Parenting With Psychology

Helping you build a set of parenting tools so you feel like an amazing parent ready to overcome your daily challenges.

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Remember to Make Your Parenting Fun

ages 5 years - 11 years ages 6 months - 5 years check yourself consequences discipline humor learning problem solving Jul 27, 2023

Today, I have a short story for you that highlights the importance of having a variety of tools in your parenting toolbelt from which to choose when your child throws you a curve ball.  At the end of a grocery trip on a rainy morning, I juggled an umbrella and a full shopping cart while helping my nearly 3-year-old into the car but did not strap him in because he had recently learned to strap himself in and usually enjoyed doing so.  Reality check here: Don’t stress if your 3-year-old does not know how to strap themselves in; fourth children pick skills like that up very early.


Once the groceries were secured and I had hopped in the car, I checked and saw that he was not yet strapped in, so I politely asked him to do so.  Apparently, that day he had lost interest in being independent with a seatbelt.  Thinking this through quickly, I decided that I didn’t want to get back out in the rain to help him when he could certainly do that for himself, so some impromptu problem solving was needed (see Solve Your Parenting Problems in 5 Steps).  


While brainstorming possible solutions, I thought he might benefit from extra motivation.  Fortunately, I had in my hand the open mints case that he had been eating from in the store, so a perfect operant conditioning moment had presented itself (see Understanding Reinforcement vs. Punishment).


Positive reinforcement to the rescue!  I said to my son, “Oh look, I have your mints, and you can have them for the car ride home as soon as you’re strapped in.”  This was greeted with a “hmph,” crossed arms, and a frown, so I could see this would be a bit of a struggle.  I certainly did not want to cave in at this point and teach him that he does not have to strap in when I ask.  And I did not want to give him the mints case now that I had set that up as a reinforcer for the behavior of strapping in.  Follow-through is supremely important when using operant conditioning in your parenting.  


At the same time, he was so little and cute, and I did not want to have to strap him in and then have him be sad on the way home about not getting the mints.  So, I rooted around in my parenting toolbelt to find just the right parenting tool to use in this situation.  I remembered how important it is to insert “fun” into your parenting.  You can effectively use operant conditioning while staying happy and keeping your child happy by sprinkling a little humor on the situation.  


In this example, I turned our little standoff into a fun exchange by giving him a wry smile and starting to shake the mints case like a musical instrument while singing a little song, “Strap in to get your mints.”  Success!  Seatbelt on, mints go to the adorable boy who learned to follow instructions and be independent, and we all drive home happily.  Sometimes using consequences in parenting gets a bad rap, but life has consequences, and it’s important for children to learn that connection.  Consequences don’t have to be unpleasant and punishment-oriented; they can be lighthearted and fun, as in this example.


There was definitely a moment of suspense when I worried that things would not go so smoothly, but I always try to keep my cool in those little stressful parenting moments, and they usually turn out great, especially if I remember to keep things fun.  Being a kid should be fun, and being a parent should, too.  Try to enjoy your parenting this week while using all your helpful parenting tools!

Operant conditioning is part of the Consequences category in my 5 C’s parenting framework (see The 5 C’s to Amazing Parenting), and quick tricks like using humor are part of the Check Yourself category.  To view more posts in this category, use the category search menu on the right of your screen.  Keep up the good work on your amazing parenting journey!

P.S. If you like the idea of getting intentional about your parenting and focusing on how you communicate with your children, you might be interested in learning more about my 5 C’s framework and continuing your amazing parenting journey with my free Bootcamps.  Find a Bootcamp specific to your child’s age and save your spot today.


Amazing parenting is not about always saying
and doing the right thing and raising perfect children.  It’s about becoming intentional in your parenting and proactive in learning skills to help you parent more effectively in a way that fits best for your unique parent-child dynamics.

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