Recently, I read a blog post entitled “Don’t Water the Weeds” on Fairfield County Mom suggesting that paying more attention to positive behaviors and less attention to negative behaviors in our children can have surprising benefits. As a clinical social worker in practice for over 20 years, I heartily agree. And I would like to build on that insight by recommending the following approach to get more of the behavior you want.
I’ll tell you the six words that will change it all, “Catch Your Child Doing Something Right.”
What does that mean? Praise given by parents and primary caregivers builds a child’s self-confidence and motivation and encourages them to continue the positive behavior you want to see. For example, like so many boys, I asked my son to take out the garbage more times than I can count. He rarely did it, and when he did, I would not acknowledge it–after all, he is supposed to do his chores. Then I had an idea. I started saying, “Thank you, sweetie,” whenever he took the garbage out. My positive acknowledgment of his action did not change his behavior instantly. But, over several months, he began to take out the garbage more regularly.
And now, almost a year in, this weekly task is automatic. No more arguments and no more messy garbage. I always make a point to tell him how much I appreciate what he did. My son feels he contributes to his family’s well-being (and I don’t have to raise my voice or take out the garbage).
Another example would be when he went through a bad period at school. He was typically a solid student, and like so many other kids, he did not react well to online learning when the pandemic hit. He missed the structure of the classroom and the comradery of his peers.
Instead of focusing on my son’s grades being such a disappointment, anytime he got a good grade on a quiz or any assignment, I praised him and hugged him. For bigger accomplishments, like a good grade on a test or project, I also gave him a reward of his choosing. Before COVID, he liked to go to the movies. Most recently, he likes going to the ice cream shop or picking out a T-shirt with a favorite character or logo on it.
Reinforcing his good behavior, instead of making a big deal about behaviors I did not like, has made my good son a better son.
A child who hears only criticism and never praise will develop feelings of shame, resentment, and failure. The child will lose self-confidence, and with it, any real hope that they can do better.
A child who gets praise, when justified, will feel encouraged to continue positive behaviors. Working even harder at school or toward some other goal will seem worthwhile. Such is the power of Positive Praise as a parenting tool.
Janine Parker is a licensed clinical social worker, with expertise in parenting issues, as well as the treatment of anxiety and depression. She is currently practicing at Darien Wellness and sees clients across the state online. To find out more or to make an appointment to see her, call 203.883.0464.