Our nanny came up with an idea today to create a sort of table for our daughter, where they would draw a sun or smiley when my daughter behaves well and a sad face otherwise. Then we (the parents) would discuss the table with our daughter, offer her some sort of reward when there are many smileys, and explain that we are upset when there are many sad faces. Does it make sense? Are there any risks with this kind of approach? Some people recommend using only positive markings (no sad faces) - which one is better?

asked 16 Jun '11, 07:39

Gandrusz's gravatar image

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As far as the second part of your question:

There are a number of articles which discuss the relative benefits of positive reinforcement; giving something to increase the frequency of a behaviour (e.g. praise or reward) over [punishment](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punishment_(psychology); giving something with the goal to remove a behaviour (e.g. fine, suspension, yelling, physical correction).

That being said, as the parent of a two year old. I feel it's important for our daughter to learn that some behaviours are positive and make people happy, and some are negative and might cause people to be sad or disappointed. I remember that the most effective thing my parents ever said to me as a child was "I am so disappointed", or "when you do X it makes mommy/daddy/sister/friend sad". We do occasionally use this language with our daughter to help teach her empathy. We also try to balance that with praise for good behaviour and by telling her when we are proud of her, and when she does something that makes us happy.

EDIT: I found this very helpful website that discusses toddler discipline and reinforcement.


answered 16 Jun '11, 15:46

Tammy's gravatar image

Tammy ♦♦
accept rate: 18%

edited 27 Jun '11, 10:03


Isn't there some magical ratio too, like you're supposed to have 4 times as much positive reinforcement as negative?

(16 Jun '11, 20:32) Scott ♦♦

Great answer Tammy, I agree totally with trying to balance with praise and and empathy.

(18 Jun '11, 03:31) Emi

Your nanny has come up with something that is certainly interesting and I would love to know more about it and the results derived from other parents or nannies who may have used that method. To try and answer your questions from my own experience and point of view;

  • Does it make sense? - It certainly makes sense in a world where everything is cut and dried. But personally when imagining the graph and an energetic toddler who is still discovering things and being cheeky naughty or slightly out of line, it seems strained to me. From a nannies point of view I can understand that she would want to implement some kind of strategy, but is that the right strategy or not depends on the sort of parents you are, the style of caring your nanny provides and of course most important of all the developing character of your toddler.

  • Are there any risks with this kind of approach? Some people recommend using only positive markings (no sad faces) - My own inner voice tells me that only using positive reinforcement would not be so great in the long run, and also I think I would find it a little bit strange documenting behavior and then discussing it. In a classroom with more children would be different....the focus would be less.

Which ever way you decide good luck! I would love to hear about it!


answered 18 Jun '11, 03:48

Emi's gravatar image

accept rate: 19%

I dont think this is such a great idea YET for one main reason: Punishment for very young kids needs to be quick and effective. If they have a chance to move on to doing something else they will probably have forgotten the lipstick they used to write all over mommy's wall or the flowers they trampled by daddy's fence. Putting a frowny face down and saving the punishment for later really won't teach the child anything in my opinion. It may just teach them to stay away from that table and that frowny faces are bad.


answered 27 Jun '11, 00:55

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Brysons Mommy
accept rate: 0%

edited 27 Jun '11, 10:06

Tammy's gravatar image

Tammy ♦♦

@Brysons Mommy thank you for you response and welcome to Moms4mom.com You are correct in your statement, "punishment for very young kids needs to be quick and effective"; however, in order to differentiate ourselves from other parenting forums these statements need to be backed up either by personal experience or a reference. I have added a reference for you but please take a minute to read our back it up principle http://moms4mom.com/back-it-up for the future.

(27 Jun '11, 09:50) Tammy ♦♦

I see. I was simply backing this up with personal experience I guess. I can't imagine providing a link for every helpful thought or idea you might have on parenting. Perhaps this is not for me.

(28 Jun '11, 03:11) Brysons Mommy

@Brysons Mommy You don't need to back up personal experience with links, just make it clear in your answer that you came to the conclusion from personal experience, or someone else's personal experience. Even saying your physician told you is sufficient. We just want anything stated as "fact" e.g. "punishment for very young kids NEEDS to be quick and effective" to be back up with a reference. If you take a look at the link for the back-it-up principle in my first comment, you will see examples.

(28 Jun '11, 09:23) Tammy ♦♦

I don't know about smileys, but I know from my childhood, that similar things just don't work.

Our neighbor's kids (one at my age, one a couple years older and one a few years younger) would get a certain amount of TV time if they 'behaved'. I.e. went to bed (and actually stayed in bed) in the evening or took their naptime. TV time was a smiley face for them, because they actually weren't allowed to watch TV. News in particular. That said, it didn't work at all...

I think it's like trying to get your child to eat spinach if she doesn't like it. You can draw as many sad faces as you like, if she doesn't like spinach, she doesn't like spinach. And btw. it's normal that kids don't like certain food.


answered 17 Jun '11, 13:46

Alexander's gravatar image

accept rate: 10%

edited 18 Jun '11, 20:59

Scott's gravatar image

Scott ♦♦

@Alexander there is decades of reserach that would disagree, behavioural modifications do work IF they are developmentally appropriate and used correctly. Also your example implies that Gandrusz daughter's behaviour is a static part of her character as opposed to completely normal 2-year-old behaviour.

(18 Jun '11, 10:09) Tammy ♦♦

@Tammy: Well definitely not static. However, thinking that smileys and sad faces will solve everything is definitely wrong too :) It may work well in certain situations (or even kids), but it's not a cure all, as the linked article and my own personal experience show. Generations of kids have had to sit at the table and eat their lunch or not be allowed to go play with the others. I think that's the wrong way though.

(18 Jun '11, 14:19) Alexander

@Alexander I am also skeptical about how well the smiley faces will work in this case, more so because of the age of the child. That being said, I read the article (and agree with everything it states) and your examples and they may be an argument against punishment but not behavioural reinforcement. I am curious what measures you think would work?

(20 Jun '11, 14:49) Tammy ♦♦
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Asked: 16 Jun '11, 07:39

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Last updated: 28 Jun '11, 09:24