Ok, humor me here. Try to think about anything other than a red popsicle. A juicy, cold, perfectly delicious RED treat on the hottest day of the year. This red popsicle even has small pieces of strawberry on the inside. Mmmm.
You’re thinking about a red popsicle, aren’t you?
That’s because when we hear or read something, it’s incredibly hard NOT to think about that thing. So, consider this… when you tell your child, “Don’t stand on the couch!” What do you think they are going to continue to do? Nine times out of ten, they’re going to stand on the couch.
Still not convinced? Let’s try another example.
Next time you are sitting at your child’s sporting event (or maybe even think back to the days when you played a sport), do the coach’s pep talks only include things like, “Don’t miss!” or “Don’t drop the ball!”? No. Any seasoned coach will tell you that he teaches his players by explaining HOW to do something correctly. “Use both hands to catch the ball,” or “Next time, aim a little higher.”
In 2008, the Journal of Neuroscience measured the effects of positive and negative feedback on learning in children. The study found that eight and nine year olds learned primarily from positive feedback, and negative feedback barely registered.
Trust me, you’re not alone if you feel like a broken record saying “don’t do this!” or “don’t touch that” on repeat. It’s not that our kids aren’t listening to us, it’s that the message we’re sending is too complex for their brain to understand. Learning from mistakes and turning it into correct behavior is harder than simply continuing to do something you’re already doing.
Let’s stick with this couch example. If Tommy is jumping on the couch and the parent responds, “don’t jump on the couch!” Tommy may sit down immediately, but chances are that he will stand up and jump again. Next time, before Tommy gets on the couch, see if predicting the behavior you want to see actually works. “Tommy, I bet that when you get up on the couch to watch your show, you are going to sit on your bottom like an adult.” Or even better, catch him in the act of doing something you want him to do. “Tommy, I really like the way you are sitting on the couch. You should be proud of yourself for sitting so still!”
If you’re like me, I’ve got a short fuse… and it’s something I’m constantly working on (insert pat on the back for husband who has to deal with my annoyances). But when it comes to our children, the more purposefully and calmly we send messages to them, the more easily they can comprehend them, no matter what age they are.
Now, I’m definitely not perfect and can tell you that acknowledging and rewarding good behavior certainly takes practice AND patience… and probably definitely wine… but, the payoff of providing your child with positive feedback will in turn provide them with the boundaries they crave and a household that’s easier to manage.
Good luck and know that if you’ve got your child’s best interest at heart – you’re rocking it! When it comes to raising children, we could all use a little positive feedback.