Of all the things I learned in my training as a clinical psychologist, there is one tip that works best with kids. I learned a lot over the 6 years of training about development and cognitive science but this tip is the one parents need most. This tip helps you change any behaviour better than any other. It can be universally applied to any problem behaviour and better still, this tip is backed by science.
It’s a tip I offer a lot in my clinic and it’s one I use in my home. You can bet that when a problem behavior crops up with one of my children it’s because I haven’t been using this science based tip. Noticing behavior you like starts a positive feedback loop between you and your child and encourages your child to want to work with you.
Notice the behavior you want. That’s it. Otherwise known as positive reinforcement, notice the behavior you want is my number one tip for changing behavior. This doesn’t just mean behavior you are targeting; it also means noticing the things your children are doing well.
If your children drive you around the twist with their bickering and you notice your kids playing friendly together, notice that behaviour. Not just in your mind, but tell them. “I see you playing so well together that make me so happy”. If your children don’t need prompting to get ready in the morning anymore, tell them “I’m so proud of how you get yourself organised by yourself now.”
Typically parents notice the behavior they don’t like. “Don’t do this, stop that, why do you always do that?” We take our roles of guiding our children seriously and we tend to be focused on getting rid of behaviours we don’t like. This is normal and natural but it doesn’t work particularly well.
When we parent in the noticing what we don’t like mode, we draw attention to behaviours we don’t want to see. We give attention to what we don’t want to see. If there’s one thing we know from behavioral psychology, is that giving your attention to behaviours you don’t want to see will likely increase the chance that behaviour will recur. This is especially the case if children are not being noticed for behavior that their parent does like.
Below are some sample suggestions of how to notice behavior you want to see:
1. You want to reduce aggressive behaviors like hitting and biting
“Look how calmly you are playing with mommy! I love that!”
“I can see you got frustrated and you chose another toy instead of hitting your brother. Well done!”
2. You want your child to sit at the table to eat
“Look at how well you hold your knife”
“Wow, you’ve been sitting on your chair for two minutes now, well done!”
3. You want your children to get along better
“Wow you have played so nicely for the last 10 minutes”
“I noticed you shared your hair ties with your sister when she couldn’t find any this morning for school. That was very kind.”
4. You want your child to tie their own shoes
“Well done for getting your shoes today! Let’s see if you can tie the laces”
“Wow good effort, you nearly have the bow tying sorted”
5. You want your child to use an “inside voice” instead of shouting
“I noticed you spoke in a beautiful inside voice at grandmas. It was great. Do you think you can you do it again?”
“I loved eating dinner tonight because everyone used their inside voices and I didn’t have to remind anyone about shouting once.
6. You want your child to keep their room tidy/ pick up their personal belonging.
“You did a great job making your bed”
“I can see you put your shoes away today”
7. You want your child to stay close to you while out shopping
“Nice walking next to mum. Shopping was way less stressful today because I knew you were close by”
“Good job holding mummy’s hand as we crossed the road. I liked that.”
Remember to use a happy, excited tone when you notice behavior you like.
You can even notice behavior you like with non-verbal communication such as
• Giving your child a wink
• Giving your child a thumbs-up
• Giving your child a high-5
• Rubbing your child’s head
• Patting your child’s shoulder
Noticing behavior you like is my top parenting tip. It is the one parenting technique that can change everything because it is what works best across all parenting dilemmas. Start noticing all those behaviors you like. It’s something you can’t do too much. You will see a difference.
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