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So far Jennifer Smit has created 53 blog entries.
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Bribery vs. Postive Reinforcement

By | September 20th, 2016|

What is the difference between a bribe and a reward? A bribe is generally described as a payment in return for a desired action. A reward is described as something of value that is given for an achievement. At first glance there isn’t much difference. One area that makes a huge difference is your parenting style.

Bribery generally has a negative connotation. Parents often use it in the heat of the moment. You may see it being used in a grocery store when a child is misbehaving. Parents promise treats in order to re-direct undesired behavior. Another example may be offering TV in return for homework. Both scenarios are attempting to generate good behaviors by promising items that may not agree with a parenting plan. It appears to work in the moment but you are also teaching your child that by acting out they can get that candy bar or by holding of they can get more time on the TV.   Another thing to consider is that following bribery, parents report feeling bad and taken advantage of.

A reward is offered following positive behavior. The receiver knows what they want and what they should do to attain the prize. You can think of a paycheck as a type of reward. You perform duties that are spelled out for you in a job description. Athletes work towards their reward through hard work and consistent effort. There is a goal and positive reinforcement. Using rewards as a parenting model not only empowers the parents to list their expectations, but also puts boundaries on how and when rewards can be expected.

For all parents I suggest brainstorming what you want from your child. Having a system in place where you can reward success based on these goals will ultimately lead to better behavior in the long term.

Vlinder, a behavior modification program, was created with this in mind. Vlinder is a list of expectations that can easily be accomplished throughout the day. Depending on the efforts put forth a set of rewards are offered. The process of participating in the program offers a daily lesson in communication, stress management and time management. The goal is to provide a family experience which supports each individuals growth as a parent and child.

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Why use positive reinforcement?

By | September 8th, 2016|

Think back to a time when you were an adolescent and were experiencing a super-human mentality. This was a period where your decision making process included less experience.  Some studies argue that adults and adolescents use a different part of their brain when making choices. (The Computational Development of Reinforcement Learning during Adolescence) With that in mind, when parenting, it is helpful to utilize a learning style that is the most beneficial to children. I proffer that children will respond more effectively to a positive reinforcement behavior modification plan than one relying on others such as counterfactual learning or punishment avoidance learning.

Counterfactual learning is the idea that we can imagine different possible outcomes to situations based on previous experiences. How many times have you said, “I should have…” or “could have…”? These statements show that you have evaluated a decision that was made and forecast different results.  You can imagine that our kiddos don’t take much time to consider alternative possibilities when making a decision. Nor have they learned the benefit from evaluating decisions for the future.

Caregivers tend to fall back on a punishment avoidance approach as a default when setting limits with their kids. The punishment avoidance approach expects children to make decisions based on the idea that they know the consequence for their behavior, and that they will want to avoid the negative outcome that may result from the behavior. Parents hope that the child will remember they did not like missing out on dessert or sitting on a time-out. This type of plan rests on the hopes that children will take the time to process actions and reactions. Considering the fact that many decisions are based on instinct or desire for an instant gratification, punishment avoidance is not ideal for creating long-term goals in supporting desired behaviors.

Reinforcement learning highlights behaviors that are desirable. Saying thank-you or getting a high five are examples of showing that a behavior is agreeable. This type of learning often goes unnoticed. It is built into our culture. For parents, intentionally using it to frame desired behaviors takes consideration and consistency.

Children have the benefit and the challenge of having a fresh perspective when it comes to decision making. They aren’t burdened with past biases, however; they also don’t have an extensive knowledge pool to draw from. Creating a positive reinforcement system in your home provides children with the tools to be successful. A system such as Vlinder, a behavior modification game, presents a list of responsibilities or tasks and a set of rewards to celebrate achievements. Providing these tools gives adolescents more time to practice their decision making skills, as they are not in the heat of the moment. There is an understanding prior to the choices being made of what is expected and what will result.  With consistency this learning pattern can prove to have a lasting effect. Positive reinforcement celebrates accomplishments, and setting clear expectations is like giving a child a treasure map to good behavior.


Palminteri S, Kilford EJ, Coricelli G, Blakemore S-J (2016) The Computational Development of Reinforcement Learning during Adolescence. PLoS Comput Biol 12(6): e1004953. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004953

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Motivation 101

By | September 6th, 2016|

Motivation is an interesting topic. It is described as a reason why we act or behave in a specific way. It makes sense then why we search the web, talk to fellow parents, and read “how to” books in order to parent. We are on the lookout for how to get our children to behave and follow through with their responsibilities. Our motivation is to create self-sufficient, secure young people that will learn how to thrive in society. I argue that our best resource as to what will motivate our children is our children themselves. Here are some tips on how to learn what will motivate them.

Have a conversation.  This may seem obvious but surprisingly it is a step that is often overlooked!

Explain what motivation is. Kids understand that they eat because they are hungry. Adults understand that we eat because we are hungry, bored, need comfort, enjoy variety…

Be clear and share your motivation. This is a powerful tool to explain what expectations you have for your children and where they need to step it up. It also lays the ground work to show that you are in this with them.

What motivates one does not necessarily motivate another.  Ask and observe your children individually to collect your tools to support their success.

Listen without bias. This is your opportunity to really listen to what your children understand and want.

Ask clarifying questions. The best way to keep a conversation going is to show your children that you care about what they are saying.

Take notes. What may seem like a small detail in the moment, may be the start of something valuable.

Ask questions. Direct the conversation where you want it to go. Make a list before you get started. Here are some suggestions.

What is motivation?

What do you think about motivation?

What do you think motivates you?

What makes you feel special?

When do you feel appreciated?

How do you feel supported?

How can we help you get _______ done? (tasks, responsibilities)

What is the nicest thing that _______ has done for you?

Do you like stickers, stamps, or high fives the best?

If I had a goodie bag, what would you hope was inside?

This is not a shopping list. Don’t be surprised if your kiddos start listing off items that may be better suited for Santa Claus.  Don’t let it phase you.  This process may serve more then one purpose! 

Communication comes in many ways. When you make suggestions pay attention to body language.

Take a look around their room or playing area. What book are they reading? What movies do they watch? What item is circled in a magazine?

This is all a step in understanding your child and learning how you can use what motivates them to attain what should be considered a mutual goal.  Shaping young capable children to become strong successful adults.

I hope to hear back from many of you. I intend to continue this series in shaping young minds. Your feedback is essential to helping me to attain my goal which is to support families, such as yourselves. 

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Crazy Mornings

By | September 3rd, 2016|

You wake up in the morning and its game on…time to get the kids ready for school. You stick your head in their rooms and lovingly tell them it is time to get up. You walk to the kitchen to start preparing breakfast, confident that your “talk” last night will motivate them. Since you know your precious gems are getting up, making their beds, and getting dressed you make your coffee, butter the toast, and CRASH…your dream morning gets rudely interrupted as reality sets in. Your coffee turns cold as you run after kids, forcing them out of bed, finding their other shoe, and putting yourself between bickering brothers and sisters. The goal of getting kids in the car on time starts slipping through your fingers.

Does this sound like you? Perhaps you drink tea, but the basic premise may be familiar. You are not alone. In fact, I hear stories every day describing similar scenarios. However, there are things that you can put in place to make your dream morning a reality. The idea is simple, and the process is achievable, it just takes consistency to make it a reality. Here are some steps to take:

First, find a quiet corner and decide what you are asking your children to do. The fact that you need to contemplate is an indicator that your kids might need clarification as well. Write a list of clear expectations that you have, and decide which are attainable.

Once you have your expectations set, decide how you want to reward your children for meeting your list of reasonable goals. Look around your house, pick a budget, or even look in the mirror because some of the best rewards are time spent with family. I strongly encourage you enlist your children’s support in this step. They know what motivates them!

Finally, after you have your expectations and rewards set, sit down with your family and clearly explain your plan and decide how you want to implement it.

When I did this I created what I now call Vlinder. Vlinder is the Dutch word for butterfly, a universal image for transformation. Vlinder has taken additional steps to engage the family and to improve time management, communication, teamwork, and of course the ever-important anger and stress management. 

 You are not alone and support is on the way!

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Tips to get started

By | August 30th, 2016|

Talking with  families who are just starting out using a reward based program, like Vlinder, rejuvenates me.  I’m reminded of what it was like before I started and I can’t believe I was making so much work for myself.  Here are a couple of tips that I learned to get started.

Tip 1: Using the task sheet to lay out exactly what is expected is important. Kids need and want structure. Before starting, go through each task with your child and explain what they need to do to earn their reward.  Together you may decide that you want to start with fewer tasks. I suggest highlighting those tasks. They can be added back in later.

*Remember to include highlighted tasks into the daily total to decide how many reward cards have been earned.  Players get credit for tasks, even though they are not completed, if it is pre-arranged or out of their control.

Tip 2:  Keep rewards such as candy and trading cards close at hand. Experiencing success is an important part of the process and something that helps to keep your kiddos motivated to begin the process again the following day! For rewards that cannot be immediately realized, find a special spot to keep the cards handy.  Players are ultimately responsible for keeping track of them, we are responsible to be ready.

Tip 3:  Instead of reminding your players what they are not doing to earn their stamps, look for tasks they are completing successfully.  Praise them and ask them what is next on their list, and then let them do the work. Remember, if they don’t complete a task they don’t earn the stamp. Let Vlinder do the work for you! When it is time to go over the task sheets together you can discuss what they could have done differently to earn the stamp. This includes asking for support.

Positive reinforcement is a tool that supports parents.  Kids naturally gravitate towards wanting to please.

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Parenting with Intention

By | August 23rd, 2016|

Something that weighs on my mind is the thought of not being in control when it comes to my kids.  I’m controlling by nature and have found it difficult when my boys don’t listen to me or follow guidelines that I set for them.  Since creating Vlinder and being on this unique journey I am starting to have a different point of view. 

Ego plays a part in this story.  I look at situations when I  have put my foot down and realize that I act on instinct rather then an intentional decision!  My ego doesn’t like being out of control, thus the foot comes down.  The fact is my kids achieve similar goals in a way that matches their learning styles and age appropriate abilities. 

A Vlinder mom asked why a child still earns credit for achieving a task when someone else performs the action.  This is an example of motivating your kids to work together and show accountability individually.  As parents we encourage our kids to ask for help.  Taking this lesson one step further is to look to others when they need help.  My goals that are listed as expectations for the morning are a structure to follow.  In the event that support is needed for the task to get done, I ask that kids utilize all of their resources.  Family is resource number one!  So, to answer the question, the kiddos still get credit because the ultimate goal is not to control how the job gets done.  The ultimate goal is to see children working together and experiencing success in the home. 

The game Vlinder supports this by one, allowing children to ask for help from their resources.  Two, by awarding them stamps for task completion.  And Three, by awarding a bonus stamp to the individual that made the effort to support their brother or sister. 

Parenting with intention means understanding your motivation and making decisions based on that understanding. 

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Smittie Boyz Go back to school

By | August 17th, 2016|

Success!  Today was the first day of school.  It was a pretty big day at the Smit house.  The twins are in third grade and their older brother is in fourth.  It seems like just yesterday they were chasing each other around in their “wheelie chairs”. 

This morning I broke out our old Task Sheets.  (We have been taking a break from playing.)  Kiel took one look at them and said, “Oh yah!”  Then he turned around and started walking to his room.  I asked him where he was going and he calmly replied, I have to make my bed again. 

The rest of the morning was just as smooth.  Jayden and Keenan woke up a little late but then quickly realized that in order to earn their Reward Cards they were going to have to put it into 5th gear. 

Jayden was concerned that he wouldn’t earn his stamps.  Whenever I saw him I would simply remind him of one of the expectations on the sheet.  He would promptly turn around and make his bed, get dressed, eat breakfast…, etc.  Before he knew it he had completed 10 of the 12 tasks. 

Keenan desperately wanted to play and had some difficulty staying focused.  He followed me around asking for more chances all the while completing tasks along the way. Re-direction is easier when the task is clear, consistency is established and the promise of reward is just ahead. 

When we finally got a chance to sit down and review the Task Sheets the boys were amazed at how easy it had been to complete most of their tasks.  We talked about room for improvement and challenges to come.  It is a time for give and take.  I value this down time with the boys to see what works for them during the morning and what does not.   

Picking out the Reward Cards from our bin, which is an old milk pail, was just as much fun as last year.  They worried and giggled about getting Bummer Cards. They were thrilled with the money and candy cards.  The most fun is the game cards.  Kiel got to tell me something cool he did today.  He shared about his first day at school.  Keenan got the “start over” card and got to put his cards back and start fresh.   

When I thought that playing Vlinder could not have provided me with a better experience I got an email from a fellow mom with the following message.

“We love it! I would strongly recommend this for anyone who wants their mornings with their children to run smoothly! It is brilliant!” 

It makes me so incredibly happy to see how Vlinder can have a positive impact in others’ homes.  Like I said in the beginning…Success!

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Utilizing Consequences to Modify Behavior

By | August 11th, 2016|

The concept of consequences are an important life lesson and an important tool in modifying behavior.  One of the lessons I’ve learned along the way is how important it is not to use things my children have earned through their hard work as ultimatums or punishments for poor behavior.  When you are playing Vlinder, and want to see real change, do not use losing a Vlinder Reward as a consequence for poor behavior.

I have found myself in the situation where my son was on restriction from his electronic toys.  At the end of the week he earned 30 minutes of gaming on a school day.  There was no reason he couldn’t wait out the week of restriction to play his game but the bigger lesson was how lucky it was that he had earned enough of his stamps for the week.  The following weeks he worked harder then ever to complete his tasks and support the household. 

What Vlinder is helping you do is move forward towards behaviors that you want to see in your child.  When you take something away that has been earned during the game you are also showing them that their efforts may be for naught.  The goal with Vlinder is to use their motivation to affect change.  You want to keep the momentum.

Decide ahead of time what your consequences are and have them on the ready.  There are three rules I try to follow during and after playing Vlinder.  The first is never use reward cards as punishment.  The second is never threaten with something I am not willing follow through with and the third is once its said then it’s a done deal.  Having consequences set up will help you to be prepared when the inevitable happens.  Especially when you find yourself frustrated!

Consequences are a constant lesson in Vlinder.  The power of earning a stamp should not be minimized.  When a child is not successfully completing an expectation that you have laid out on your Task Sheet the first consequence is the stamp has not been earned.  The second consequence is that they have less chance to earn a daily reward card.  Finally a third consequence is that they may not earn their weekly reward.  Change is inevitable and it also takes time.  Have faith in the process of playing Vlinder.  It won’t let you down. 

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How I went from chaos to calm…

By | August 10th, 2016|

Is there a specific time of day that seems unmanageable? Even chaotic? I experienced that last year when my kids were getting ready for school. A typical morning in the Smit household featured three boys needing constant prompting to get out of bed. Once out of bed they needed reminding to brush their teeth, figure out appropriate clothes to wear, and even put them on. All the while I was preparing breakfast, making lunches, and caring for our dog. In the background I could hear playing, fighting, and when it was really bad…complete silence. Silence meant that nobody was making an effort to follow through with the very simple expectations that I had for them. How hard could “get dressed and come to breakfast” be? It was a wonder that we ever made it to the car!

After the morning school drop-off there was a sense of peace in the car that can only be understood by another parent. It was during one of these mornings that I reached out to my support network to brainstorm ways to solve my problem. I wondered what kind of state of mind I was sending my children to school with after a morning of cattle prodding. 

The answer came to me as I was writing down my goals for the morning. It was helpful for me to see what I expected from myself. I also wrote a list of expectations I had for my boys. I realized that they had never had these tasks clearly laid out for them. In fact, their reality was: Mom and Dad take care of us, wash our clothes, and cook our meals…life is good. Time for a change! 

Realizing that my kids were ready for more responsibility was the first step.  The second step involved brainstorming ways to engage and excite them in the process toward becoming a more productive member of our household.  The concept of Reward Cards was born. I didn’t want it to appear like a bribe with every expectation, so I turned it into a game. To make it fun for me, I even put some cards in the mix that supported my daily goals like helping me in the kitchen and cleaning up after the dog. Adding cards that provided more family interaction made the game enriching. 

Time for the third step: implementation. With the help of a list of expectations and a jar full of Reward Card incentives, my household was transformed.  Now, the question was will it work in others households too? The answer is yes. Pilot projects have proven that not only can this help to support your school day mornings run smoother, it can also help to modify other unwanted behaviors. With a reward system that is followed with consistency, you will begin to see real change in behavior and disposition in your family as well.

The name of the game is Vlinder. It is a system that has changed my household, and I am excited to share it with yours.

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Modifying your morning behaviors

By | August 9th, 2016|

How?  How do you get your child to clean their room?  Eat their greens? Do their homework? The answer is you become an expert in your child’s motivators.  Clean your room or you can’t go to the movies.  Eat your greens or you can’t have dessert.  Do your homework or you can’t play.  Sound familiar?

What if we were to take the word “can’t” out of the parenting model? Suddenly you have given control to the child.  I’m not keeping you from the movies, dessert or playtime.  You can earn the reward. 

Families report difficulty getting their child out of bed and putting on their clothes let alone putting some cereal in a bowl and preparing for the day ahead.  Parents pick up the pieces by  preparing the meals, rushing behind the lagging child push push…hurry hurry.  But wait…we just established that parents can become experts at what motivates their kids.  This is a classic case where expectations are not clearly laid out and motivators are not being used as the can be.

Putting expectations and rewards together is the key to this classic dilemma. Provide a list of things you expect from your children on a day to day basis.  This isn’t rocket science for your kiddos.  This is get out of bed and make it.  Addresses organizational skills.  Brush your hair and teeth.  Addresses personal hygiene and health.  Make your breakfast and prepare your lunch for school.  Addresses responsibility and health.  Show respect to those around you.  Addresses basic social skills.  Be ready for school on time.  Addresses time management.  Help someone who is struggling to keep up.  Addresses maintaining healthy relationships and compassion.  This is just six of the responsibilities to accomplish in the morning. 

Looking back at my morning getting the boys ready for school I remember a chaotic environment.  Keenan had great difficulty staying on task.  Jayden would get ready right away so that he could relax before school…but that never worked out.  He just got bored and into trouble.  Kiel would get ready but it was like watching a snail in slow motion.  I couldn’t say he was off task…but it was painful to watch. 

The direction and incentive that Vlinder gave them in the morning was magical.  Re-direction for Keenan became easier.  All I had to do was remind him that he wasn’t earning his stamp.  He became playful in nature as he re-directed himself.  Jayden started making breakfast for his brothers and caring for the dog.  His main question was how many bonus stamps he could earn.  Kiel hated the fact that he wasn’t shining in a game.  The competitive one was challenged and he thrived. 

I was worried about adding more responsibility in an already chaotic environment.  It ended up being exactly what we needed.   My stress and workload was easily cut in half.  I’ve turned into a support rather then “the boss”.  Now I can use my time to network and learn more of these amazing ideas that are out there!  Very cool!

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