I like to think of behavior on a scale. On one side are appropriate behaviors we’d like to see from our children…patience, caring, keeping their hands to themselves, good hygiene, etc.
On the other side would be inappropriate behaviors we’d not like to see from our kids…hitting, screaming, tantrums, rudeness, aggression, etc.
Common wisdom says that we should praise appropriate behaviors and punish inappropriate behaviors. Often times though we are giving the majority of our attention to the inappropriate behaviors and the scale is being tilted in that direction. Children are being trained that (even though it may be negative attention) the best way to get an adult’s attention is through displaying a problem behavior.
Rather, we should be loading up the positive side of the scale. Our children should be shown that the best way to get Mom or Dad’s attention is through appropriate behaviors. I recently saw a study that found that 4 out of every 5 interactions with our children should be positive in order to maintain a strong and loving relationship. 4 out of 5!? That means we are going to have to load up the positive side of the scale.
-When our children are sitting calmly in the waiting room…THAT’s when we give them attention.
-When our kid asks nicely for something we should be letting them know how much we appreciate their politeness.
-When my kid shares her toy with a friend, you better believe I’ll be there cheering her on!
This does not mean the inappropriate behaviors will disappear. They will still be there, and when they occur we should redirect them towards an an alternative…or quickly teach them a more appropriate way to get the same outcome.
I was working with a kid a while back that would scream every time we would transition away from a preferred activity/item. This was a very effective behavior for him because adults would allow him to keep playing because they wouldn’t want to cause him to scream or to make him upset.
It is totally appropriate to want to continue playing with a favorite toy, but it is inappropriate to scream. So I quickly taught him an alternative. I told him to say “1 more minute.” He did so and he was praised for asking. After his minute was up, he moved onto the next activity. This new behavior became even more effective than the screaming to keep his desired item. Screaming became ineffective and inefficient because it was no longer being accepted as an appropriate behavior.
This wasn’t effective every time, but that’s not the point. We don’t want robot kids doing what we ask 100% of the time. Sometimes he needed reminders and prompts to “just ask”, but his screaming decreased dramatically and he was asking for another minute consistently. Soon he rarely needed to ask for extra time and would be calm and collected to move on to the next activity.
Kids pick things up fast. We showed him an appropriate way to get something and he used it. On the flip side, we could have easily shown him that the opposite could have been true. We could have made his screaming more effective and he would have used it more and more to get items. So be wise with your interactions with your kids and tip the scale toward the positive!