Are you focusing too much on negative actions and not on your child’s positive ones? Here’s why it’s important to praise your child’s positive behavior.
“Don’t want to wash hands,” my toddler declared after finishing a meal. This was a kid who hardly fussed about daily routines like hand washing.
Instead, I went ahead and washed his hands for him, to his frustration. I couldn’t believe he would fuss about something he’s been so compliant about.
And that’s when I realized what I was doing wrong.
My husband and I hadn’t been praising his positive behavior nearly as much as they deserve.
The more obedience he showed, the quicker we came to expect (and ignore) them.
The importance of praising positive behavior
I can’t remember the last time I praised him for washing his hands. Or thanking him for being such a big helper in the mornings. So that when a bad day comes smashing in, we’re left to think, Why can’t he just listen and do what we ask?
The rest of that day was madness. Nothing kills a Saturday quicker than a fussy toddler at 10am. We decided not to go to a family event at a restaurant to avoid a full-blown tantrum in public. So we stayed in and comforted ourselves with frozen yogurt and a much-needed haircut for me.
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Later that evening, my husband and I discussed what happened, as we do when we’re ready to tear our hair out. We even read through our stand-by parenting books for reminders. And one that stuck out to us both was how we weren’t praising his positive behavior.
When we praise kids for actions we want to promote, they realize that certain ones get more attention.
Let’s say your daughter walks to the front door all on her own to put her shoes on without nagging. She’ll likely continue doing so if her parents mind her: “Look at you, walking to the front door all on your own!”
Even a simple hug and kiss sends the message that this is something that will get her parents’ notice.
Praising positive actions also reminds us that tough times aren’t always so tough.
When I have a tough parenting day, my mind is so in the moment that I poison it with negative talk. “Life is so difficult now with kids,” or “Why does he always have to be so difficult?” Never mind that most of the time, we have wonderful days.
I’ve been better about recording good days in my journal for the “proof.” But praising him as we go along will serve as a reminder to myself that we have good moments.
And if we ought to praise kids for their positive behavior, the opposite is true of their negative ones. Yes, we need to address behavior issues. And negative actions won’t disappear by ignoring them. But for smaller issues, we’re better off ignoring negative behavior.
Kids love attention from us. It doesn’t matter whether the attention is loving or frustration. The message is: When I do this, I get attention, good or bad.
If we only pay attention to negative action, they resort to doing just that to get you to notice. We’re more likely to notice a screaming kid than one quietly playing.
That said, this isn’t a call to all parents to bombard our kids with nonstop praise. Kids can sense the phoniness in that. Or if they’re working on a puzzle, don’t break their focus with a five-minute hug.
Say, “Thanks for playing on your own while Mama prepares dinner.” Or brush their hair with your hand when you walk by. These simple gestures are enough for them to know that what they’re doing is pretty darn good in your book.
Since that Terrible Saturday, we’ve been mindful about praising our son. We don’t take his positive actions for granted. Maybe it’s the times he finishes his food with no fuss or lets us know that he needs a diaper change.
No longer will we ignore his positive actions instead of his less-than-stellar ones. Including the times he washes his hands all on his own.
Get more tips:
- Why Time Outs Don’t Work (And What to Do Instead)
- What to Do when Your Kids Refuse to Do Chores
- How to Stop Your Child from Whining and Speak Politely Instead
- How to Discipline a Toddler Who Deliberately Disobeys
- 7 Ways to Teach Your Kids to Share
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