Sometimes in the midst of the parenting chaos, we overreact to our child’s bad behavior in order to prevent it from happening again.
But then, we don’t make as big a deal about very small, yet positive behaviors kids engage it.
And it sends a message to our kids.
Stop for a minute to think about how you interacted with your kid today.
How many times did you notice they did something wrong?
Did you say anything to them afterwards? Yell perhaps?
Is your child engaging in this behavior repeatedly?
Do you find yourself saying the same thing over and over again?
I sure have.
Omg, don’t push your brother!!
Why are you throwing your toys!!
Stop it now, or it’s timeout!!
Now, think of the POSITIVES.
Did you notice when your child did something right?
Did you praise or reward them for it? (As tiny as that positive behavior may seem.)
Great job sitting quietly!
I’m so proud of you for using your words!
Thank you for putting your toys away!
The difference may seem so trivial, but the effects are huge.
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The problem with focusing on the bad behavior
Oftentimes we overlook the good things our children do and focus on the negative behavior. Because we feel the negative behavior needs to be addressed immediately. And that makes sense.
We’ve all been there.
During a playdate our kid hurts a friend.
Our child is endlessly teasing or distracting a sibling.
Our child is shouting and making a scene in public.
So, we react.
Unfortunately, how we react primes kids to repeat the behavior that gets them noticed. If it gets your attention they are more likely to engage in it.
Because for kids who seek it, bad attention is better than none.
As parents of little ones, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the daily disciplining battles. Kids can misbehave often. We reprimand and try to correct them so they can do the right thing. Then minutes later, they repeat that very same bad behavior. Some kids can pose even MORE of a challenge. Acting by impulsivity and attention-seeking behaviors. Causing us as parents to lose our cool and resort to yelling and punishment.
But reprimanding kids more often than praising them, can lead to an ongoing frustrating cycle…that has counteractive effects where focusing on the bad, will breed more bad behavior.
Why positive reinforcement is essential to improving behavior
If a child is seeking attention, it is equally important, if not more, to focus on the positive behavior. A lot of their behavior is based on the outcome it produces. So if a kid isn’t getting your attention when they behave well or play nicely, they will do that positive action less and less.
Think of it from an adult’s perspective. You receive a “good job” when acknowledged for your work. Why not translate that to your children?
Rewards usually motivate us to repeat the behavior, but they have also been used in the wrong situations. Praising a child for behaving well does not equal bribing. Giving a child a cookie is a reward, but if you give it to them to stop whining, you have now reinforced a negative behavior. You only want to build up the agreeable actions.
Tips to reinforce good behavior
Positively reinforcing the good things our kids do is easy.
Keep an eye out for when it happens and reinforce it with praise such as, “I noticed you cleaned your room today. It looks like you worked really hard on it. You must be really proud.”
You don’t have to go over the top or they might feel you are not being authentic and truthful. Once this becomes a habit, you will start to notice the negative behaviors decreasing because they don’t hold as much value as they once did. A lot of people have been brought up to only notice the bad stuff. Have you ever been called into your boss’ office to be told how good a job you are doing? If so, it is a rare occasion.
Some parents find it helpful to leave notes around the house as reminders to themselves. It is going to take some time to retrain your own response and behavior. Create a jar of consequences for every time that you pay attention to an unwanted behavior, or a happy jar for every time you notice a good one.
When you catch your kids being good, it could have a profound effect on your family dynamic. Their negative behavior won’t stop right away, but with time and patience your kids will learn they can catch more bees with honey than vinegar. And we all love that.
One final thing to keep in mind
When kids misbehave it’s easy for parents to unintentionally label them.
The kid that needs constant reminders to stay in his seat and pay attention is a bad listener.
The kid that throws toys, shouts and wrestles with siblings is wild or unruly.
The kid who jumps off of tables and runs around in circles is hyperactive.
But labels don’t do anyone good when they effect the way we treat and manage that child.
Some children can act out even more because of this, as they feel misunderstood.
That’s why it’s important to understand why kids sometimes act out and do the things they do.The SuperKids Activity Guide helps parents do just that to transform the way we think about our kids’ behaviors and learn to connect with them on a new level. The resource includes tons of activities to bring out the best in your kid. Because inside every kid, is a the super kid we want to raise!
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Ana, a mom to three rambunctious little boys, has supported thousands of women throughout their pregnancy and motherhood journey since 2012 as a prenatal and postpartum educator at MommysBundle.com.