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  • Rachel Rothman Borrero

The Power of Positivity

Positive parent-child interaction

All children want to do well, even if their behavior makes you think the complete opposite. Even if you feel more frustrated and exasperated with them than you ever thought you could possibly feel. Kids want to please the adults in their lives.

I have long purported the power of praise. I believe that all kids need it -- those with mild to minimal behavioral difficulties need it, and those with significantly challenging behavior need it. Be they younger or older, children need to hear praise. But more than simply hearing praise, kids need to feel positivity coming towards them, especially from those they are closest to. I have worked with hundreds of children and have seen firsthand the profound impact and deep meaning praise and positive interactions can have in the life and mindset of a child. Whether coming from a therapist, teacher, relative or parent, praise is so much more than saying “good job!” It is letting a child know they are succeeding. It is letting them know that you approve of their actions and efforts. It is letting them know that you think they are on the right path. More emotionally and more meaningfully though, your words and behavior let them know that you like and love them. Your words and behavior let a child know that they are valued and trusted. Positive feelings and interactions play an important role in teaching and helping kids develop skills to comply with requests, persevere when challenged, build self-esteem and build self-confidence. Praise and positivity have lasting impact because they make a child feel positively about themselves.

An interesting recommendation – praise your child three times as often as you critique or redirect their behavior. Let’s rephrase -- work to create three times as many positive interactions as negative interactions. Even more clearly -- for each time you may yell at, redirect, or need to give a negative consequence to your child you should try to provide them three positive interactions with you. Yes, the recommendation is three times. And that is a minimum. Do I think every little thing a kid does should be praised? No, I do not. Do I think younger children have different needs than older children? Absolutely. Do I think there is something positive to connect to and acknowledge in almost every day? Yes, I do! So, how do you come up with all that praise? Where do you find ways and time to create positive interactions? Below are things to keep in mind as your child grows and some ideas for praise and positivity across ages. Some may seem silly to you, inconsequential, but never discount the indelible impact you have on your child and how these small and seemingly silly things, to your child, could mean the world.

  • Be specific: Whether speaking to older kids or younger kids describe to them what you see and what you like. Saying “good job!” is a great place to start. Try adding things like:

  • “I really like the way you shared your toy with your brother. That was really thoughtful.”

  • “I saw how hard you studied for your test. I was really proud of all the effort you put in.” (**Focus on their effort not the grade)

  • “You’re being so patient waiting with me on this line. I’m really proud because waiting can be really hard to do.”

  • “You’re so gentle petting the cat. That’s really nice.”

  • “Thank you for calling to check in. It’s really responsible and lets me know you’re safe.”

  • Be Genuine: Kids are amazing at knowing when adults mean something or if they’re phoning it in. If you don’t believe it or you feel like you have to offer praise, they’ll know. Try using the “See something – Say something" approach. If your child does something you like tell them so! Kids often do lots of stuff that is really great. Even saying “thank you” to them is a way to offer praise and a positive interaction. Here are some comments about things you may not have considered praiseworthy, but will engender positive feelings and a great interaction:

  • “Good work eating your veggies!” (This is more appropriate for younger children, but with older kids you could thank them for setting the table).

  • “Thanks so much for taking out the trash.”

  • “You already did your homework?! Wow – it’s only Friday! That’s such a great strategy for the weekend. Now you’re all free to do other stuff. Nice thinking.”

  • “Thanks for putting gas in the car. That was really thoughtful of you.”

  • Praise without words: There are many times in life when not a word is spoken, but volumes are said. Praise and positivity don’t always have to include identifying behaviors or saying “well done.” Many times it is that which is unspoken that resonates deeply with others.

  • Catch your child’s eye gaze and smile. Try to keep eye contact for 3 to 5 seconds

  • As you walk by your child playing, watching TV, doing homework, etc., stroke their head, pat their back, give their shoulder a squeeze. Offer loving gestures without saying a thing.

  • Take a walk together just to be together

  • Offer hugs and try to hold on for 6 seconds. Research shows that hugging for at least six seconds allows for “happy” hormones – dopamine and oxytocin – to be released. This promotes positive feelings in self and towards others.

  • Listen first: There are often times parents work to fix things or correct things for their kids. There are often times when wanting to teach inadvertently overtakes playing. Remember to listen when your kids play, talk or even make a passing comment about a TV show. Knowing that you are there to hear them without judgment or critique, but with only an open and interested mind, purely for support and acceptance, is a powerfully positive feeling.

No one is perfect – not you, not your child. If you find that you and your child are stuck in a negative cycle of behavior and interaction it will be hard work to modify that and to learn to speak a new language with each other. But I believe anyone can work towards this goal – it may take time, but it is within your grasp and your means. Small steps add up to big changes – start your journey today!

If you are struggling with parenting or how to best manage difficult behaviors or situations with your child contact me to discuss how I can help.

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