Parenting Lessons: Step Three: Learning a new system to spotlight good behavior

In the last step, you learned the right way to discipline, and now you will take it a step further by discovering how to use positive feedback to encourage good behavior.

I tell parents at my workshops that anyone can catch children being bad. I suggest you turn this around and catch them being good! Positive feedback is the most powerful tool you have to improve your children's behavior and self-esteem. Using praise or incentives encourages good decision making. Positive feedback is not something new, but sometimes we forget to use it. If you desire better behavior from your children, increasing your use of positive feedback is essential.

Positive feedback isn't just about praise, but it also means rewards and incentives. Feeling good about behaving is a gradual process. Just as adults are motivated to work, in part, for the paycheck, children need to be motivated toward a reward like a back rub or an extra bedtime story. In the long run, however, it's important to use positive feedback in order to teach a child to value himself. It is all right for children to behave and work hard to please their parents. It's even better when they behave and work hard for themselves. For example:

Good: "I like the way you did that."
Better: "Well done. You should be proud of yourself."

The second statement creates a sense of success, and is aimed at building self-esteem. Whenever you reward your child with an incentive, such as an allowance, be sure to add a comment that causes your child to think about doing the right thing: "You did a wonderful job on your chores. Here's your allowance. I hope you feel good about yourself." That way you are including the three components of positive feedback: praise, reward and incentive.

Lesson 3 Activity:
Create a Reward Chart

An easy way to highlight and reinforce good behavior is to use a chart. Charts are visual reminders to be consistent, prompt you to look for good behavior, provide positive interactions between you and your children, promote a healthy family climate, and encourage everyone to work together. Plus, in two-parent families, charts furnish an instant way to increase consistency between the parents.

In a new daily chart, list the priority behaviors that you identified in Lesson One. When your child behaves, put a smiley face or checkmark in the box. At the end of the day, add up the number of marks. For some children, filling up the boxes will be enough reward. For others, the numbers will be equal to a special activity or treat that you have agreed on ahead of time. (Note: For older children, an actual chart with smiley faces may not be appropriate. Consider drafting a mutually agreed upon contract instead.)

Using the chart that you already created in Lesson Two and your new reward chart, continue to monitor your children's behavior and misbehavior. When your children show improvements in all three behaviors, you can add a new behavior to the list. But I would be cautious. It is better to add new behaviors slowly. When you are ready, move on to Lesson Four to find out how to fine-tune your plan and further improve your children's behavior.


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