We are now four weeks into the Positive Parenting Series and I hope that by now not only is your routine set in stone but that your children have realised you will not waver from being consistent and have reached a point of acceptance to the new regime. You may be feeling somewhat shell shocked on the back of the resistance phase but by now you are hopefully experiencing the fruits of your labour in a more peaceful home. If you are not, please feel free to reach out so that I can try and understand what may be proving a stumbling block to change.
Today I would like to talk about using positive reinforcement to shape your children’s behaviour. Sometimes it can be easy to get into a negative cycle of using frequent punishment for unwelcome behaviour. This is especially true when you are stressed and tired. Whilst there is a time and a place for appropriate punishment, children generally respond a lot better to encouragement than they do to moaning. We often notice bad behaviour more than we notice good behaviour and it is a great idea to pay close attention to the times when your child is behaving in a positive way. By doing this, you will be able to acknowledge good behaviour in your child when it occurs. For instance, rather than moaning at your child for making a noise, praise them the next time that they are quietly sitting drawing a picture. A subtle but important difference.
It is important that you are not vague when telling your child what you expect of them. For example, rather than telling your child to be ‘good’, tell them what you actually want of them, such as ‘say please’ or ‘do not hit me’. If there are specific (target) behaviours that you would like to see more of in your child (for example, brushing teeth without being told to; using the toilet independently; getting into bed without making a fuss), then a good way to encourage these behaviours is by rewarding your child when these behaviours occur. A common way of making this fun and exciting for your child is by creating a star chart (see list of resources at the end of this article for some useful links that will provide you with pre-prepared examples). A star chart is simply a list of targeted behaviours, with provision on the page for some sort of symbol that indicates whether or not the behaviour has been completed. This symbol can range from a star, to a tick, to a sticker – whatever will engage your child and get them enthusiastic about the reward system. Once a certain number of stars/ ticks/ stickers have been collected, then a reward can be given. This should be decided in negotiation with your child. Whilst you might believe that you have chosen a nice reward that will act as a motivational force for your child, you may have chosen something that your child has little interest in. In this case, the leverage will be lost and the star chart will fail. Rewards do not have to be big and they do not have to be material. Children love to have special time with a parent or caregiver and the reward could be as simple as taking your child for a ride on their bike or spending half an hour pushing them on a swing. Not only will this encourage desirable behaviour in your child but it will also give you and your child some necessary one-on-one time together.