Short phrases parents can use to increase positive behavior
You may have heard the advice “Catch your child being good.” This is actually a great parenting strategy based on behavioral science. There are several reasons children behavior the way they do, but seeking parent attention is one of the top reasons. It doesn’t matter whether the attention comes from acting correctly or acting out, all attention is reinforcing.
The trick is to give more attention to your child when they are behaving in a positive manner. To notice what they are doing the right thing -- AND tell them so.
Here are some short phrases to guide you:
“Thank you for helping your sister.”
“Thank you for putting your toys away.”
Just like we want to know our hard work is appreciated every day, our children want to know their effort is noticed as well. Thanking children for their specific efforts or actions is more effective a generic phrase like “good job.” Descriptive and specific statement about behavior you liked allows a child to know exactly what you’re looking for, and repeat it in the future. So you might say…
“I see you….” or “I notice you…”
“I see you are trying to put on your shoes by yourself.”
“I notice you are trying hard to use your manner at dinner. I really appreciate that.”
Praising effort and small steps in the right direction is so important. This encourages children to keep trying and to stick with hard things. You teach your child to persist despite difficulty or delay in success.
“Wow, I saw you share the sand toys at the park with those two girls. What a great friend you are!
“Wow, you boys have been playing for 10 minutes quietly! Tell me about what you are building.”
If you consistently give children specific, meaningful praise for good behavior, you will begin to notice a behavior change. Children naturally crave their parents’ approval, and providing focused attention and specific praise to positive behaviors is the first step towards influencing behavior and bonding with your child at the same time.
A few more thoughts….
You may find it difficult to find things to praise their child because their behavior can be overwhelming a good deal of the time. You will have to make the intentional choice to do so and concentrate on building this habit. Noticing positive behavior is like any habit — you get better with practice. Even if you have to keep a tally on your cell phone, a good goal is to give your child three or four instances of praise for each negative remark.
The flipside of positive attention is to give minimal attention to negative behaviors. What does that even look like? It’s a huge topic that we’ll focus on next month in “Keep It Short.”