Today’s Secret to Five Happy, Obedient, Eager-to-Please Homeschooled Children

July 6, 2011

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A reluctant grouchy attitude has been filling our home for the last few weeks.  Then, yesterday I had a flash of brilliant parenting insight.  Yes, I know, it seems that every wonderful parenting idea only keeps the kids’ interest for a week or two, a month if you’re lucky.  So, I’m always thinking of new ideas.

So, here’s my latest:

Everyone usually agrees that rewards work better than punishments, but as parents we usually tend to notice the five bowls of goopy oatmeal left at the table than the one bowl that is rinsed and put away in the dishwasher.

So, I need a way to notice the good more frequently.

Plus, if I’m going to do rewards, it has to be easy, easy, easy – something I can give on the spot without having to think or even take a step.

Well, have you ever been to a whale or dolphin show?  Have you ever watched a puppy training session?  How do the trainers get the animals to do exactly what they want?  Treats!  Immediate, small, yummy treats.

Now, I’ve used bribes before, but they usually involve some complicated sticker or point system and are often more work than they’re worth.  So, my brilliant idea was to duplicate the animal trainers exactly.  I tromped down to the basement, filled a pocket with M & M’s (yes, it’s summer and we’ll be switching to Skittles as soon as I get to the store), and went looking for kids to train.

I started out by checking on all the kids and anyone doing something in the least bit positive was given one M & M, along with a comment, “Good job on doing your math on your own” or “Nice way to play with your brother.”  I walked through the house leaving wide-eyed and ecstatic kids in my wake.  Then, I started calling the kids, and when they came, I would plop a treat in their hand and say, “Thanks for coming when I called.”  The transformation was amazing.

Some favorite M & M sayings:

“Thanks for turning off the light when you leave the bathroom.”

“Nice way to really pronounce your ‘th’ while reading” – My 5-year-old proceeded to hunt down every ‘th’ and pronounce it loudly and carefully, a chore he normally whines about.

“Good job waiting patiently for your turn to wash your hands.”

“Wow – love how you put the toilet seat down.”

“Look at all these bowls in the dishwasher – everyone who these belong to, come over here for a minute.”

Pretty soon my 9-year-old is washing out pots in the sink and making puppy eyes at me to make sure I notice.  My 11-year-old grabbed a washrag to wipe the dinner table without being asked.  Everyone ran to their chairs when I called that lunch was ready.

And then for fun, when dad got home, I called the younger boys to come three or four times and they raced back and forth to me, wide grins on their faces.  When I quit after three times, my 5-year-old lawyer waited in vain for a fourth summons, and then tried a hopeful, “What?  Did you call me, Mom?”

My theories of why this is working so well right now:

  • It’s a novelty.
  • The reward is immediate.
  • It’s lots and lots of tiny rewards instead of one big one.
  • I’m looking for the good, not the bad.

So, today, I’m off to the store for some non-meltable Skittles to milk this technique for all it’s worth, before I have to come up with a new one.  Hopefully some of the good behavior will stick around as good habits before then.

(And if you’re worried about the non-healthy candy aspect of it – I figured out that each kid got between 10 and 20 M & M’s yesterday – a rather negligible amount of junk food, all things considered.  But you could easily switch to a healthier small snack.)

The rules

  • small treats, so you don’t feel bad about giving away dozens.
  • in your pocket – not the cupboard.  If you have to walk to get it, you won’t hand it out as frequently.
  • wander around frequently to ‘catch’ your children behaving.
  • make a mental list of things you really want your children to work on and look specifically for those good behaviors.
  • don’t eat all the M & M’s yourself. . . ok, a few are ok, but not all of them.  🙂

If you try this out, I’d love to hear some good stories of how it works – just add a comment!


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9 Comments so far

  1. Melinda Curtis September 27, 2011 1:29 pm

    I have been using this idea when my kids finish their school work but thanks to your blog I’m going to start reward good behavior too.

  2. sarah September 9, 2011 7:38 am

    Hey Misty –
    Off topic (although I love candy!;) But it was great to see you at NHME the other day. When we left, we marveled at how many friends and people we knew were there! Mattie said, “You didn’t tell me all those people were going to be there..” — It’s because I didnt’ know either!! LOL…anyway, good to see you again.

  3. docmisty July 17, 2011 9:45 pm

    Yes, it is pretty ‘sweet’, isn’t it 🙂

  4. MidnightCafe July 16, 2011 11:39 pm

    “Sweet” idea! 🙂

  5. Laura July 12, 2011 6:02 pm

    Thanks for your contribution to this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling. It will post Wednesday morning, July 13th on my blog, A Life Supreme ( ). I’d appreciate it if you could advertise the carnival here on your blog. And please consider using one of the COH images found here:


  6. docmisty July 7, 2011 9:11 pm

    I’m glad you enjoy the blog, Mary. It’s nice to hear occasional feedback and that someone actually reads what I post 🙂


  7. Mary July 7, 2011 3:33 pm

    I love this idea! During times where we need motivation, I keep Twizzlers on hand to pass out when assignments or chores are completed nicely. I enjoy your blog very much!

  8. docmisty July 6, 2011 10:46 pm

    Yes – my husband’s first questions was how I was doing controlling myself with a pocketful of candy all day. 🙂

    And then I was handing out jelly beans to my book club friends to demonstrate today. One friend gave me a compliment to get another jelly bean as a joke, but then said she felt oddly fulfilled to be rewarded for being nice. Fun stuff! 🙂


  9. Kathy July 6, 2011 10:17 pm

    I. Love. This! Hard part? Not rewarding myself for breathing 😉



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