Is your child exhibiting negative behaviors? Are you having a hard time motivating your child to listen or follow directions? It can be incredibly frustrating when you don’t feel in control of your own child. Don’t worry, positive behaviors can be taught. Positive behavior support, or positive reinforcement, is a style of behavior management that consists of strategies used to promote positive attitudes and behaviors. You can use positive reinforcement to shape new, appropriate behaviors. It’s important to train yourself to use positive language in your daily routine. Positive language is: sincere praise that children listen to and follow in order to receive more; incredibly effective in directing attention to desired behaviors; and capable of turning a preferred behavior into a fun mood. Furthermore, positive language does not consist of the words: “stop”, “no”, or “don’t”. These words are often precursors that children ignore or sometimes don’t listen to.
On the other side of the coin is negative reinforcement. With both positive and negative reinforcement, the goal is to increase the positive behavior. The difference is that with negative reinforcement, the behavior results in taking something away. With positive reinforcement, the behavior results in earning or attaining something desirable. It’s important to note that for negative reinforcement to work, whatever is taken away must be taken away immediately after the behavior in question. This strategy ensures that the child associates the negative action with the consequence. For instance, Sam tries to snatch his little brother’s toy. Tell the child that this is unacceptable, and immediately remove the toy from Sam’s hands. Give Sam a verbal warning that if he attempts to snatch his brother’s toy again, then he will be placed in “calm down” or “time out”. In advance, choose an uninteresting, nonfrightening place for “calm down” to take place. As you place you place your child in “calm down”, make sure that you watch your reaction. It’s important to remain calm, showing a flat affect as you follow through with the consequence. When you give any form of attention (i.e. yelling, showing frustration, etc.) to negative behaviors, it reinforces those behaviors. And remember, discipline isn’t a punishment. Discipline is a way to teach.
When you’re working on difficult behaviors, it’s safe to assume that behaviors serve a purpose by aiding a child in achieving a specific outcome. Children often exhibit behaviors to: escape, make a demand, or get attention. Escape is a means of avoidance that refers to children getting out of a demand, activity or situation. When children make a demand, they are trying to get something. Whether that something be something tangible (a toy, dessert), communication, or control of a situation. Commonly, children display negative behaviors in order to get the attention of others (adults, peers). If a behavior continues, the individual is getting reinforced for that particular behavior. You want to interrupt and redirect those difficult behaviors.
Remember, to have fun with your kids, and reinforce behaviors that are appropriate. Sometimes, that means teaching replacement or adaptive behaviors that gives your child a positive reinforcement result for model behavior. Some possible adaptive behaviors for escape include:
1. Saying “In a minute,” “All done,” or “Go away”
2. Holding up 1 finger to communicate the child’s need to wait; or
3. Saying “no”. Providing alternative forms of language and communication can be beneficial for children who are making a demand.
For instance, Ella says, “Give me my dessert now.” You can ask Ella to try again, prompting her to ask more appropriately. First/Then language can be useful in these situations. “First, you can calm down. Then, you can ask me nicely.” For attention-seeking behaviors, you can introduce new ways to appropriately get the attention of others such as asking for it, telling a joke, doing a trick, or giving someone else a compliment. When reinforcing these positive alternatives to difficult behaviors, immediate and consistent reinforcement is key. The new replacement behavior must always get the desired result in order for the child to continue doing that behavior.
In summary, praise any positive behavior that you want to see again! Praise is so incredibly rewarding. Children will begin seeking your praise instead of negative behaviors to get your attention. That being said, don’t make rules that are unnecessary. If your child is asking for something within reason, let them have access to it. However, your child needs to earn the item they are asking for by presenting appropriate behavior. For example, “First, you need to put your dish in the sink. Then, you can have dessert.” Finally, train yourself to model appropriate behavior. Watch your facial expressions and reactions, try not to inadvertently reinforce a behavior by responding to it. Remember, your child wants your attention. So, make sure that you can present opportunities where you can provide positive attention (hugs, tickles, praise, stickers, rewards) rather than negative attention (yelling, spanking, displaying frustration).