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Use Positive Reinforcement

Tally Ho!

Just how much positive reinforcement do you offer your child? You probably offer some already, most parents naturally do. Yet no matter how good at it you think you are, you may be surprised to find that, in reality, most parents focus on the negative. How much negativity is creeping into your parenting?

Learning to parent well is a process, and there is always room for improvement. It is helpful to look at the problem areas. Here's an easy little exercise inspired by the work of James Windell (author of 8 Weeks to a Well-Behaved Child) that lets you clearly see how many negative and critical remarks you make. (Hey, try the exercise! You may be pleasantly surprised!)

Get a little notebook at the supermarket. A little one. Smaller. One that can fit in a pocket or a purse. Get a pen, too, and put it in the pocket or purse next to the notebook. Ready to begin?

Every time you make a critical or negative comment about your child, open the notebook and make a little mark. If you have time, write down what you said and the circumstances. Do it for five days, and don't try to change what you are doing, just make notes. That's it! (Well, that's almost it.)

  • Don't share this exercise (or the fact that you are doing it) with your child. That may mean excusing yourself to the bathroom frequently, or dashing off to another room to make your tally marks, but if you share the fact that you are doing this little experiment, your kids might get upset, you'll start adjusting your behavior, and the exercise's results won't be accurate.
  • If you have more than one child, label a page for each one, and keep a separate tally.
  • Make sure you count feedback that starts out positive but includes a “but” as in: “I really appreciate you doing the dishes, Samantha, but please try and rinse the soap off better next time.”
  • Pay special attention when you are angry, disappointed, tired, or hungry (people tend to get very crabby and critical when their blood sugar levels are low).
Behave Yourself!

No wimps allowed! Not everything your child does is great, and if you pretend it is, you're doing your child a disservice.

It's a Good Idea!

Pay attention to what's going on with your child's heart, mind, life, and you'll be able to prevent a lot of discipline problems.

At the end of five days, take a deep breath and add up your tally. There's no magic number—whether your reaction is “Arrghhh!” or “Wow!” it doesn't matter. Knowledge is necessary (even when it is painful). What did you find? Have a lot of tally marks in your notebook?) If you're like most parents, you parent more through criticism than through positive reinforcement. We simply expect kids to behave themselves (without giving them a lot of tools to know how) and then when they don't, we hit the roof. Sound familiar? Look again at your tally sheet. Don't feel bad, this is just a place to begin. Nobody but you is counting your tally (aren't you glad you kept it private now?) and you can tear up the pages in that teeny notebook, if you like.

Most of us are in fire-fighting mode most of the time, trying to get things done, get through life relatively intact, and put out the behavior fires as they flare. It seems easier to notice what's annoying or troubling than it is to notice how wonderful your child really is. Some parents are so afraid of raising a stuck-up little monster that they bend over backwards to never give a compliment, or describe positive behavior. Not a good idea.

Doing an exercise like Tally Ho! will help you become aware of your expectations for your child, and your patterns of treatment. If you have more than one child, the exercises will show you the differences in treatment and expectations. Once you become aware of it, bingo! You can change!



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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Well-Behaved Child © 1999 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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