Moomah the Magazine
The Magical Dixie Cup

The Magical Dixie Cup

- Tracey Stewart

There are moments in my life of which I’m not proud. Moments when, in order to get my kids to peacefully comply with my wishes, I’ve bribed them with expensive gifts: “Sweetie if you stay in bed all night and allow me to return to sleeping with Daddy, I’ll get you an I-Pod Touch.” Yes I know better, but I did it. I did it because I was desperate! Go ahead and judge, but by god it worked!

I confessed my guilt to my good friend, Dr. Anne Marie Albano, who, luckily for me, is a child and adolescent psychologist and Director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Columbus Circle (CUCARD).  She absolved me of my sins and gave me a fantastic alternative. She calls it the “Morning Treat Game.”

Now when we’re trying to get the kids to break a bad habit or transition into a new bedtime, say, we play the “Morning Treat Game.”  All we need here is a small Dixie cup.  Each child decides what they want their special treat to be. It should be something very desirable (and often forbidden), and it has to fit inside the Dixie cup. For my son, it may be raspberry sorbet, while my daughter prefers chocolate ice cream with raspberries. If our goal is to get them to stay in bed all through the night and they indeed stay in bed all through the night, get up and eat a good breakfast and are ready to leave for school on time, then their favorite treat is put into the Dixie cup and enjoyed right after breakfast. It’s a small amount but that is no matter to them. It’s a reinforcer that helps them to feel an immediate sense of accomplishment, while helping me feel better about myself for not bribing them with expensive electrical appliances or trips to Disney World.

Over time, we’ve  replaced the Morning Treat with a favorite activity that we do after school---such as play charades, take a bike ride, spend time cooking together, or go for a special walk to a favorite park---so that we shift the children’s focus from “things” to healthy interactions with one another.

If you want to find out more about Dr. Albano and the CUCARD programs, visit

Posted in: Parenting   

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