A positive and constructive approach is often the best way to guide your child’s behavior. This means giving your child attention when he behaves well, rather than just applying consequences when he does something you don’t like.
Here are some practical tips for putting this positive approach into action.
1. Be a role model
Use your own behavior to guide your child. Your child watches you to get clues on how to behave – and what you do is often much more important than what you say. For example, if you want your child to say ‘please’, say it yourself. If you don’t want your child to raise her voice, speak quietly and gently yourself.
2. Catch your child being ‘good’
When your child is behaving in a way you like, give her some positive feedback. For example, ‘Wow, you’re playing so nicely. I really like the way you’re keeping all the blocks on the table’. This works better than waiting for the blocks to come crashing to the floor before you take notice and say, ‘Hey, stop that’.
3. Get down to your child’s level
When you get close to your child, you can tune in to what he might be feeling or thinking. Being close also helps him focus on what you’re saying about his behavior. If you’re close to your child and have his attention, you don’t need to make him look at you.
4. Listen actively
To listen actively, you can nod as your child talks, and repeat back what you think your child is feeling. For example, ‘It sounds like you feel really sad that your blocks fell down’. When you do this, it makes them feel respected and comforted.
5. Keep promises
When you follow through on your promises, good or bad, your child learns to trust and respect you. She learns that you won’t let her down when you’ve promised something nice, and she also learns not to try to change your mind when you’ve explained a consequence. So when you promise to go for a walk after your child picks up her toys, make sure you have your walking shoes handy. When you say you’ll leave the library if your child doesn’t stop running around, be prepared to leave straight away.
5. Choose your battles
Before you get involved in anything your child is doing – especially to say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ – ask yourself if it really matters. By keeping instructions, requests and negative feedback to a minimum, you create less opportunity for conflict and bad feelings
6. Keep things simple and positive
If you give clear instructions in simple terms, your child will know what’s expected of him – for example, ‘Please hold my hand when we cross the road’. And positive rules are usually better than negative ones, because they guide your child’s behavior in a positive way. For example, ‘Please shut the gate’ is better than ‘Don’t leave the gate open’.
7. Say it once and move on
If you tell your child what to do – or what not to do – too often, he might end up just tuning out. If you want to give him one last chance to cooperate, remind him of the consequences for not cooperating. Then start counting to three.
8. Maintain a sense of humor
It often helps to keep daily life with children light. You can do this by using songs, humor and fun. For example, you can pretend to be the menacing tickle monster who needs the toys picked up off the floor. Humor that has you both laughing is great, but humor at your child’s expense won’t help. Young children are easily hurt by parental ‘teasing’.