Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What??? No Stickers???

Kids LOVE rewards!

You know, certificates, ribbons, stickers, sweets, toys, etc.

I don't give "rewards"...EVER.

I don't use a treasure chest and I don't use a sticker chart to motivate children to do well.

As my friend, Mary, said recently,  "I always remember what I was taught...become the cookie."

I learned that many years ago, as well, from a talented verbal behaviorist, and what a relief!

To me, having to give out stickers, and judge who was good and who wasn't had become a stressful chore.  Instead, I learned to become the reward itself.

I'm not saying that I don't own or use stickers.  I do.  I just use them as part of an activity, not as a reward.  For instance, if I have fish stickers, then the child and I might draw a fish tank or sea scene and then the child will ask for each sticker that she wants to put into the scene.

The children and I play with little and big toys, and also might enjoy a sweet from time to time.

One day a 6 year old girl brought in some jelly beans and we sorted them, counted them, wrote the color names, tasted them, talked about flavors and subtracted each as we ate them, as part of a SNACKademics activity.  The jelly beans were not a reward.  They were an integral part of the activity.

Another day, a 6 year old boy brought in a bag of Goldfish crackers.  I grabbed a piece of paper, made a game board, and we were off and playing, counting, talking and munching our way through the speech session.
Okay.  I've Become The Cookie, And Now My Child's Hunger For Me Has Become Insatiable.  I Feel Like I Don't Have A Minute To Myself...Help!

I once met a mother who sought my help, because she had suffered from post partum depression, and she felt that she and her daughter didn't have a good bond.  She saw the close bond her husband had with their daughter and it made her both sad and envious that she was lacking that type of connection with her little girl.

She and I had a consultation, and I also met her daughter and interacted a bit with the little girl, in order to learn more about her personality and play style.  I called mom into our play session and modeled good ways for her to play with her child.  They were both happy when I left that day.

A few months later the mom called me.  She said she needed another consult.  I went and listened to her complaint.  Her daughter wanted her to play with her all day long and she couldn't get anything else done.  Besides that, other people in her life (friends and family) were telling her that it wasn't normal.  That her daughter needed to go and play by herself.

This mother was suffering from peer pressure, and couldn't see that she had gotten what she had asked for, and was now complaining about that same thing.

After a little bit of discussion I came to my main observation.  "You wanted a closer relationship with your daughter and now you're complaining about how close you and your daughter have become.  That's confusing to me.  In my opinion, I think that you should  enjoy the closeness you wished for now, and let the housework slide a little bit, because when she's 14 she probably will not want to hang out with you all day long."

In the end, this mother admitted that she was fine spending a lot of her day with her daughter, but that other people were making her feel like a "bad" mother.  After our talk, she was okay with accepting that it really wasn't any of their business, and she could raise her child and spend time with her child in a way that was best for the two of them.

That was many years ago, and she hasn't called me since.  I'm thinking they're too busy hanging out together. :-)

I Simply Can't Function With A High Level of Interaction ALL DAY LONG!  I Need To Be A Part-Time Cookie!

Once the interaction between you and your child, becomes highly rewarding, then you are responsible for keeping things interesting and engaging, or else you may find yourself slowly becoming dependent on other types of rewards.

Yet, this DOESN'T mean that you have to be "ON" 24/7.  That would be thoroughly exhausting.  You will need a balance of interesting interaction and quiet/recouping time (especially if you are, at heart, an introvert.  Introverts need a recharging time every few hours.).

Children need other activities that are rewarding which they can do on their own, or else they will become bored and get into trouble.  In my opinion, things like building with blocks, talking for little characters/dolls/puppets, watching an educational DVD or youtube channel, looking at/reading books or playing an educational app on an iPad are all good choices. 

If the DVD or other program is lengthy, then coming to the child every 10 minutes to ask questions or talk about what's going on in the show is a great idea.  Asking the child to do something active that the character is doing with you (jumping, crawling, etc). This makes a more passive and quiet activity into a more active and verbally interactive one.

Spread The Cookie Joy!

Help your child to enjoy a variety of cookie flavors!  Teach Daddy how to play the games she likes, or sing silling songs or have a tickle time!  Show Grandma your child's two favorite books and make it a ritual for Grandma to read those two books every time she comes over.

Talk to your child about what a good time he or she had when someone else played with her.  "Wasn't that FUN!  Grandma reads the best stories! Daddy sings the silliest songs!  He really is the best singer in our family!  I love spending play time with him.  Don't you?"

Develop your child's taste for mini-cookies!  Find a playmate who your child enjoys being around and interacting with.  Time spent with the other child has then become a reward, which you can leverage when you need it.  "Do you want to go play with John?  Okay.  Before we go we have to pack our snack, go potty and wash our hands.  Let's do it!  I can't wait to go and visit John!"


A Cookie With Icing and Sprinkles!

Take rewarding interactions up a notch!  Having a social interaction with someone who is a reward and doing an activity that is rewarding is a double a good way!

Imagine it from the child's point of view...going to visit John, sitting together eating our favorite snack AND watching Veggie Tales....sigh...

"Mommy you're the best mommy in the whole wide world.  I'll do whatever you ask me to, because you are so, so good to me!"  Happy,, joy!  :-)

(*And, Mommy, if I forget how good you were to me today, please gently remind me, so that I can see things clearly and learn to imitate your kindness and generosity of spirit.)


FUN engagement--> MORE interaction & speech-->more FUN engagement-->MORE interaction & speech...on and on.  It's a deliciously successful vicious cycle.

Enjoy it!

I do, because I truly love my job!
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Noelle Michaels, MA, CCC-SLP, LDT-C
Bilingual Speech Language Pathologist
Special Educator & Learning Specialist

Thursday, January 24, 2013

FIRST Do Your Work, THEN We Can Play!

So, if you've ever said, 

"First, do your work and then we can play" to a two, three or four-year-old child, 

AND you know how important the teachings of Jean Piaget are, then you need to go and get a sheet of paper and a pencil, go to your desk, sit down and write: 

"PLAY IS THE WORK OF CHILDHOOD" a million times...I'm not kidding.


I once climbed up 4 flights of stairs lugging 2 heavy bags filled with toys, huffing and puffing, sweating in the extraordinary heat of a July in the Bronx, about 13 years ago.  

I arrived at the apartment door of my 18 month old early intervention client, and entered the slightly cooled apartment (yay! an air conditioner!).  I sat on the floor to get ready to begin, when the mom, who was young...about 18-years-old...said, "I thought you were a teacher...all you do is play with toys.  When are you going to start teaching her things?" 

I was speechless...and confused.

Did she expect me to bring a chalkboard, chair and desk and set up a classroom in her living room? For an 18-month-old child?

It was at that exact moment that I realized how important it is for me to explain WHY I do the things I do with children (to whomever is observing and judging my work).   
Most parents, and some professionals, simply do not understand the tremendous V-A-L-U-E of play activities in helping children to prepare for and acquire academic skills and other skills, in a variety of areas: 

**Gross Motor Skills
**Fine Motor Skills
**Cognitive Skills
**Receptive Language Skills
**Expressive Language Skills
**Speech Skills  

Getting The Word Out

The day that mother said, "
...all you do is play with toys.  When are you going to start teaching her things?" was the same day I started asking parents (or childcare workers) things like,

"Do you know why we are playing with the toy telephone?"

...and explaining...

"When she dials, she is practicing pointing her finger, which will help her to point to what she wants, and will work the muscles in her finger and hand" 

"When she stands up and pulls the toy phone by its string and it rolls on its wheels, she is practicing balance and walking in a more steady and safer way."  

"When she turns around to see the phone behind her she is changing her attention from what's in front of her to what's behind her.  Being able to change attention from one thing to another is important in learning."

"When she jargons (pretend talks) into the phone, she is showing us that she knows the intonation of our language, but needs to work on increasing her vocabulary."

"When she takes turns with me holding the receiver and using the phone to talk, she is beginning to develop sharing skills, which will be so important when she interacts more with other children in her family and, one day, at school."

Play is delicious!
It is so rich and alive!
It's enjoyable and motivating!
It teaches us multiple things at once, and more than any flash card or coloring page could. 
My Own Experiences With Play (As A Child)

People who have seen me play with children might not believe it, but when I was a child I preferred to sit on the stoop (that's a Brooklyn term for front steps),...yes, I preferred to sit on the stoop, on a warm summer evening, and listen to the neighborhood women gossiping, rather than run around the neighborhood with the other kids playing night-time tag. If play was work then I was lazy.  
I finally learned how to be a good academic "student" by third grade, but, in those days, thinking outside the box never once occurred to me. Things were either right or wrong, black or white, made sense to me or were totally ridiculous.

My idea of playing Barbies was to dress the dolls, making a white cotton handkerchief into a wrap-around dress, or trying to make furniture for the dolls out of cardboard, but that was it.  

I remember only agreeing to play "Barbies" after warning my girlfriends, "Ok, I'll dress the dolls, but I won't pretend the dolls can talk!"  Speaking for dolls made me highly uncomfortable and anxious, for some reason.  Now, I realize it was most likely because I was introverted, and it made me feel very self-conscious. 

I'm very different now.  For the sake of getting a child's attention, I'd be willing to make a dust-bunny talk, or a pencil or my shoe.  I had to learn how to play full-out in order to do what I presently do.

The beginnings of me learning how to play, and how to enjoy play for its own sake, began at Queens College during teacher education classes, because I was forced to do so.   

Boy, am I grateful that the Universe decided to teach me how to play!  Play isn't just for young children.  Playing is what keeps you young.  If you feel you are too old to begin to play full-out, please remember: "Better late than never."

If you're not yet convinced of the V-A-L-U-E of play, but you love a child who may miss out on opportunities either because of your timidness or your opinion, I would say, "Better be safe than sorry."

Thank you, Jacqueline!

This evening, I saw a tweet from one of the Real Housewives of New Jersey:

Jacqueline Laurita (@JacLaurita)
ADORABLE! a fun father and son video

I watched the video she shared and was amazed.  I tweeted back to her: 

That child learned more from interacting w /his Dad in 1 afternoon than many kids do in a kidding! Loved it!  

In the video there were fun, interesting interactions with a tremendous variety of toys, gross motor movements  I saw constructing and throwing, jumping and climbing, tickling, eating and so much more...all in one afternoon! Major kudos to that dad!  Instinctively, he knew what is right to do...(especially cleaning up before mom gets home)!  

[The link to the video is at the end of this post]
So, Today's Lesson Is:!
Giggle and enjoy each others' company!
Be silly and explore new possibilities!
Talk in different voices and make up new songs!
Tell jokes and put on shows...magic...puppets...singing, dancing, reading poetry or rapping!
It's all good...all very good!

Sometimes be serious...but, only occasionally, when you absolutely have to.  Then crack a smile, or make a joke to let everyone know it's R-E-C-E-S-S and each of you can go back to PLAYING!

As far as children and work goes...(at this point in time) I will agree that you might call household chores "work."  So, if it's the child's chore to wipe the table before going out to engage with you in a game of soccer, then I guess you can say, "First finish your work, and then we'll play."

BUT...let's not forget the proverb:

All work and no play makes John a dull boy.

I always thought that meant dull personality-wise.
However, maybe it was in reference to intelligence.
Playing And Working Simultaneously

I know a wonderful woman, who struggled to find her calling, and after years of searching finally settled on the goal of becoming an OT (occupational therapist).  When she was about half way through her college program, I found out that she was struggling with the harsh academic demands of her studies.  

We talked on the phone and I encouraged her, "Hang on!  The day-to-day work of being an OT is not like college.  It's different; way different.  You're going to love it!  I swear!"

Well, she hung in there, and finished and found a job she loved.  She called me months later and said, "I can't believe they are paying me to play all day long! This is the best job in the world!"

Of course, the job is much more than just playing, but when you truly engage with a child, as you teach him new skills, the job becomes a joy, and joyful interaction is synonymous with play.  I know this truth every day, because my job is filled with joy, and that's why I truly love my job! 



1.  The video Jacqueline Laurita was tweeting about:


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Noelle Michaels, MA, CCC-SLP, LDT-C
Bilingual Speech Language Pathologist
Special Educator & Learning Specialist

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Stop, Drop and Roll is the Key to Extinguishing Nagging

 STOP thinking about other things.

            DROP what you're doing.

                      ROLL a toy 
                      (or engage the child in some way). 

Why do children nag?
Someone has trained them to do so.

How does one train a child to nag?
Ignoring a child when he is asking for something or denying the child the thing he wants.

How do adults reinforce nagging, to the point where it becomes the child's greatest skill?
Training the child to nag, having them nag for long periods of time and then giving them what they asked for in the first place.

What if I don't give in, and I stay strong and continue to ignore the child's request; what if I  "win" the interaction?
The child will feel like a loser...beaten. 

Won't I be spoiling a child, if I "give in" to ALL his requests?

Isn't spoiling a child a "bad" thing?
Not necessarily.

How can that be?
Let's look at it from an ADULT'S perspective.

Do you like to be spoiled, pampered, given what you ask for?
Let's be honest.  You know you do.
How many marriages would be saved if both partners concentrated solely on pampering the other?  "Honey, it's Friday night...time for your foot massage!"

In my opinion, spoiling and papering are important things to MODEL.  When spoiling and papering come from a place of respect, acceptance and love, the receptee of the spoiling feels special, cared for, listened to and loved.  How can there be anything wrong with that?

Won't I go broke, giving my child everything he asks for?
Most likely, but, remember that most times what the child is really requesting is a few minutes of your time.  This will usually not effect your bottom line drastically.

Responding to requests for things can be tricky, so I will explain the things that you can do. Sometimes it works out even better when the request for an object doesn't actually get fulfilled, yet the child has a related experience with you (which is a treat in itself), and the child walks away feeling special, spoiled, loved and heard :-)
*Please know that techniques get easier the more you practice them.

Problem:  Power-Struggles
The minute you say, "No" to a child's request you have entered into a power-struggle. Hunker down, because the bickering and wrangling are about to begin.  The line has been drawn in the sand, and someone is going to end up crying.

Solution: Become Power-Struggle Free


Instead of standing there nose-to-nose, GET ON THE SAME PAGE!  Become the child's ally and teammate.  Make his goal your goal, have the same feelings he is having, and don't forget to compliment each of his requests or ideas as being brilliant!

Setting: Supermarket or Retail Store
Trigger:  The child sees a Sponge Bob balloon floating in the air by the cashiers.
Reaction: The child reaches up toward the balloon and says, "Bah-Bahb" (which you know means "Sponge Bob").
Your Usual Responses: Ignoring, "No," "Not today," "Mommy doesn't have money," "We're in a rush", (or maybe you don't understand what he wants)  "What? Bah-Bah? Bottle? Your bottle's in the car. We'll be back in the car in a few minutes."


*The child's reach may function like a pointed finger and really mean "Look at that, Mommy!"

Try:  "Wow! What a nice Sponge Bob balloon! Thanks for showing it to me!" [Then change the subject and you head down an aisle, and the balloon is no longer in eyesight.] "Hey, let's go find those cookies that you love!  You know, the orange circle ones.  They are so good!  How many should we get; one or two?" 

*If the reach continues, and the child says, "Sponge Bob" over and over again with increasing urgency, then he wants the balloon.

Try: "Do you want the Sponge Bob balloon?  Me, too! Let's go get it and attach it to the cart.  That way Sponge Bob can be with us while we shop.  I'll take a picture of you with the balloon with my phone!" 

*When you're checking out at the cashier, slip the balloon back to where it came from quietly or say: 

"Thank you for coming shopping with us Sponge Bob!  We'll see you next time!  I can't wait to go home and tell Daddy the Sponge Bob balloon came shopping with us.  He will be so surprised to see the picture of you and Sponge Bob.  You are so lucky! You got to go shopping with Sponge Bob!"

*If the child gets upset remember to STAY ON THE SAME PAGE!  "I feel so sad, too! I wish we could take the balloon home, but we can't.  Oh, man!" [Then switch the subject] "Hey!  Do you want to watch the Barney DVD when we get home? Me, too!  It will be so fun to watch the Barney DVD!"

Try: "Oh, I want that Sponge Bob balloon!  I LOVE that balloon. It is so cool!  Do you have any money, so I can get it? Do you have any money?  No? Oh, man! Now I'm sad! I really wanted that balloon!  Next time will you bring money so we can get it? Please! Then I will be so happy!"

Try:  "Wow! I wish I had a balloon like that!  If I had a balloon like that I would take it with me to work.  What would you do, if you had a balloon like that?  Would you take it to Grandma's house?  Yes?  Oh, man! Grandma would laugh so hard if she saw that balloon.  She would think you brought the real Sponge Bob to her house.  She would think she lived in Bikini Bottom!  That would be so funny!  You have such good ideas!"

So, remember: 

Investing from 30 seconds to 5 minutes in a quick, fun interaction will save you from long periods of nagging, whining, crying or negative behaviors.

When a child asks for something, or is attempting to communicate something to you and you say: 
  • "No," 
  • "Not now," 
  • "It's not time for that now," 
  • "We're doing something else now," 
  • "Later," 
  • "We'll see"
or if you (in any way) deny the child or stall a positive response, then you are setting yourself up for either nagging or a negative behavior.
When a child begins the nagging, and you're going to END UP saying, "Yes" or "Ok," it's better to say, "Yes" RIGHT AWAY.  Otherwise you are reinforcing the nagging, and it's bound to continue and get more intense.

Before you say, "No" out of habit, stop and ask yourself, 

"Is this a big deal?" 

"So what if he wants to watch that video one more time?  He did ask me for it clearly and politely." 

"Do I want to reinforce the communication attempt my child just made, or teach him that his words get him nothing?"  

"Is saying, 'No' right now going to cause a chain reaction of negative effects that I'm going to regret 5 minutes from now?"

Is saying "Yes"  that important for children with communication delays or disorders?
Absolutely!  When you give a positive response ("YES!") you reinforce the child's initial attempt at communicating, which leads to more attempts to communicate.  

If you say, "No" when a child asks for something,  the child learns that speaking does not get his wants or needs met.  So, the child will be less likely to use speech to communicate.

Getting children to communicate more with words and less with negative behaviors is what I do every day.  Thinking outside the box, giving up the need to control, and being willing to play  24/7 gets children talking.  I am willing to "spoil" each and every one of them, and they are witnesses to the fact that I truly love my job.  :-) 

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Noelle Michaels, MA, CCC-SLP, LDT-C
Bilingual Speech Language Pathologist
Special Educator & Learning Specialist