“Research has shown that the most effective way to reduce problem behavior in children is to strengthen desirable behavior through positive reinforcement rather than trying to weaken undesirable behavior using aversive or negative processes.” Dr. Sidney W. Bijou, International Encyclopedia of Education.
“When used effectively, positive reinforcement is the most powerful teaching tool we have.” Dr. Glenn Latham, The Power of Positive Parenting.
Many of our interactions with children are negative; we’re reprimanding them, telling to stop a behavior. But most undesirable behaviors are mild annoyances. Dr. Latham teaches parents to ignore inconsequential behavior (which is 90% of undesirable behavior). He continues, “Rather than just stopping a behavior, redirect it, then reinforce the appropriate, redirected behavior.”
Instead of using punishments or consequences for negative behavior, we can turn those moments into teaching opportunities and teach children what they could have done instead.
Catch your children behaving well. Every child shows some appropriate behaviors each day, even if it’s simply refraining from bad behavior for a time. Learn to watch for appropriate behaviors and use positive reinforcement. Point out a positive behavior, comment on it, briefly thank them for it and maybe give them a gentle touch. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
How to Handle Annoying Behaviors
Admittedly, kids do a lot of annoying things that leave parents frustrated, but for the many inconsequential behaviors such as whining, complaining and tantrums (that don’t cause harm to people or things), it’s best to ignore them. Turning our attention on inconsequential behaviors reinforces them.
If, for example, we scold a child about complaining and repeatedly lecture him about this unwanted behavior, he’s getting a lot of attention from it. And he’ll keep doing it.
However, if we ignore the complaining, we are withdrawing our attention. We can briefly acknowledge their feelings: “I’m sorry that bothers you.” Then:
- Remain calm.
- Walk off.
- Act busy.
- Don’t look at your child.
- Ignore any continued complaining.
- If possible, praise the good behavior of another child nearby.
The behavior will likely cease within a very short time, 1-2 minutes or less. (Tantrums may take longer.) For some more specifics, here’s an article we recently shared on our Facebook page about eliminating whining. Or watch Dr. Latham in the video below.
Then a short time later, look for opportunities to acknowledge your child’s appropriate behavior. Watch for your child to not break a rule. Watch for them to obey–even if they grumble and complain about it. (Just ignore the grumbling, stay calm, and reinforce that they did obey.) Give them credit for the good choices they make. Give fuel for future positive behavior through your attention.
Do this often. You may need to create reminders for yourself to stay on alert for good behavior, such as leaving notes on your monitor or refrigerator or drawing a smiley face on your hand. The attention that gets your behavior will get repeated.The attention that gets your behavior will get repeated.
“Parental attention is a powerful, powerful reinforcer of children’s behavior. More than anything else, children want the attention of their parents, and if they can’t get it behaving appropriately, they will get it behaving inappropriately,” says Dr. Glenn Latham.
The positive reinforcement can be verbal and short, such as “Thank you for playing nicely,” or even a smile, a wink, or a pat on the back.
Serve up more positive interactions than negative with your children–Dr. Latham suggests 20 positive interactions to each negative–and watch how your relationship improves.
Avoid saying, “You’re a good girl!” Praise should focus on their actions or their choices, not about who they are. According to this reasoning, she’s a good girl if she makes a good choice, but she’s a bad girl if she makes a bad choice. And that is not true. Short, specific praise about an action is best.
Next time we’ll talk about what to do when a child’s behavior needs to be stopped and not just ignored.
NeuroTherapy and Trauma Center of Utah serves clients in Layton, Ogden, Syracuse, Roy and surrounding cities who deal with trauma, anxiety, ADHD and mood disorders. If you live in Layton, Ogden, Syracuse or Roy and are suffering from trauma, anxiety, ADHD or mood disorders, please call 801-855-7999 or text 801-855-7999 today to find out how we can help you.