For many parents the natural tendency to correct and fix behaviour problems was ingrained in their own upbringing and is usually well-intentioned, but over-reliance on this approach deprives us of the many opportunities to notice what our children already do well.
Positive reinforcement as a form of positive discipline allows us to tap into our children’s individual strengths, draw attention to their personality traits and interests, and as a result give us an opportunity to connect, communicate effectively, and ultimately empower them to be more of themselves.
What is positive reinforcement?
The idea behind this parenting strategy is simple: children respond better to kudos than they do to criticism or correction. If parents make a big deal of it when their kids share, show kindness, do their chores, or play quietly while Mom is on the phone, they’ll do more of these things because they like the good feelings that come with the positive attention.
“It’s just human nature that people, and kids, too, want to be acknowledged and recognized and they want to be appreciated. It’s nice to be noticed,” explains Judy Arnall, the Calgary-based author of four books on non-punitive parenting including Parenting With Patience and Discipline Without Distress.
While the reinforcement could come in many forms, such as stickers, toys, applause or treats, research indicates that the most effective form of reinforcement is verbal praise, says Susan Birch, associate professor in psychology at the University of British Columbia.
What if my kids don’t do anything positive?
Our kids all do positive things, it’s just that the misbehaviour is more obvious because it’s often loud and obnoxious, like siblings fighting, or a child screaming because she didn’t get what she wanted. On the other hand, good behaviour is often quiet, like playing independently or doing homework.
“Find those moments—even if they’re rare—when the child is doing what you want,” says Birch. “We have to make an active effort to pay attention.” You might comment, for example, on how quietly your kids are sitting in their carseats, or if you notice them helping a younger sibling.
Parents can also look for positives in an annoying situation instead of focusing on the negative.
The right type of reinforcement
The most effective form of praise is praise for the effort rather than the outcome, says Birch. Saying, for example, ‘I’m really proud of you for studying so hard’, is better than saying you are proud of the grade they got.
If your house has been more of a negative environment in the past, your kids might be skeptical of all the praise, says Birch. But by being sincere and consistent, it will soon start to feel more natural.
What do I do about bad behaviour?
It might go entirely against your intuition, but if the behaviour isn’t dangerous, but rather just inappropriate or attention-seeking (think whining or making fart noises) you can ignore it or even leave the room.
One strategy is to still be aware of those behaviours, but don’t comment on them. Then, the minute the whining, blowing raspberries or table leg kicking stops, you can give the child your attention by asking about his day at daycare or school, for instance. This way the kid learns that these behaviours are not effective ways to get their parents’ attention.
If your kid’s behaviour is aggressive or dangerous, you’ll need to get involved by removing them from situation. Arnall suggests reminding them that ‘this is not how we act in this family.’
Should I give a reward for good behaviour?
It may seem logical to reward good behaviour with a treat or a toy, as well as praise, but when you offer the reward as an incentive you are entering bribe territory, says Arnall. Unlike praise and positive attention, bribes don’t encourage a long-term change in behaviour. So if you want to give your kid a cookie for emptying the dishwasher, go for it. But don’t expect your kid to suddenly love emptying the dishwasher. Rewards can be helpful, however, in short-term, temporary scenarios, such as doling out a Smartie for going poop on the toilet, then phasing it out once the toddler is, ahem, regular.
Are you sure this is going to work?
Positivity breeds positivity. It’s infectious.
“The more you do it the easier it is to notice those opportunities and the more good behaviour you’ll see. It sort of snowballs,” says Birch. “It can actually dramatically change the mood in the household once the focus is on the positive.”
In fact, research on positive parenting shows that stress levels for kids (and parents) come down because everyone starts being more positive.
But many families, Starling’s included, note that it’s hard to stay rosy, especially when you’re in “triage mode” during a tantrum. Arnall says with practice it can become a more natural habit.
Make an effort to start noticing the good and the whole family will be rewarded.
Source: Today’s Parent
Discovery Point is a daycare in Woodbridge, Vaughan Ontario