Building Positive Behaviors: Tip of the Week #1

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD

It is Thanksgiving week – this is a time when many of us take a moment to think about gratitude and all the things we have to be thankful for in our lives. As you consider gratitude this week, look at your kids and pay special attention to the things they do well that you are actually thankful for on any given day. It can be anything at all – from playing nicely with siblings, to cleaning up after themselves, , to simply being cooperative, to helping out on Thanksgiving Day. Any small thing: Take note of it and make sure you tell them how thankful you are for those positive behaviors this week. Happy Thanksgiving!

Rewards!! How to motivate positive behaviors from kindergarten through high school.

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD

“Why won’t they just behave?” This is a question I have heard too many times to count, from frustrated parents to talented teachers, about kids of all ages. Indeed it is a great question, and one that may have complex and different answers for different kids. Today we are going to go through some basics on how to build and strengthen positive behaviors at home and at school. As you read, keep in mind that these are general tools and concepts built on years of research and practice in the field. Individualized specific plans with professional guidance and input may be needed at times, and asking for this type of help when necessary may be of great benefit to kids, families, and teachers.

What are “positive behaviors”?

You may be wondering what I mean by building positive behaviors. When people ask about behavior problems, lots of times they are mainly focused on the things that are difficult to manage. This can include disrespectful language, lack of cooperation, backtalk, verbal outbursts, or full-on tantrums. The focus here is the behaviors we do not want to see. When I talk about building positive behaviors, I am talking about the behaviors we want to see more of – using respectful language, cooperating around the house or classroom, using good coping skills to manage frustration. Often, when we see the negative behaviors we respond to those wholeheartedly, but we can tend to let the positive behaviors go by unnoticed at times. Why would we do this? Because sometimes those positive behaviors basically meet our expectations, so we don’t notice them as much. But the negative behaviors? Those are hard to ignore.

So, how to I build positive behaviors?

It would be easy to say just pay attention to the behaviors you like and ignore the ones that you don’t like. But parents and teachers know it is not as easy as it sounds to do something like that. To build positive behaviors, it is important to be intentional about not only giving attention to the behaviors you like to see, but also by helping kids learn what to do when they are upset. For example, instead of talking back to you, what would you want your child or student to do instead? It may depend on the situation. Maybe you would want them to ask if they could finish what they’re doing before they start what is is you’re asking them to do. Maybe you would want them to let you know they want something by asking nicely, but then also using good coping skills if they can’t have what they want. To be intentional, you need to proactively teach what it is they can do during times of conflict.T his should not be done during the conflict, but should be a conversation you have when everyone is calm. It is then possible to prompt these positive behaviors when things are starting to become difficult. Respond to positive behaviors with verbal praise, and with other rewards when possible.

What if I want a reward system to help build positive behaviors?

There are many ways to set up positive reward systems at home and in the classroom. The best reward system is going to be tailored to the needs interests of the children, the parents, and the classroom. Just setting up a star chart and saying “You will get stars when you behave” might not be enough. Here are some suggestions for setting up a successful reward program.

  1. Choose the token you want to use. The token is anything that helps track positive behaviors. This can be stars or stickers on a chart, a penny jar, a marble jar, points, etc. You may want to talk to your children about what they would like – is a child is really into rockets, consider rocket stickers. If a child likes the idea of seeing a jar fill up with something to show progress, consider a marble jar or a penny jar.
  2. Attach the tokens to meaningful rewards. Rewards can be anything from staying up late, to a dish of ice cream, to a trip to a shop with a set amount of pocket money to spend. You can decide how many tokens are needed for different rewards but be sure to set your child up for success. If they need 150 tokens to get a reward they may lose interest, and if it is too easy they will not form better behavioral habits. You will need to find the right balance.
  3. Make sure the child knows what behaviors will earn stars. (Or stickers, or happy faces, or points, or pennies, etc). If you make a list of behaviors that will earn tokens, it will help your child process what the expectations are. If you see wonderful behaviors that are not on the list, you can always give a bonus token.
  4. Try to give positive feedback right away so children connect the reward specifically to what they just did. If you are not close to your star chart or marble jar, you can tell them they just did a great job with something and remind them that they will get a sticker or other token as soon as you get home.
  5. Keep rewards separate from consequences. Once a child has earned a reward (token), don’t take it away if they misbehave. You may want to use that opportunity to remind them of positive behaviors or possible coping skills when they are upset and prompt them to use good coping skills if they want to work towards their rewards.
  6. If you are struggling with significant behavioral challenges or you are overwhelmed with how to set up a good program in your home, consider finding a therapist with a behavioral background to help you get things set up.

What about teenagers?

Teens are probably, for the most part, too old for classic token systems. However, you may benefit from setting up guidelines and expectations for behavior at home. At this stage, you could consider making desired activities contingent on meeting expectations. For example, if your expectations include getting homework done and cleaning up after themselves, you may make weekend activities with friends or access to the car dependent on them having their responsibilities taken care of first.

Stay tuned!Over the next few weeks I will be posting weekly tips on building positive behaviors.

Burnout: Tip of the Week #3

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD 11.5.22

This week’s tip is to help with signs of burnout in the early to middle stages, which are listed in my September burnout article. Some signs in the level of burnout include denial, withdrawal, and behavioral changes such as irritability or even aggression. If you have noticed that your work-life balance is getting out of hand and you are starting to feel and act differently, it is time to seek support from co-workers, supervisors, and other trusted individuals. It may also be helpful at this point to seek outside support or counseling to help you develop a plan to improve your stress management and re-align your expectations for yourself. This could be helpful for improvement with how you are feeling now, and will also help prevent advancing to further stages of burnout or future situations that could lead to burnout. Remember that creating balance every day – between work and home, with your eating and self-care, and with sleep – will help maintain the boundaries needed to prevent and manage burnout.

Next up: Rewards! How to motivate positive behaviors from kindergarten through high school.

Burnout: Tip of the Week #2

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD 10.26.22

This week’s tip is on coping with signs of burnout in the early stages. The signs are listed in my burnout article, and they include things like pushing yourself to work harder, neglecting your own needs, blaming your stress on others, and placing more value on work than on other relationships. If you have been noticing yourself fitting into these stages, it is important to put the brakes on and consider working on improving your work/life balance. To do this, try making a list of activities and relationships outside of work that are meaningful, important and fulfilling to you. Now challenge yourself to take a bit of time every day to nurture these relationships or engage in fulfilling activities that you enjoy. As you become more intentional about creating time and space for people and things outside of work, you will be able to shift the balance and (hopefully) guide yourself back on course and away from possible burnout.

Burnout: Tip of the Week #1

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD 10.12.22

This week’s tip is to help focus on preventing burnout. If you are aware of warning signs, some of which I posted in the burnout article, take some time to re-evaluate how you are spending your time and how you are managing stress. If you have started to feel more stressed about work, look for ways to improve the balance between work and life outside work. Make sure you are taking some time every day to completely remove yourself from work-related tasks AND work-related thoughts. Be intentional about using your time away from work to actually be away from work.


Kaarin Anderson Ryan

Have you ever described yourself as feeling burned out? Have you heard others describe themselves that way? Chances are, you or someone you know has experienced a sense of being burned out at some point. This feeling can arise from stress related to parenting, work, studying, or any number of things that place demands on you over a long period of time.

While the term burnout is casually used, the concept of actual burnout is well studied. In 1974, Herbert Freudenberger coined the term after conducting research on a set of symptoms shown by people in high-stress work environments. Since that time a great deal has been done to better understand the concept. By definition, burnout is basically a reaction to chronic job-related stress.

What causes burnout? Actual burnout is generally thought to be caused by 5 factors. These are (1) Unreasonable time pressure; (2) Lack of communication and support from a manager; (3) Lack of clarity for your role; (4) An unmanageable work load; and (5) Unfair treatment.

What are the other risk factors? There are a lot of things that can set someone up to become burned out. Some of the biggest risk factors seem to be:

Lack of work-life balance
High workload/overtime
Working in helping professions
Trying to be everything to everyone
Having little control over your work
Monotonous work
Having Type A personalities
Parents can experience burnout

So, while anyone can experience burnout, there are certain conditions or characteristics that can increase the chances of becoming burned out. Often, people who are described as workaholics tend to fit a lot of the characteristics that put them at higher risk for burnout.

What are the signs of burnout? The signs and symptoms of burnout are similar to other signs of stress, but more closely related to work. Some of these signs include:

Feeling alienated from work-related activities – finding job increasingly stressful, feeling cynical about work and co-workers, emotionally distancing from work.
Physical symptoms– having chronic headaches, stomach problems.
Emotional exhaustion – feeling drained, having poor coping ability, feeling reduced energy.
Reduced performance – having negativity about work tasks, having difficulty concentrating, showing diminished creativity.
Escape fantasies – having thoughts about leaving for a different, more perfect job.

How does burnout start? According to Freudenberger, there are 12 stages of burnout, starting with mild burnout. Many people experience some of the milder stages of burnout throughout their careers. But, fortunately, it is more rare to experience debilitating burnout. The 12 stages typically are:

  1. The Compulsion to Prove Oneself– early in career or new job.
  2. Pushing yourself to work harder – ambition.
  3. Neglecting your own needs – sacrificing self-care.
  4. Displacement of conflict – blaming your stress on others or on the job.
  5. Revision of Values – friends and family are no longer as important as work.
  6. Denial – impatience with others, seeing them as incompetent.
  7. Withdrawal – avoiding or dreading social interaction, using alcohol or drugs.
  8. Behavioral changes – changes in behavior such as impatience, aggression, snapping at friends and family.
  9. Depersonalization – feeling detached – seeing neither yourself nor others as valuable.
  10. Inner emptiness – feeling empty inside and to overcome this, looking for activity such as overeating, sex, alcohol, or drugs.
  11. Depression – feeling lost and unsure, exhausted, future feels bleak.
  12. Burnout Syndrome – can include total mental and physical collapse; time for full medical attention.

You can see that progressing through the stages of burnout is different from normal daily stress. The primary focus here is the emphasis on work, with a drive that becomes less about job satisfaction and success, and more about moving away from any work-life balance in favor of continuous focus on work and associated stresses.

Because burnout has risk factors, warning signs, and somewhat distinct phases, the good news is that it is preventable. Some of the more obvious preventions include self-care, self-awareness, and seeking balance between work and life outside of work. Stay tuned in the next month for some tips on how to prevent burnout, and how to cope with burnout when it does occur.


Freudenberger, H.J. (1974), Staff Burn-Out. Journal of Social Issues, 30: 159-165.

Freudenberger, H.J. & North, G. Women’s Burnout: How to Spot it, How to Reverse It, and How to Prevent It. (1985). New York: Doubleday.

Parenting Tip of the Week: The Teenage Years

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD

As kids grow into their teens, they start to show signs of increasing independence in many areas of life. It is tempting at this time to pull back from a parenting role if you see your teens showing a lot of independence and responsibility. But, try not to let yourself become too complacent – teens still need parenting support and guidance. One major barrier to this can be our dependence on screens and devices. To help maintain close relationships during the teen years, try taking time regularly to put all the devices away (yours also!) and do something with your teen. This may include a game, going out for coffee, having dinner together with no phones at the table, watching a movie or a series together, going for walks … there are endless possibilities of ways to spend time together without the interference of phones or tablets. By setting aside this time daily (if possible) or at least weekly, you will help foster opportunities for conversation while demonstrating that we can all get by without a device for a period of time to do other things without distraction.

Parenting Tip of The Week: The School Years

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD

The school years can feel overwhelming: Getting kids out of the door in the morning, keeping up with homework, juggling after school activities and sports, and basically helping your kids get everywhere they need to be. To help manage this time in a healthy and balanced way, one very important tip is to prioritize a little bit of time every day to spend with your child. This can be anything that gives you time together: Reading together at night, playing a quick game, or just taking some time to chat about the day. When interacting with your child, remember to ask questions that spark conversation, going beyond the generic “How was your day?” or “What happened at school?”. Focus on specific topics that you know have meaning for your child. Showing your child consistent interest in his or her life, and prioritizing daily shared time together, will help provide consistency and lay the groundwork for positive interaction in the years to come.

Parenting Tip of the Week: The early years

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD 8.31.22

The early years of parenting bring such joy but also can be exhausting, as parents strive to balance the demands of life and parenting, while keeping up with the boundless energy of young children. To help with balance when your kids are little, consider these two tips:

  1. Bedtime routine. After a busy day, it is important for children to feel grounded in the evening so they can get a restful sleep. Incorporating a routine can help children get their minds and bodies ready for rest. Some good bedtime routine ideas include keeping a regular bedtime; personal care such as taking a bath, washing up, brushing teeth, etc.; having some quiet time with one or both parents (reading together at night is a wonderful thing to do); and tucking your child into bed with a lullaby or some quiet music.
  2. Taking a moment for yourself. While managing your schedule with daily demands and parenting, it is also important to make sure your own needs are met. One such need is a bit of time for yourself, every day. You can take a few minutes to yourself for a cup of tea, a mindfulness exercise, reading, listening to music, going for a short walk. Anything that helps you recharge will be beneficial for you, and ultimately will also help your child as incorporating self care can have a positive impact on parenting.

Parenting: It’s a journey.

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD 8.16.22

Anyone who is a parent can tell you that it’s not as easy as you thought it would be. And every parent has journeys and stories to tell, starting from the day their children were born and extending into a lifetime of parenting ups and downs. For parents, often some of the most rewarding and inspirational moments of their lives can come from their children, while at the same time some of the biggest challenges and heartbreaks are related to their children. How does one navigate the parenting journey?

The absolute joy of welcoming a new baby into your life is too great for words. New parents often experience an overwhelming sense of love and commitment that permanently takes root. As we explore the parenting journey, our focus is going to be on some of the challenges, and this upcoming series of posts will offer tips for parents over the next month. However, please note that it is the love, joy and commitment that most new parents experience is the strongest component of parenting and provides the inspiration to strive to do the best you can for your children.

Raising the little ones: The early years.

Photo by Pixabay on

During the youngest years, parents are faced with small but significant decisions every day. Naptimes, feeding schedules, doctor visits, day care, preschool. In these early childhood days there are so many things to think about and many decisions do not seem easy. This can also be a time of high stress for new parents: Is my child meeting all the developmental milestones? Is my child forming positive attachments? Is my child healthy and safe? Am I doing everything right? When will I ever have time to myself again?

Not only do parents worry about milestones and basic care, there are also demands on parents to support and encourage social development and growth. In the early years, parents may find that they are spending time organizing play dates, joining interactive classes (library programs, Gymboree classes, Kindermusik, etc.), and enrolling young children in preschool or other structured early childhood educational experiences.

Unfortunately, parents who experience stress do not seek support, even from friends and family. While new parents do experience stress quite regularly, a recent survey found that 71% of new parents don’t want to ask for help, primarily because they are worried about being judged.

Parenting stress for new parents is quite normal. However, for some parents this does even further. In a 2015 poll found that 2 out of 5 new parents report issues such as depression or anxiety. Despite this, only 46% of parents who experience these actually seek professional support.

It is important and helpful to use published resources to help guide you during the parenting journey. As you seek these resources, though, it is also very important to reach out for help, support, and encouragement from other people during these early years.

The School Years

Photo by CDC on

The next phase of the journey for parents involves making choices about school. In some areas, there is the option for “School of Choice”, where students can go to any number of public schools within their area. Many locales also have charter schools, which are free for families but may offer more appealing programs. Private or religious schools may also be an option for some families. And in some cases, homeschooling may be the top choice.

In addition to the choices about education and schooling, there are other parenting updates during these years. Parent-supported play dates start to fade as children want to spend time with their friends with increasing levels of independence. With the gradual moves towards social independence, parents may have mixed feelings. On one hand, it allows parents more time for themselves and their other responsibilities. On the other hand, there may be some reluctance to step back, or some stress about safety (for example, wondering of your child will be safe going over to a friend’s house without you there to keep an eye on things).

During the school years, parents are also faced with increasingly complicated decisions about discipline and instilling responsibility and values. How do you encourage and reward positive behaviors, and how you discourage and consequence negative ones? How do you promote responsibility and strong values? And finally, how do you navigate the world of technology? Video game content, screen time limits, when to let your child have an smartphone and what controls will you place on the device? Each of these decisions will impact your child’s cognitive, emotional and social development. So. while the stress has changed form, it is still there.

It is important again to look to reputable published resources for guidance during the school years. It is also important to focus on your family values and building a strong relationship with open communication and respect between yourself and your children.

The Teen Years

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Many parents look to the teen years with some trepidation. This is a phase of development when your children are ready to test the waters of independence, and also to test the limits at home. This is an age where the influence of peers exceeds the influence of parents, which can lead to conflict. This is also a time when oversight becomes more complicated, especially with the dawn of social media, online gaming, and online influencers who capture the attention of youth and literally influence them. This is also the time when dating becomes more of a topic, and parents have to carefully navigate the role of setting boundaries while keeping the lines of communication open.

At this stage there are also opportunities to strengthen parent-child relationships. There seem to be some people who think parenting support can fade during the teen years, but this is a time when secure, supportive and stable relationships with parents are critical. This is a good time to spend time with your teenager doing things they enjoy, finding out more about what they are learning and what interests they have, attending sporting events or performances, and providing opportunities for them to have friends over. These will all help foster positive relationships and trust.

Parents should also look to resources to help with navigating boundaries for teens when it comes to screens. One such resource is Children and Screens, which offers events, newsletters and tips on how to help children and teens navigate the digital world safely.

As challenging as parenting is for all parents, it is also one of the most rewarding and fulfilling roles one can experience. Over the next few weeks, watch for posts with tips for each of these phases!