This is my first post geared towards caregivers (rather than therapy ideas) and I thought a lot about what I wanted the topic to be. I finally decided on what I believe is the number one thing most parents can do/change to improve their child’s/children’s behavior. Drumroll, please… the answer is attention, but not necessarily just giving more attention. I could talk about all sorts of tips regarding use of attention, but using praise/attention after your child has done something well is SO effective and usually results in some really positive changes. The problem is that life for most parents is super hectic. A lot of parents have a to-do list a mile long, so when their child is doing something good (e.g. playing quietly or sharing with a sibling), it’s easy to let them be for a bit and focus on paying bills, emptying the dishwasher, taking out the trash, or cleaning the bathrooms, but this is when parents should be giving their child some attention!
Think about this in the grown-up world… when I do something nice for someone (e.g., hold the door or help a coworker with a task), I am SO much more likely to continue doing so when I get some appreciation, whether it’s a simple “thanks” or an explanation of why it was helpful. Most people would agree!! And most kids have the same mindset; they want attention and they can figure out cause and effect… if they consistently get attention for picking up their toys or for eating their vegetables, they’re more likely to continue doing it.
This praise doesn’t have to be some complicated discussion. It can be:
- A simple “thank you”
- “Good job” or any other positive statement
- A pat on the back
- Just playing with them – yes, simply play with your child after they do something well
- A high five
- A hug or kiss
It can be helpful to pick ONE thing you want to see your child do more often, then make an effort to praise it. If I want my kid to play nicely with his younger brother, then I might walk through the living room every 5 minutes (or more often if you have the time) and comment on what a nice job he is doing. If I want my daughter to eat her vegetables, then I might give her a high five every time she takes a bite of those carrots or green beans. Giving praise for positive behavior can be a simple change that makes a big difference!