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“Focus on the Positive”

Naomi Rubinstein, M.Ed.
Family Educator
Play Nurture Grow, LLC

Ever wonder how the parent behind you in line at the grocery store gets her two-year old to stay seated in the cart?  Believe it or not, that parent does not have a magic wand.  Chances are, one thing that parent does is focus on the positive.  Today I am going to share five simple steps to ensuring your survival and sanity.

Step One: In the Midst of the Negative, Compliment the Positive

Focus your attention on the things you want your children to do, not the behaviors you don’t want them to do.  Saying no to a child often equates to positively reinforcing a negative behavior.

Take this situation, for example: Your family is eating dinner.  You are loving the fact that, for once, both your kids are actually sitting on their chairs, when, all of a sudden, your younger son gets off his chair and begins skipping around the room.  You suddenly flashback to yesterday, when you thought it was a good idea to grab your child’s hand and skip with him, while singing “Skip to My Lou.”  Does this sound familiar??  If I have just described a typical evening in your house, read VERY carefully.  Whatever you do, do not say a word to your skipping child.  I repeat: DO NOT say a word to your skipping child.  Simply look at your elder son and say, “Wow!  Jack, I love the way you are sitting on your chair.”  If this statement does not get your younger son to sit down on his chair, be sure to really lay it on thick.  “Oh my gosh!  Jack, you are doing such an amazing job of staying seated at the table.  That is so polite and expected!”  Now, if your younger son continues to completely ignore you, do not give up hope yet.  Continue to compliment Jack on the amazing job he is doing.  You may even want to throw in a hug for Jack for good measure.

Now, if your cute little Joe is really enjoying his skipping around the room, and continues to ignore you, you might need to intervene at this point.  Simply take his hand and ask him if he thinks he can skip all the way to his chair faster than you can.  Most likely, the idea of losing the race to his mom will trump his desire to continue skipping around the room and he will skip back to his seat.  Last resort, give him a choice-he may either come back to the table and eat his dinner, or go to bed.  It is likely that dinner will seem more appealing than bedtime.  When he decides to come back to the table, make sure you compliment him on the good choice he made, and let him know that that makes you feel happy.

Step Two: Catch Your Kids Being Good

Always be on the lookout for positive behavior.  When you catch your kids in the act, praise them for it.  The more you catch them being good and reinforce that behavior, the more they will want to repeat the positive behaviors to earn those compliments.

When you are in a moment when you can’t catch anyone in the act, simply ask your kids, “Who can I compliment?” Sometimes, simply asking the question creates a positive response!

Once again, when you catch them in the act, let them know exactly what they did to earn that compliment.

Step Three: Set the Expectations

When heading out of the house, before you reach your destination, talk to your children and let them know what behaviors are expected.  Try not to focus on what you don’t want them to do.  Instead, let them know what you DO want them to do.  For example, if you want them not to touch anything, tell them, “I expect you to keep your hands on your own body.”  At the event, try to avoid using words such as “stop.”  For example, if your child is jumping around, let your child know he has to have a calm body and use walking feet, but may jump on the trampoline the next time he has gym class.

Step Four: Consequences Should Match the Behavior

It is very easy for parents to fall into the pattern of utilizing time-outs as a consequence, but that may not necessarily be the most productive strategy for changing a behavior.  When your child purposely pours his water all over the floor, ask yourself, does it make sense to put him in a time-out?  If the answer is no, then what consequence does make sense?  Simply let your child know that the water in his cup is for drinking.  If he doesn’t want to drink the water, it needs to stay in his cup.  Then, ask your child to get a towel and wipe up the water.  This would be the most logical consequence for such behavior.

Step Five: Create a Family Plan

With older children, sit down as a family and create a set of rules together.  Your children will love being part of the decision-making process.  Write down ALL ideas on a big piece of paper.  Talk with your kids about which rules make the most sense and why.  Once you have created your own set of family rules, talk about the consequences of breaking the rules.  Once again, make sure the consequences match the behavior.

One Final Word

Oh, and most importantly, remember that this only is one tool.  No strategy works 100 percent of the time, and some days are better than others.  No parent is perfect, and all children are different.  Simply use your judgment and be as consistent as possible, and most of the time, your children will want to make good choices.

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