As parents, we do ourselves and our kids a great disservice when we fall into the trap of focusing only on negative behavior.

Does this sound familiar? “Kids are supposed to behave, do chores, be polite and more. Why should I reward them for that?”

If that hits close to home, take a moment here. Kids have a heap of expectations put on them each and every day. If they make a misstep, then they lose privileges, their teachers are disappointed, or their parents make a big deal about the infraction. This can lead to more duress and acting out on the child’s part until much of the day is derailed.

Instead of feeling obligated to catch and get to the bottom of your son or daughter’s every misdeed, imagine catching kids being good.

This is not a new idea, certainly, but it’s one worth remembering. Parents often feel pressure to focus on punitive action, such as issuing a time out, imposing consequences or maintaining discipline — all to ensure their little one isn’t having a tantrum in the cereal aisle or turning Sunday school into the WWF. While there is a time and place for firm consequences, that needn’t crowd out more positive interactions.

Catching your child being good means focusing on the positives. It means acknowledging all the things your youngster gets right every day.

Attention for positive behavior can go a long way toward fostering the habits you want to see. All relationships —parent/child, husband/wife, teacher/student — benefit from having more positive interactions than negative ones. A parade of critical interactions will create a dark pattern in any relationship.

How would any of us feel if we only got called out for what we do wrong? Everyone at the office is dragging on a Monday morning and the boss says, "Get over it or else". That wouldn’t go over well. But we do the same to kids by frequently issuing empty threats and warnings.

To increase positive interactions with your little one, try simple but specific praise such as, "You were really helpful to the little boy who fell down on the playground," or "Thanks for being patient with your sister when she criticized you." Comments like these can reinforce the behavior we want to see in our kids.

As you shift your focus to praising good behavior, look out for things like this:

  • She gets herself ready for school on time without a panic over lost gear.
  • After school, he starts his homework without reminders.
  • A long week is completed with noticeably fewer meltdowns than usual.

As you go forward in the wild world of parenting, take an extra moment to acknowledge your children’s good moments — and don’t forget about your own. Parenting is a long game, and if you try a couple of new tricks that work, be sure to treat yourself to a reward right along with the kids.

Jill Kaufmann is a family therapist in Bend, Oregon.

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