not monitary, but something like choosing an extra reading book or an extra 5 nins cuddling in our bed.

  9. Disciplining (much different than punishing) is a personal choice. What might work for one child will most likely not work for another. Or maybe won't even work for that one child once he ages.

    My child was very social - so being removed from the situation to the naughty step worked like a charm for us. Did he continually go to the naughty step for doing the same things over and over? Yes. But eventually he learned. One thing I have learned in raising Man-Child is this - consistency is the key. Figure out what are absolute no-no's for you, attach a particular consequence to that action and then be consistent. Every single time they hit the drapes (or whatever) give them the consequence. Never "let it go" just because grandma is over or you're too tired to deal. It's the only way to get through it.

    Oh, and by the way, this discipline is essential when they become teenagers....just so you know.

  10. I think it depends what you want it for.

    If its to encourage behaviour (for instance things you are aksing them to do) then we usually have a sticker.

    If we are trying to discourage something (curtains) then we usually reward at the end of the day if they have been good with a story or TV programme.

    we addopted the time out step for hitting though as this was unacceptable to us.

  11. Food always works for me!

  12. chocolate and sweet bribes, every time.
    Yes you're not supposed to do it, but it's amazing what my lot will do for a chocolate biscuit.
    We talk a lot about consequences, except my eldest (4) has just started to apply them to my behaviour, with hilarious results!


  13. Diney, thank you for trying again. I really like that idea and will definitely try it when the boys are a little older x

    The Mad House, I'll have a look back through your posts. I feel more comfortable focussing on reward as opposed to punishments. Thank you x

    Gigi, yes, I suppose I hadn't made the distinction between discipline and punishment. I think I am consistent when it some to the curtains. The trouble is the little one waits until I'm changing the big one's nappy and then he plays in the curtains, safe in the knowledge that I'm otherwise engaged and can't remove him! I'll try to remember all this in ten years time!! Thank you x

  14. Snaffles Mummy, that's great advice, thank you. I was looking for one type of system, but I can see the reasoning behind the different approaches, Thank you x

    Angel, food works for me too, unfortunately ;-) x

    Marketing to Milk, oh that's brilliant. Andy gets the boys to point out things in the fridge. When they get to the wine he's taught them to say 'Mummy's boozy juice'. Chocolate biscuits are a big favourite here too. I reckon mine would learn to stand on their heads for a chocolate biscuit! x

  15. Mine were never very interested in sticker charts (maybe I didn't enthuse enough about them).

    I had a friend who had a supply of tiny stickers, and used them for instant rewards. Her kids seemed to be very excited by acquiring a little star or circle on their chests. They'd end the day with half a dozen. I thought that worked better than the sticker chart idea. It's more instantaneous, and you don't have to deal with the weighty business of delayed gratification in earning a reward over time. (Didn't work for me, though. As I say, my kids weren't very excited by stickers!)

    I don't know if you're really "withdrawing affection" while your kids are in the playpen. You're just showing them that their behaviour was unacceptable.

  16. Iota, I'm not sure whether mine are old enough to understand sticker charts and delayed gratification. There is only one way to find out, of course! We've had a good week, behaviour-wise and haven't had to use the playpen at all, but you're right, they do need to learn what is unacceptable behaviour.

  17. I finally figured out what matters the most. Consistency. That kids know what consequences to expect. So whether its a naughty pen or a naughty chair or the taking of a toy, o not getting a sticker, the same behaviour always gets the same consequence. They will test it a lot.

    I noticed this when I got the mother of all tantrums when I just couldn't be bothered to do a naughty chair for a usual naughty chair behaviour. The kid actually wanted and needed me to give him a time out! They kick the tires and want to make sure the rules will hold. They get scared when the rules are wobbly.

    we always talk afterwards about what kind of behaviours get what consequences and why and also use rewards and sticker charts too. it is more like a game at first for littler kids, but I feel it does help them learn delayed gratification.

    And of course sometimes I just lose it and yell and scream! Then we talk about that afterwards too.

    Its the hardest thing.

  18. I haven't read all the comments so I hope I'm not duplicating. We use sticker charts but with two variations: one is we don't use them all the time because they stop working, second is we only use them to work on particular behaviours so now and again I will say 'this week we are doing sticker charts boys and if you get x numbers of stickers you will get a pack of football cards'Each of them has three things they have to do well that week like brushing their teeth without any fuss or not jumping off their top bunk. Their behaviour improves and usually continues for a while afterwards. It's not ideal but it seems to work for my sometimes VERY tricky boys!

  19. Geekymummy, a-ha talking, yes! I'm finding the older mine get the easier we can discuss types of behaviour. Occasionally if they WANT to go in the playpen they will pull at the curtains to get put there!!

  20. Ella, thank you, I really like the sound of having a sticker chart for a limited time with a clear reward - I'll give that a go x


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