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Using Positive Reinforcement to Change Your Child's Behavior

By Destry Maycock


Think about your interactions with your children today. How many things did you notice that they did wrong? What did you do or say to them because of their wrong doings? Have they engaged in the same kind of behavior before? What did you do the times before? Is it working? How many things did you notice your children did right today? If you did take the time to notice, what did you do or say to them? Did you praise or reward them in some way? If so, then read no further and keep up the good work. If you could use a little work on doing this, then read on.

Let's face it. We parents often neglect to notice the positive things our children do. Rather, we tend to focus on our children's negative behaviors, because they either annoy us or otherwise make our lives difficult. Have you ever heard the phrase, "that which gets noticed gets repeated?" If all we ever notice is the negative things our children do, then why would they do anything different? It is as if we program our children to believe "if I'm only noticed when I do something wrong, then so be it."

It is just as important, if not more, to notice our children's positive behaviors. Remember most behaviors are controlled by their consequences. Some may believe rewarding kids for positive behavior is bribery. We all receive rewards daily for doing things well, at work, at home, and at play. These rewards often motivate us to continue the behaviors for which they were received. Where parents use rewards ineffectively is when they give a positive consequence to stop an inappropriate behavior. For example, "I'll give you a cookie if you stop whining." This only encourages the inappropriate behavior. Where as rewarding kids for their positive behaviors is quite the opposite and much more productive.

Using positive reinforcement to strengthen a desired behavior is easy. Just watch and wait for the behavior to occur then reinforce it with praise, a pat on the back or a special privilege. It may go something like this, "David, I really appreciate how you came in the house when I asked and you even did it without a big hassle. You should feel good about being able to do that." How about, "Wow Jamie, your bedroom looks awesome. You must have worked really hard on it. I bet you worked up a healthy appetite. Why don't you decide what we have for lunch today."

Focusing on your children's positive behaviors could be the most productive parenting change you make if you don't already do it. Chances are you have been trained like the rest of us to only call attention to the bad things your kids do. This phenomenon isn't found solely in the parent/child relationship. It is also prevalent in spousal, sibling and employee/employer relationships. When was the last time your boss called you into his office and asked you to shut the door? Was it because he just wanted to tell you what a wonderful job you are doing and how valuable of an employee you are? If so, lucky you. More than likely, it was because he wanted to talk to you about something he thought you could do better or you were doing something wrong. People tend to take positive behavior for granted and punish negative behaviors.

Some parents find it helpful to make themselves a note and then they put it where they can see it often. The note might read, "notice the positive" or "catch'em doing good." You may also want to consider using The Jar of Consequences a parenting tool I developed to help parents focus on the positive behaviors their children engage in.

Catch your kids being good. It could have a profound affect on the atmosphere in your home. What ever it takes I assure you it will be worth it.



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Destry has had over ten years experience working with children and families as a professional Social Worker. He has also taught many parenting courses and studied the topic of parenting thoroughly throughout his career. Destry enjoys developing tools that help parents with the difficult but rewarding duty of raising children. His most recent creation can be found at http://www.thejarofconsequences.com



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