We usually wait until something annoys us before we pay attention.
It’s the “Squeaky Wheel” syndrome.
For example, if we sailed through all green lights this morning to work, we probably didn’t give it much thought or paid attention to our amazing luck and good timing.
But if we hit EVERY red light, we are super annoyed. The universe is against us! We notice more when things go wrong.
It’s the same with children. They may sit behind you in the car quietly, but the minute they kick the back of your seat…BAM! You suddenly come to life in the form of Cruela de Vil.
Remember that a basic human need is to be recognized. If children don’t receive a healthy dose of positive reinforcement (8:1) per day, they will resort to any kind of recognition, even negative, or give up.
This is a sign of a discouraged child.
Rather than wait until they misbehave, “catch” your child being good. It’s the difference between raging at red lights or being grateful for the greens. It takes more effort because you have to pay attention to the good and put energy into recognizing what is going right. But it pays off in the long run with well behaved children.
It’s a universal law: we get more of what we focus on. And it’s universally practiced in raising good kids and kids who want to be good.
To catch your children being good, I’ve listed the first letter of the word in an acronym.
Call kids by their name (and I mean by good names!). Not their full name you use when they’re in trouble: “Andrew Scott McFarland!” but use their name to recognize who they are. I love to use endearing pet names. “Muffin Cakes” “Tiger” or “Lovey Dovey” can turn a child to putty in your hands. What pet nicknames did your parents use that made you feel loved?
Ask questions about what they are doing/feeling. Open ended questions that invite longer conversations. Don’t give up if your child just mumbles. Ask at different times of day and in different ways. “What was your best and worst part of today?” “If your day was a movie, what would the title be?” My kids tend to clam up right after school but right as I tuck them into bed, they are bubbling with information. But don’t force or interrogate. If they don’t want to talk, respect that.
Thank them. Thank them for what they have done, are doing, or will do. In other words, “Thank you for picking up your socks,” you might note, and if they haven’t done so yet, say the same thing. They might respond, “I didn’t pick them up.” And you get to smile and say with delight, “But I know you were going to so I wanted to thank you in advance.” This really works. It’s shaping behavior through what you expect with positives. People respond much better with positives and the potential you see in them.
Compliment them. In private and in public. In most cases, children swell with pride to hear adults sing their praises in public. Compliment what they have done, but also who they are…the lasting characteristics. And compliment what they are working towards, not just accomplished. This uses encouragement and praise, the dynamic duo.
Help. Offer to give them support when they are floundering. But don’t do it all for them. Show your confidence in their ability. Just support or scaffold what they need help with and let them do what they can.
So catch your child being good at least 8 times for every 1 correction. Start counting today to see how much you notice the good over the bad. The more you focus on the good, you’ll be amazed at how many green lights you and your child will sail through in life.