Implementing the Grab Bag for child behavior

Check out how this mom from I’m Still Learning uses a Grab Bag to help with her kids.

I should mention, through the years I’ve tried so many rewards systems that never seemed to stick for us – sticker charts, cotton ball jars, points system… you name it, I’ve tried it.

I love the idea of a sticker chart, but it never stuck in my house (get it? Stuck? ha ha!)

Then I developed GRAB BAG. It was the first day of school back in September.  You know how it is in the beginning of the school year… you’re bound and determined to be the best mom on the planet with kids who are the awesomest on the planet.

So, I dropped my boys off at school that warm September morning and kept right on driving to Target (my weakness in life) to pick up a few things. While there, it hit me: I’m gonna fill a bag with goodies for my kids — crap that I usually don’t like them to have.  When they do something well or behave in a way that makes mama proud, they’ll get to stick their hand in a goodie bag for a surprise treat.

I’ve never had a rewards system last more than a month.  We’re now approaching the end of the school year and GRAB BAG is still going strong!

Here’s my criteria:

  • Positive feedback from the teacher: This is a biggie! If they were a really good listener that day or asked good questions during carpet time or followed instructions really well, GRAB BAG.  What doesn’t get rewarded is if I ask the teacher how they did that day and she responds with a, “good” or “not bad.”  That’s expected.  But if they’ve made progress with a problem area, that gets rewarded. For example, my 9-year old struggles with focusing sometimes.  If his teacher tells me that she saw him really trying to sit still and listen, that counts.  He’s trying and making progress. GRAB BAG!
  • Progress in TaeKwon Do: This activity is a very disciplined sport.  A lot is required of my boys.  Classes are three times a week.  It’s hard work and not always fun.  If they make an advancement towards the next belt or get Student of the Day from the instructor, GRAB BAG!
  • When they do something unexpected: My 7-year old tends to surprise me with things.  He sometimes will clean a room without being asked or do his reading without me even reminding him to.  GRAB BAG!
  • Being nice to others: If I notice that they shared when they weren’t told to or that they comforted someone who was in pain or upset, GRAB BAG!
  • When they clean — really clean: After a day of playing in the basement playroom, it’s usually trashed!  So, I’ll yell down to them, “if you clean the basement – and clean it good – they you can each get GRAB BAG!  It’s amazing just how thoroughly they put their junk away.
  • Good report card: This is sort of a no-brainer.  Many kids get rewarded for a good report card. And so with mine, it’s GRAB BAG.
  • Positive reinforcement for scary things:  If they face something that scares them, GRAB BAG. For example, after they’ve had a shot at the doctor, I usually tell them how brave they were (even if they were scared and crying the whole time) and reward them for it. This positive reinforcement will help them to see that even when they have to do something icky, it’s not all bad.

I also use it to pry information out of my kids.  Sometimes, I’ll tell them that whoever gives me the most detail about their day will get GRAB BAG.  It has to be things I didn’t already know. Only problem with this is, I end up getting such a deep level of detail that I even learn the peeing schedule of their classmates.

As for what they get when they stick their hand into the magical bag, I’ve had to do a little trial and error. Here are the things that make my little Pavlovian beasts salivate:

  • Crap Candy – juicy drop pops, ring pops, Sweedish fish, etc…  This is crap the Dentist would lecture me about if only he knew (I don’t intend to tell him).
  • Target $5 Gift Card – my kids are old enough to know that this means they can buy a little treat for themselves.  When they were younger and needed more instant gratification, this may not have worked as well.
  • Fart Putty – you know, that stupid gooey stuff that comes in a little plastic container that when you press it makes a
    farting noise.  My kids love this, of course! What’s not to love?
  • Astronaut Ice Cream – I found this at Old Navy, believe it or not.  It’s freeze dried ice cream that comes in a pack.  If you haven’t tried it, it’s pretty cool.
  • iTunes Gift Cards – My kids just got iPod Touches for Christmas.  The rule is, they can’t download songs or games unless they have a gift card or a credit of some sort. So this ends up being a huge incentive for them!

GRAB BAG has helped me to accomplish a lot with my kids.  It’s worked so well, I’m thinking of instituting a similar program for my husband.  Maybe, just maybe, he’ll eventually learn to put his shoes AWAY!

Au Pair Live-in Childcare is Flexible and Affordable.My name is Janine and I am a Local Area Representative for Go Au Pair. If you are interested in a cultural care experience for your family click here: or feel free to contact me at AuPairRep [at] gmail DOT com.

View available Au Pairs HERE.

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Fun (really!) Clean-Up Game

Clutter-Busting Habits


Getting Kids to help with cleaning up can be a task in itself! What better way to get them to help then by making it a game?!? This is a great idea from Better Homes and Gardens by Alicia Rockmore and Sarah Welch, authors ofPretty Neat: Get Organized and Let Go of Perfection

Make clutter-busting a family game. Write tasks on Ping-Pong balls. Each person chooses a ball, completes the task, then chooses another one. After 30 minutes, whoever has the most balls gets a prize — like a no-chores day or control of the TV remote.

Au Pair Live-in Childcare is Flexible and Affordable.My name is Janine and I am a Local Area Representative for Go Au Pair. If you are interested in a cultural care experience for your family click here: or feel free to contact me at AuPairRep [at] gmail DOT com.

View available Au Pairs HERE.

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Teaching Children How To Handle Their Emotions: As Simple As PIE


As the mother of four children, ranging in ages from 1 to 16, on any given day I might be faced with temper tantrums, angry stumping, door slamming, or the silent treatment (typical among teenagers).  Helping my children appropriately manage and express their feelings is an important part of my day-to-day parenting. In fact, emotional regulation is essential for children’s overall wellbeing.  As parents, we can teach our children to handle their emotions in ways that validates their feelings, while fostering healthy interactions with the world.

Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation is a fancy term used to describe the ability to process and express a range of emotions, and react in appropriate ways in emotional situations.  Emotional regulation is often conceptualized as a set of skills that can be taught and learned.  The ability to appropriately handle emotions can impact children’s social, emotional and cognitive development. For example:

Children with good emotional regulation skills:

  • Are able to experience, express and manage a range of emotions
  • Adjust well to transitions and new situations
  • Engage in appropriate behaviors in response to emotional situations
  • Show a high tolerance for frustration

Children with poor emotional regulation skills:

  • May exhibit a limited range of emotions
  • Have difficulties coping with stressful experiences
  • May engage in outbursts of negative emotions
  • May show aggressive or ego-centric behaviors (depending on their age)
  • Are less socially competent, in general
  • Are often less successful in school — they show difficulties learning, and are less productive in the classroom.

Parents as Teachers:  The PIE Approach

Parents can effectively teach their children to manage their emotions by helping them toprocess, identify and appropriately express their emotions.  I call this the PIE approach.  Over the years, I have found it to be quite helpful.

The First Step:  Help Your Child ProcessHer Feelings

How many times have you asked your school age child, “how do you feel about that…?” and gotten a completely blank look?  Often, young and older children (including adolescents) are unaware of their feelings because they fail to appropriately process their reaction to an emotional situation.

You can help your child get in touch with his feelings by asking questions like “What did you feel when your friend made fun of you in front of the class?” or by offering: “I would have felt angry if my teacher had hollered at me that way.”  Encouraging children to openly discuss the emotionally arousing situation can also help process what they’re feeling.

Step Two:  Help Your Child Identify What He’s Feeling

Identifying and labeling emotions is an important component of emotional regulation. Children who have a large vocabulary of names for feelings are better able to express their emotions using language, rather than behaviors.  As early as two years old, children are able to learn names of feelings.  The following tips are helpful tips:

  • Name your feelings game: Use games or creative ways to teach your child the names of a range of emotions.
  • Use your words: Redirect negative behaviors and remind your child to use words to explain what they are feeling and need.
  • Suggest phrases: Provide examples of phrases your child can effectively use in emotional situations, such as “I was playing with that toy, can I have it back?”
  • Use Books: There are wonderful books that focus on dealing with emotions, for children of all ages.  These books offer opportunities to discuss emotions from a safe distance.
  • Use Posters with Emotions Faces: These posters help children learn how to recognize other people’s emotions and facial expressions, an important component to identifying emotions in others and in oneself.

Step 3:  Help Your Child AppropriatelyExpress His Feelings

Children fail to express their emotions verbally because they lack the vocabulary, or are too emotional to use them, or are afraid of expressing them.  Here are some helpful tips and exercises:

  • Give permission to feel and express emotions:  Children need to feel they are safe in feeling and expressing negative emotions, especially with shy children.
  • Show and Tell: Guide your child and show them how they can express their feelings.  Use examples, phrases and scenarios.
  • Use Art: Encourage your child to draw, color or sculpt their feelings.
  • Encourage Writing: The simple act of writing down their feelings is a powerful way to express emotions, especially in older children.  Use poetry, song writing or short-stories.
  • Be a Role Model: As with everything else, parents are powerful role models to their children. Practicing responsible emotional management is a fundamental part of teaching your child the life-long valued skill of handling emotions.

This was a guest post on Simple Kids by Angelica Perez-Litwin of Modern Familia.


Au Pair Live-in Childcare is Flexible and Affordable.My name is Janine and I am a Local Area Representative for Go Au Pair. If you are interested in a cultural care experience for your family click here: or feel free to contact me at AuPairRep [at] gmail DOT com.

View available Au Pairs HERE.

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Age-Appropriate Discipline Techniques


The disciplining techniques parents use should be based on age-appropriate expectations. For example, explaining to a 13-month-old why she is being punished for hitting her sibling isn’t going to get you very far if she can’t yet understand reasoning. Using guidelines outlined by the American Academy of Family Physicians, Dr. Phil suggests the following discipline techniques and when they are effective to use.

Positive Reinforcement
Focusing on good behavior instead of bad behavior. Parental attention is one of the most powerful forms of positive reinforcement.

This technique literally involves the simple act of redirecting your child to appropriate behavior.

Verbal Instruction/Explanation
Going over what you want your child to do and why can help him/her develop good judgment.

Time-outs involve physically removing your child from a problem situation. Sending your child to a neutral and “boring” area, such as the corner of a room with no toys or television, and ignoring him/her until he/she is calm and quiet. Time-outs should not last longer than five minutes. One minute of time-out per year of life is a good rule of thumb.

Establishing Rules
Explain your rules and be prepared to repeat them until your child learns to follow them on his/her own.

A technique effective with school-age children and teenagers, it involves restricting your child to a certain place, usually home or his/her room, as punishment. For example, “grounding” your child on a Saturday night as punishment for breaking curfew on Friday night.

Withholding Privileges
Children should learn that privileges come with responsibility and they need to be earned. In order to be effective, this technique should be used infrequently. A privilege that is valued by the child, such as watching television or playing with friends, should be removed.

Birth to 18 Months

Positive Reinforcement

Verbal Instruction/Explanation
Establishing Rules
Withholding Privileges

18 Months to 3 Years

Positive Reinforcement
Verbal Instruction/Explanation

Establishment of Rules
Withholding Privileges

4 to 12 Years

Positive Reinforcement
Verbal Instruction/Explanation
Establishment of Rules
Withholding Privileges

13 to 16 Years

Positive Reinforcement
Verbal Instruction/Explanation
Establishment of Rules
Withholding Privileges


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Halloween Safety for Kids & Teens

This Halloween Safety Guide from Halloween Safety is a must read:

Kids love Halloween! They get to dress up and get free candy! What a perfect holiday! Give your kids some precious Halloween memories that they’ll have for life.

Some of you kids already know things that you can do to be safe, like how to cross the street, not to talk to or go with strangers and things like that. But we adults know how exciting Halloween can be and that can make you forget to be careful.

Here’s some tips that we have just for you kids, to help keep you safe on Halloween night! Some of these ideas are called “common sense” ideas, that means that they are things that you should know and use every day in life. You are never too young to learn!


Never, ever go into a strangers house or even ring their door for treats unless your parents are with you and say that it’s okay. There are some people in life that aren’t very nice to kids and you have to be careful. Always make sure that your mom or dad is within sight when you go out trick-or-treating.


Be careful when you cross a street. Make sure to look in both directions and make sure that there are no cars coming. If you have a little brother or sister with you, take their hand and help them get across the street, too. If the street has a stop light, wait until the cross walk light tells you that it’s okay to cross now, but still check before you cross, look both ways.


If you are an older kid or young teen, and going out with friends, make sure that your parents know where you are going and who you are going with. This may seem like a pain but they are your parents and they love you. They just want you to be safe.


If you can drive and are taking a bunch of friends to a party, make sure that you have enough gas to get there. You don’t want to run out on a dark street, all alone, like a bad horror movie!


If you parents give you a curfew, be home when they say. It builds trust between you and them and they are doing it for your own safety. If you are going to be late, call them and let them know.


Vandalism is never cool! Throwing eggs at cars and houses is not cool. Someone has to clean it up and it could be you, if you get caught. You can also be arrested and punished as a juvenile. So, don’t think that it’s fun only if you can get away with it. It’s never the right thing to do! Think about how you would feel if someone did that to your house and how bad it would make you feel.


Hurting animals is never acceptable behavior! Some people use Halloween as an excuse to hurt cats and that is just wrong! Not only is it illegal in most places to hurt or torture animals and punishable by law, you should never hurt a helpless living thing.

These safety tips are not just for Halloween, but good to always keep in mind.

Stay safe this Halloween and visit Go Au Pair at

200 things to do with your kids

This list from Little Hearts Books covers it all!


1.) Float boats in puddles
2.) Ride bikes
3.) Play hopscotch
4.) Blow dandelions
5.) Jump in a bounce house
6.) Take them to a museum
7.) Play hot-potato with water balloons
8.) Make a volcano
9.) Buy them a goldfish
10.) Have funoodle sword fights
11.) Take silly pictures with them in a photo booth
12.) Fix pancakes for dinner
13.) Let them climb trees
14.) Watch your language
15.) Make daisy chains
16.) Play board games and let them win so they’ll feel smart
17.) Teach them manners by being polite to them
18.) Teach them respect by showing them respect
19.) Look at them when they’re talking
20.) Build block towers and knock them down together
21.) Read to them
22.) Laugh at their jokes
23.) When they’re upset say, “I’m here. I’m listening,” and then just be there
24.) Go barefoot in the grass
25.) Thank them sincerely for muddy bouquets of weeds
26.) Pray for them
27.) Pray with them
28.) Tell them the truth
29.) Have wrestling matches & let them win so they’ll feel strong
30.) Let them believe in miracles
31.) Let them see you stand up for what you believe in
32.) Tickle them & stop when they tell you to so they’ll know how to tell someone ‘no’ when they don’t want to be touched
33.) Turn off the television
34.) Have a picnic on the living room floor
35.) Make shadow puppets
36.) Let them become best friends with their grandparents (or adopt a grandparent!)
37.) Build forts
38.) Let them help you fix the toilet
39.) Let them jump in piles of clean laundry
40.) Take them with you when you vote
41.) Have staring contests
42.) Make card buildings
43.) Make a refrigerator box rocket and fly to Mars for dinner with them
44.) Fingerpaint with them
45.) Fingerpaint on them
46.) Let them fingerpaint on you
47.) Tell them corny jokes
48.) Blow bubbles
49.) Jump in puddles
50.) Play football in the mud
51.) Play basketball in the driveway at midnight
52.) Play baseball at the park
53.) Go to their teddy bear tea parties
54.) Play with slinkies on the stairs
55.) Let them teach you something
56.) Put band aids on invisible boo-boos
57.) Scare away the monsters
58.) Sing in the car
59.) Make silly faces in the mirror
60.) Roll in piles of leaves
61.) Turn off the computer
62.) Dance in the rain
63.) Make snow angels (or sand angels!)
64.) Let them help you help someone in need so they’ll learn to serve
65.) Make mudpies
66.) Cook dinner together
67.) Go stargazing
68.) Lay in the grass
69.) Go fishing with real worms
70.) Look for four-leaf clovers
71.) Walk in the woods
72.) Spot shapes in the clouds
73.) Dress up and take them on a date to the symphony
74.) Visit a planetarium
75.) Give them bear hugs
76.) Give them grace
77.) Share a secret
78.) Tell them about God
79.) Tell them stories about your childhood
80.) Get them a kitten
81.) Visit an aquarium
82.) Take them to the zoo
83.) Take them to the library
84.) Let them meet an author or a painter or an astronaut
85.) Let them dream big dreams
86.) Admire their artwork
87.) Make macaroni art together
88.) Go to a sunrise service on Easter
89.) Plant something together and watch it grow
90.) Go to a Passion play
91.) Go to a parade
92.) Play dress up
93.) Go to the beach
94.) Hike up a mountain trail
95.) Ride a bicycle-built-for-two
96.) Hold them when they cry
97.) Forgive them when they mess up
98.) Help them when they struggle
99.) Encourage them to try again when they fail
100.) Let them choose the movie
101.) Listen to their endless stories
102.) Clap when they sing you a song
103.) Share a giant bucket of popcorn at the movies
104.) Rent a projector and hang up a sheet outside to make your own drive-in theater
105.) Take them to an airshow
106.) Take them to a Veteran’s Day parade and let them shake hands with a hero
107.) Tie a towel into a cape and play superheroes
108.) Make Christmas cards for nursing home residents and deliver them together
109.) Throw a surprise half-birthday party
110.) Climb on the furniture and jump over the lava
111.) Make a paper mâché globe
112.) Make paper airplanes and have a fly-off
113.) Fly kites
114.) Make sandcastles (or snowmen!)
115.) Give butterfly kisses
116.) Give Eskimo kisses
117.) Go to a petting zoo and let them pet a goat
118.) Play jump rope
119.) Go to their plays
120.) Go to their games
121.) Teach them chess
122.) Play twister
123.) Let them see you reading
124.) Go to storytimes at bookstores
125.) Go to a farmer’s market
126.) Make s’mores
127.) Camp in the backyard
128.) Cook over a campfire
129.) Build a model airplane
130.) Make up a secret handshake
131.) Wear the macaroni necklaces they make you
132.) Smile when they walk in the room
133.) Kiss them goodbye whenever you leave
134.) Dress up for their tea parties
135.) Play rock-paper-scissors
136.) Say please
137.) Say thank you
138.) Say you’re welcome
139.) Tell them you trust them
140.) Tell them they are good
141.) Tell them you love them every day
142.) Say, “I like you”
143.) Say, “You’re fun to be with”
144.) Tell them you miss them when you’re away from them
145.) Tell them they can always count on you and then be there when they need you
146.) Tell them about times you’ve failed so they know they don’t have to be perfect
147.) Catch fireflies in jars and then let them go
148.) Forgive them so they’ll learn to forgive
149.) Give second chances, third chances, fourth chances…
150.) Race them to the car and let them win so they’ll feel success
151.) Teach them how to skip rocks
152.) Use your gentle hands
153.) Stand up to bullies for them
154.) Tell them what you believe in
155.) Tell them you believe in them
156.) Treat them like they’re priceless so they’ll never doubt their value
157.) Let them hear you whistle while you work so they’ll know joy can be found in everything
158.) Grab a stick for a sword and slay dragons with them
159.) Catch ladybugs on your fingers and examine their spots
160.) Share a milkshake
161.) Have a sleepover in their room
162.) Go on a scavenger hunt
163.) Give them a hammer, nails, and scrap wood and watch the magic
164.) Work puzzles together that take weeks to finish
165.) Make grape popsicles and eat them together in the sunshine
166.) Be kind to them so they’ll learn to be kind
167.) Admit it when you’re wrong so they’ll learn to take responsibility for their actions
168.) Say you’re sorry when you mess up so they’ll learn it’s okay to make mistakes
169.) Let them see you cry so they’ll know it’s okay to be human
170.) Tell them you’re on their side
171.) Turn off your cell phone
172.) Build a birdhouse together and let them paint it all the colors of the rainbow
173.) Help them with their homework so they can play outdoors
174.) Play with them
175.) Sprinkle fairy dust on their bed to help them sleep
176.) Let them see you rescue a butterfly caught in a spider’s web so they’ll think you’re a hero
177.) Tell them about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and help them search for it
178.) Sit on the porch and wave at the passing cars with them
179.) Take a ride on a train
180.) Take them to see an alligator
181.) Read the funny paper in the newspaper to them
182.) Let them take care of you when you’re sick
183.) Listen so they’ll learn to listen
184.) Care about what they care about so they’ll feel understood
185.) Put others first so they learn sacrifice
186.) Help a neighbor so they’ll understand community
187.) Let them climb into bed with you when they have a bad dream
188.) Make them a cozy reading nook
189.) Squeeze yourself into their reading nook and cuddle up for storytime
190.) Read them fairy tales
191.) Buy them comic books
192.) Make paperchains for the Christmas tree
193.) Have a birthday party for Jesus before opening presents on Christmas morning
194.) Make blessing bags and mail them to our troops
195.) Build bookshelves and start a home library for them
196.) Treat them with compassion so they’ll learn to care
197.) Give them piggyback rides to bed
198.) Read them bedtime stories (and let them choose the book even if it’s the same one every night!)
199.) Show them you love them when they deserve it the least
200.) Live what you want them to learn

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Toddler Years Bucket List

Toddler Years Bucket List


This is an amazing list from Creative with Kids. Don’t let the toddler years pass you by. Enjoy!


Play Together:

My daughter particularly likes it went I pretend her nose makes different noises like beeping etc. Its so bonding and so fun” ~Mel

Hide & seek in the house (which is really silly because it’s just basic hiding beside the bed post or behind the couch). ~Katherine

  • Pretend to be tigers and chase each other
  • Pretend you can’t find their hands when you’re helping them get dressed

Exploring Nature:

Stomping in muddy puddles; making the most of the weather whatever it is! ~ Lucy

  • Feeding the ducks, or chasing them…
  • Feed a baby goat
  • Fly a kite
  • Walking in the rain…
  • Puddle splashing!
  • Play outside in fresh snow.


Bucket List for the Toddler Years

  • Hop over waves at the beach.
  • Look for crabs in the rocks, starfish in the rock pools.
  • Plant a spring flower to watch it grow.
  • Pick fruit off of trees
  • Watch a caterpillar become a butterfly
  • Explore the forest, touching everything.
  • Play ‘ look high/look low’ and see what types of creatures or plants they see.
  • Run in the fields.
  • Toss leaves
  • Collect rocks.


Go Visit:

  • Petting zoos
  • A botanical garden
  • An open gym day where your child can free play in the foam pit, the trampolines and the mats.
  • A Children’s Museum
  • Public library toddler reading time
  • Cousins, Grandparents, and Friends!

Sensory  Play

  • Playdoh
  • Waterbeads
  • Sand castles
  • Playing with rice, beans or cornmeal
  • Playing with those arts and crafts poms poms
  • Anything messy.
  • Mud pies, mud holes, mud body paint

Toddler years bucket list - water play

  • WATER! In the sink with containers, in the sprinkler, in a sand and water table.
  • Pour and measure – add a drop of food color for fun.
  • Squeeze wet sponges.
  • Walk the neighborhood with a watering can and “water” the flowers you see.
  • Long baths – not just for getting clean

Songs, Rhymes and Stories

Toddler years bucket list

  • Read books together
  • Touch and feel board books
  • Sing and dance
  • Songs with lots of movement, like “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider”, “The Wheels on the Bus”, and “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes.
  • Have spur of the moment dance parties



Cooking - toddler years

  • Pretend or real cooking
  • Make goop, gak or slime
  • Baking cookies or mixing pancakes together
  • Bake banana muffins
  • Have a Tea Party
  • Decorating cookies with lots of sprinkles that go everywhere!


Arts and Crafts

  • Finger painting
  • Pudding Paint!
  • Water coloring paint
  • Stickers
  • Sidewalk chalk scribbles
  • Stamping
  • Make handprint art – tracing, impressions in salt dough and paint handprints

More Play!

Toddler years activities list

  • Blowing and catching bubbles
  • Balloons and balls -Balloon baseball!
  • Bikes, Trikes and Ride-on toys
  • Knobbed Puzzles
  • Do “chores” with Mama and Papa
  • Push baby strollers or shopping carts
  • Rough and tumble play
  • Build “forts” out of boxes or couch cushions!
  • Make blanket tents and tunnels

And of course: Tickle, snuggle, kiss, and have lots of playful physical interaction.


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