The NO factor: Behaviorism and your child

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

The last couple of weeks have been a bit loud at my house. Our lovely daughter has finally figured out the talking thing, and everything is a bit out of control. I knew it was coming – even thought I was prepared for it – but when that high-pitched, “NOOOOOOOOOO” started coming out of the wee tot’s mouth, she successfully transported us to a place called Total Annoying Town.

While trying to understand this new and exciting toddler behavior, it reminded me of an article I previously wrote and thought I should re-visit it, do a bit of editing, and learn more about what is going on in my daughter’s developing brain. I figured all you mommies and daddies trying to understand why your child is standing in the middle of the grocery store aisle screaming, “NO!” at the Goldfish crackers because they aren’t the rainbow kind might be interested in what is happening in that itty-bitty developing brain, too.

*Be warned, the following contains statistics, quotes, and insight on how to define and direct behavior, but no miracle cure for the “NO” factor found in toddlers – and kids (and some adults)…

Let’s start by magically teleporting back to high school psychology and refreshing our knowledge of Behaviorism. Behaviorism is a learning theory that focuses on observable behaviors. It is split into two areas of conditioning, classic, and behavioral – or operant. Most are familiar with operant conditioning, which is where one learns through reward what behavior is desired. B.F. Skinner spent lots of time exploring operant conditioning through research with animals, which proved that behavior is a learned response. Classic conditioning is a natural reflex or response to stimuli, such as flinching in the shower when hearing a toilet flush (will it be a rush of cold or hot water?).

Skinner’s research determined the brain was not a part of conditioning, and learning was through environmental factors. All actions require a reaction, positive or negative, which modifies behavior. With basic behaviorism theories, it is thought that the individual is passive and behavior is molded through positive and negative reinforcement. This means that a child’s behavior can be changed and modified through reinforcement, but which type is best?

Positive or negative?

Yes, incentives do seem to reap positive rewards and many of us resort to offering goodies for desired behavior. If a child behaves properly, she is promised a new toy. When she loudly complains at the supermarket, she is offered a tasty-treat to stop screaming. This means the child is rewarded for both positive and negative behaviors, sending a confusing message. This results in a child learning through her behaviors that she will receive the same outcome (yahoo, candy!) no matter the behavior.

When a toddler tosses out that first “no” it is her way of exhibiting control over the situation and proving she has a mind of her own – and she’s going to use it. Some parents resort to punishment or shame-based tactics instead of understanding talking through the situation can lead to offering the child necessary language skills to close the gap, and bring a solution to the situation. Offer directions in a clear and direct manner, avoid entering into a back-and-forth battle, and offer comfort and support as needed when dealing with challenging situations.

And, it doesn’t always work.

Behaviorism has hit the mainstream with several television shows setting almost impossible examples of how children can and should behave with the proper attention. Alfie Kohn finds that behaviorism is as American as apple pie, applying techniques for a quick response without consideration for the future. According to Kohn, instead of tossing kids in time-out, spending time reasoning with children in a warm and compassionate manner offers better response resulting in well-adjusted and loving adults.

Consistent and realistic consequences are essential when dealing with behaviors, both positive and negative. Feedback, or consequences, are a large aspect of behaviorism. When feedback is given after a desired behavior, learning has been set in place. Selecting appropriate rewards is important so that they can be offered consistently. When a child works hard to perform in a positive way and is not rewarded as expected, her self-esteem drops and she is not motivated to continue the behavior. When negative behaviors are exhibited, instead of placing her in time-out, removing a reward is an option.

But, what is a “reward,” right?

As adults, we can work to model positive behaviors encouraging the same behavior from our children along with not offering incentives when unnecessary or overly praising. Our gut reaction is to say “good job” when our kid does something great. This raises the child’s psyche, but doesn’t offer necessary important incentive to continue the behavior. The child does not understand specifically what behavior caused the adult to praise her, causing disregard and the blanket phrase “good job” to be insignificant and not promoting continued positive behavior.

I actually enjoyed a fun debate on this topic on Fox News – you can watch it here (and giggle if you’d like).

When specific praise is provided – such as turning that “good job” into “I like the way you answered that question!” focusing the praise on growth, learning, and development, the child’s behavior is positively acknowledged and encouraged. It also gives the adult a chance to think about what actually excited them about the child’s behavior, making it a win-win on both ends. The child feels supported and motivated in a nurturing way, and the adult has identified the specific behavior they are proud of.

And that is the type of praise that you can offer easily and often.

Along with changing up that, “good job,” take into consideration how often you say no to those around you. No one likes being told no, especially a developing and excited-to-learn child. Finding new phrases to use when in a “NO” situation exhibits options to the child and understanding that when “no” is used, no really means no. By acknowledging what the child wants using simple language, stating the current facts (the store is out of rainbow Goldfish), and taking a moment to talk things through (and even offering a conciliatory hug), the child is able to develop language skills and better understand behaviors.

Are there going to be times the child will be given anything and everything possible to stop the noise? Yes. Is it always the right thing to do? Nope. Is it essential for keeping mom or dad sane? YES.

Parenting is at its best when done by parents the way they feel comfortable. Working through the sticky spots of life together with your child can help create strong bonds that last a lifetime.


Fine Art for Kids: Op Art with Bridget Riley


© Sarah Lipoff 2011

I had big plans for the day – we were going to walk to the post office, hang at the park, and enjoy some time outdoors. But, for some reason, it is raining. Weather in the Bay Area is temperamental and you can see rain in one microclimate and hot and sunny in another. I’m usually in the hot-and-sunny spot, so this rain has me a bit frustrated.

We adjusted our plans and got out our paints. My daughter loves pulling her brush through a paper completely coated with a single color of paint, which reminded me of Bridget Riley and all her Op Art creations. We took a closer look at her paintings and got busy creating a fun line-making tool.

Most of Riley’s paintings are in black and white, but she uses color, too. Her paintings encourage the eye to move all over the creation, causing one to see not just the lines, but the hue or color of the lines grouped together in a collective formation. Op Art is all about creating movement through the use of optical illusion, so you could say Riley is the Zen mistress.

This is a great activity for kids of all ages. For the younger set, an adult can help create the line making cardboard tool, and kids that are well-versed with scissors can do the cutting themselves. It’s as simple as repurposing a piece of cardboard about 4 by 6-inches, getting out some tempera paint, brushes, paper and scissors.

Riley considered the color of paint an important part of her paintings, so encourage your child to select a single color she feels would really make her creation pop. My tot is in love with red, so red it was.

Before covering the paper with paint, invite your child to create a line-making tool. She can use a ruler to measure and mark where to make cuts or randomly cut triangles out of one side her piece of cardboard. My child is a bit young for this part, so I used my crafty scissors to create the cardboard tool for her. Set that line-making tool aside and get ready for some paint!

Place a piece of white paper on your work surface and invite your child to slather that paint all over the paper. Remember, this part might get a bit messy, so cover things as needed.

Once your child has coated the paper with paint, she can pull her line-making tool across the paper, creating straight or wavy lines. She can go back and forth across her paper as often as she’d like.

Enjoy the finished Op Art creation on the fridge or displayed in a special spot in your home!

© Sarah Lipoff 2011


My child has major bed-head

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

I know you might not believe me, but, yet again, I was accosted while in the check-out line by another do-goodie mama who deemed herself THE parenting expert of the moment to ask why I was choosing to let my child’s hair dread. Was it a fashion statement or something?


I turned to her with a questioning look and kind of shrugged, waiting to see what she would say next.

I think she wasn’t sure where to go or what to do. So, she kept talking….

She asked if I was going to let all her hair dread, was I at least washing it through the process, how I was planing on maintaining the dreads, blahblablaaaaaah.

I finally cut her off and explained I was not “dreading” my child’s hair. No matter how much combing, washing, and combing again, every morning my child’s hair looks like this.

Really? She questions.


I didn’t feel she needed to know the gory details about how my daughter screams her head off whenever she sees the brush, that the screaming increases to extreme levels when the brush touches her hair, and then how once the combing is done, the tot continues to scream and scream, and sometimes even tosses herself to the ground with the classic fists-and-feet pounding, which always causes the husband and I to giggle uncontrollably, resulting in LOUDER screams and MORE pounding.

So, actually, I don’t brush her hair every morning, because sometimes I don’t feel like dealing with all that noise. I’m sure my neighbors appreciate that decision, too.

I usually manage to wrangle her after her bath time, coat her hair with a dollop of deep conditioner, quickly pull a brush through the mess, and then let her loose to run amuck through the house while screaming naked.

It’s actually kind of cute and usually one of us chases her, resulting in lots of laughter and smiles.

My child has major bed-head and I’m okay with that.


Outside summer toddler fun

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Finding ways to keep a toddler entertained is a constant battle. If you are caught up in the throes of two-year-old-palooza, you know what I’m talking about. The attention span is maybe two-minutes, once something has been explored it’s not exciting anymore, and anytime you are in one place, over there is better.

I’m tired.

And, I know my tot is a bit frustrated and overwhelmed with it all, too. She’s starting to talk more, but there are times she’s still not able to get things out, which then causes more of a meltdown and the occasional on-the-ground-fist-and-leg-pumping extra dramatic stuff. I’ve been putting a lot of time into making our outdoor area more exciting because during the summer, things sure get hot in the house. The problem is, everything we try isn’t keeping the babe interested.

I made a teepee (really, I did), picked up cute pool toys, and allowed the tot to do some gardening, making our yard look like a cross between a garage sale and a really messy room.


After finding some fun ideas on how to put a spin on getting outdoors with the kiddies, I figured we could adjust them to be more appropriate for the wee tot – and get us adults off our keisters, too.

Here’s what we came up with:

Water balloon toss: Turn the pool into a water balloon target! Your tot can explore her gross motor skills as well as get everyone wet in the process. Just fill a few small balloons with water and then place your little toddler pool in a spot on your lawn. You can fill the pool, or leave it empty; either way is still exciting and fun. Now see how far your child can stand from the pool and successfully land a water balloon in the pool!

Flower walk: The younger set aren’t ready to delicately look at or carefully investigate anything. But, going on a flower walk is a great way to explore the yard – or neighborhood, and gather something she can later tear apart, scrutinize, or organize by color or shape. The one rule is she can only pick a single flower from each plant she finds interesting. Along with learning more about plants, she’s figuring out how to listen and follow simple directions.

Marking with chalk: Get out the sidewalk chalk and invite your child to see what things she can make marks on. Will sidewalk chalk write on trees, plant leaves, or the fence? What’s great about exploring with sidewalk chalk is that it washes off – there’s no staining, scrubbing, or long-term damage from your child going to town with those chalks! Our daughter loves using her adorable little bucket of sidewalk chalk to draw all over the pavers in our yard.

What are your family’s favorite things to do outdoors? Do share!


Summer suncatcher

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

We’re in full-on heat mode at our house, and now that the first day of summer has come and gone, it’s time to create something lovely to decorate the sun-filled windows. The wee tot loves to paint, and I figured we could combine her love of paint with an interesting medium – glue!

I don’t know about you, but I used to love giving my hands a thin coat of glue and then peeling it off, feeling the oddness of the pull and then inspecting the revealing skin-like section of molded glue. I also observed many a bored-in-art-history class high schooler doing the same during class lectures. Why not create a fun peely-glue based suncatcher?

All you need to create this sunny project are some basic materials, such as glue, a pie tin, some veggie oil, toothpicks, glitter and water paints and brushes.

Simply coat the pie pan with a thin coating of veg oil and then load that pan up with glue. I encouraged my wee tot to squeeze and squeeze that glue bottle helping to hone her fine-motor skills. I figure we squashed about 1/4 cup of glue in our 8-inch pie pan. If your child feels like experimenting with more glue, go for it! Mod Podge would work great for this project, too.

Now it’s time to get creative. Invite your child to sprinkle glitter, splatter water paint, or paint right onto that wet glue. She can really take her time and think about color combinations or design. We used the primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) to explore what colors they would create when mixed together.

Offer your child a toothpick and invite her to draw her toothpick all around and about that glue filled tin. She can create swirling lines, looping circles, or straight lines blending and moving about her colors and glitter.

Here’s the hard part – the whole shebang has to hang out overnight to dry. You can speedy-up the process by placing your glue filled pie pan in the sun and checking back in an hour or so.

Once the glue becomes somewhat transparent, your child can carefully peel the glue suncatcher away from the pan. If it is still sticking, let it dry for a bit longer.

Now she can pop a hole in the top of the suncatcher and hang in a window watching how it glints and glows in the sun!

*We also made mini-sun catchers using a muffin tin. FUN.

Imaginary play and your child

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Things are pretty quiet in the other room and you begin to wonder what your child is up to. You sneak a peak around the corner and observe her sitting with a stuffed bunny delicately wrapping its ear with a napkin. You continue to watch as she gently places the wounded stuffed bunny on a blanket and pretends makes a nice pot of hot tea to share. You may think it is just fun and games, but your child is learning through that imaginary play, expanding her vocabulary, and encouraging brain development.

Imaginary Play and Learning

The understanding that playing expands learning and child development is an essential step in helping a child become the best she can be. The concept of play has been around for centuries, with play artifacts dating back to Ancient Egypt more than 3000 years ago. The found crude dolls, balls, game pieces, and carved animals prove that kids are kids – no matter what time period or location they are from. All children are intrinsically drawn to play and learn through the experience. They contain an internal motivation to try new things and copy behaviors of others. A child’s development is enhanced when she is encouraged to explore these new skills through play and rewarded internally through feeling a sense of accomplishment, which inspires further positive learning and behaviors.

While a child is exploring through imaginary play she is figuring out how things work and learning more about problem solving. Along with imaginary play, a child also experiments with imitative play, or copying the behaviors of others. Through imaginary and imitative play, a child is able to hone important life skills that cannot be taught through flashcards or academic drills. It also encourages the brain to think in new and interesting ways.

Development of Imaginary Play

A child’s first foray into imaginary play is often very repetitive. Around 18 to 20-months of age, she may discover that moving a small plastic animal from one place to another internally motivates her to say the name of the animal and then make a realistic representational noise for the animal. This may not seem like anything amazing to adults, but for the child, her brain development is being heightened through her ability to use her fine-motor skills to grasp and move the toy, her learning connection of knowing the proper name of the animal, and the language skills to make the correct animal noise.

As a child develops, her imaginary play becomes more experimental, and through the learning she obtains from imaginary and imitative play, she is expanding her knowledge of her limitations and abilities. Providing a child with basic props – even a large cardboard box – is a great way to encourage learning and development. Along with imaginary play becoming more complex around the age of three, it also becomes more interactive. This is an awesome opportunity to engage in pretend play with a child and learn more about her learning style.

All children develop and evolve at their own pace. If your child has not hit a developmental milestone at a time you feel is appropriate, do not assert pressure on the child to perform. A child will begin her experimentation with imaginary play when she is ready. If you feel there may be something hindering your child’s development, contact your family physician.

Ways to Encourage Imaginary Play

Encouraging imaginary play is as easy as getting down at the same level as the child. There are three simple ways imaginary play and child development can be encouraged in the home.

Create a space. Turn that unused corner of the kitchen or barely used guest room into an imaginary play panacea. Creating a dedicated pretend play spot allows the child to have a play place that will always be there when she is ready. Clearly define the location and remove any items that may interfere with the child’s play or cause concern, such as breakables. As an adult, create a balance between useable space for the home and space for the child while enjoying imaginary play. Placing a dedicated pretend play space next to the china cabinet might not be a successful experience for child or adult.

Create time. Our lives are busy, and often the television is turned on or a video game is played for entertainment. Instead of relying on electronics, turn everything off, which encourages the child, and yourself, to enjoy some pretend play. When a child feels motivated to turn to imaginary play instead of the television or a video game, she is motivating her brain and boosting her learning skills. Open-ended play builds a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Just a few of the skills built though executive functions include listening, waiting, self-control, self-motivation, and cognitive flexibility. And, for adults, taking the time to play encourages healthy bonding between and aides in lowering stress levels in adults.

Provide props. Before heading to the store for the latest and greatest pretend play toys, take a look around the home. Items that may not seem exiting to an adult could turn into an amazing spaceship or antennae for a creative costume. Before tossing out that packing box, why not paint the outside with the child and construct a castle? Bits of fabric can be turned into colorful capes, and paper bags can amazingly be transformed into hats or jackets with some simple cuts and the help of masking tape.

Imaginary play is not only fun, it enhances a child’s development and learning in amazing ways. And, you might find yourself having an enjoyable time, too!

*This is an article I originally wrote for, a great site with a wealth of information for educators, students, and parents – go check them out!


Sunday spectacular: Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day to all you daddies out there! This was our first Father’s Day where the wee tot kind of understood this was a day all about Dada. So, to celebrate, we went to one of the hubs favorite places to eat, and then to his most favorite-est stores for gadgets and stuff. Needless to say, I didn’t think you would care to see how the visit to “all things TV” went…

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

How was your Father’s Day?

Toddler pool time

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Now that the weather has finally decided to cooperate, it’s time to enjoy some fun in the sun – and with that comes fun with water. I love swimming and grew up enjoying a dip in any pool, lake, stream, or whatever when the temperature warmed up. I also was on the swim team in middle school and high school, which seems like forever ago. Having swim smarts is something I want to instill in my daughter, so I’m ready to start as early as possible getting her excited about getting her swim on.

I picked up a small pool last year that my daughter could sit, walk through, and dump stuff in, but figured she is big enough for something more exciting. Even though she’s just over two, I thought we could explore other options that would keep her interested and motivated to get in the water – considering her excitement quota usually lasts about 7 minutes.

We headed out to the local purveyor of all things child and were a bit overwhelmed by the pool options. Big blow up pools with spinning-spraying things, humongous hard plastic pools, and itty-bitty baby things surrounded us. They all smelled like plastic and seemed cumbersome more than fun-in-the-sun for a still-figuring-it-all-out two-year old. So, we left with a couple of beach balls and floating boats under our arms.

I spent a quick minute researching how to make our swim area safe for the tot and found some great suggestions, such as turning over the small pool over after each use and picking up some sunglasses for my daughter for when she’s lounging poolside to protect her eyes. After getting our backyard set and ready for summer swim action, I sat back with some fresh brewed chamomile iced-tea (along with some in a spray bottle for my hair – thanks Motherboard!), and watched as the wee tot had a fantastic time in the water!

Here are a couple of things to make pool time even more exciting with a toddler:

-Purchase a small watering can just for your child. This way, when she gets tired of sitting and splashing in the pool, she can use that watering can to keep all your plants happy. And pouring water is a great way to encourage your child’s concentration and hand-eye coordination.

-Couldn’t find any plastic boats for your pool? Make some with your child out of paper and found materials around the home and have a “will it float” contest. The winner gets a frozen treat!

-On a really hot day, toss ice cubes in the pool along with a plastic measuring cup and encourage your child to scoop those cubes! This is a great activity for kids over 3 years of age – no one wants a fun time to turn into a choking hazard!

-Offer your child mini-squirt guns to use for dousing everyone around them while playing in the pool. Using a small hand-held squirt gun actually boosts fine-motor skills aiding in great handwriting skills.

-Turn that pool into a jacuzzi! Hand out straws and invite your child to blow through them, creating tons of bubbles. Blowing through the straw encourages kids to think about exhaling when swimming and brings small learning-to-swim faces closer to the water. Don’t forget to remind your kiddo the straws are for blowing, not drinking the water!

Happy swimming!




Fine Art for Kids: Circling with Kandinsky

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Summer is here and with it long, warm afternoons perfect for a languid art activity using water. While cleaning the house the other day, I discovered a whole collection of circle shaped objects begging to be used. From cans ready to be recycled to my daughters sippy cups, we had circles of all shapes and sizes perfect for an art project.

And, Wassily Kandisnky came to mind. If you remember, we explored his artwork awhile back with some collaging, but along with creating beautiful abstract linear works, he also really got into circles. Several of his works solely focused on the swirling, looping circle, and I figured we could re-visit Kandinsky though another fun art activity.

Kandinsky was truly an abstract painter, masterfully turning shapes and lines into moving and colorful artworks. His style was vivid and exciting, which encouraged the viewer to look all over his creations, taking in all it has to offer. During the early 1900’s abstract expressionism was popular, and Kandinsky was finding his niche as an appreciated and respected artist – and is still today. I couldn’t help thinking of his painting, Several Circles, 1926, when I came across all those circular shapes, and knew my wee tot would love using them for an engaging, expressive artwork!

No matter the age of your child, this is a fantastic art activity that hones shape and color recognition skills. Older children can explore the concepts of balance and design, along with discovering more about color theory. But, mostly, this is a wonderful way to learn more about an artist and be creative.

Take another look at Several Circles by Kandinsky and discuss with your child how Kandinsky created all those perfectly round shapes. Invite your child to go on a circle scavenger hunt around the house and get ready to start circling!

Offer your child a sheet of white paper. Kandinsky’s creation used both black and white as a background, For this project,  a white paper will create vibrant results. Now your child can position all those circular objects on her paper and draw around them using a black marker. She can use a permanent or non-permanent marker – either works just fine. A black permanent marker won’t wash together with the watercolor paints in the next step.

(Just remember, a black permanent marker stains, so be careful what your child is circling on – and where!)

Encourage your child to have a couple of those circles overlap, just like Kandinsky did. While she is busy circling away, you can quiz her on color theory, such as what color yellow and blue create when mixed together.

Now she can get out the watercolor paints and start painting in those circles. In the overlapped areas, she can experiment with her new color theory knowledge and see what colors she can create!

To finish her Kandinsky inspired circle creation, she can paint the background a solid color – or leave it white, just the way it is.