Have you ever been stuck in a cycle of negativity with your child? Where everything he does seems wrong, and you can't seem to stop pointing it out?
Children are often our best teachers when it comes to being positive. One morning a four-year-old spilled his orange juice all over the kitchen floor. His mom sighed and said, "Just looking at this mess makes me tired." The little boy pointed out the kitchen window and said, "I know what, you should look over there, then!"
Though it can be difficult to break the cycle of criticism, being positive is one of the most important parenting techniques of all.
Teaching the Language of Praise
Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, creator of the Suzuki method of teaching music, based his entire teaching ideology on the idea that, "All Japanese children learn to speak Japanese."
Positive Praise that Works
Associate professor of counseling psychology and special education at BYU, Dr. Michelle Marchant, along with Dr. K. Richard Young, professor, report that not all types of praise are equally effective. Effective praise is:
Specific: Rather than a general, "Good job, Brent," try to pinpoint precisely what the child did that you appreciated. "I love it when you clean your room without my asking. And you even vacuumed!"
H. Burke Peterson invites us to consider, "What would you think of finding an opportunity for one sincere compliment for each [family member] each day, and then watching them respond?" You could set a goal to give effective praise (immediate, sincere, specific, contingent) to each child a certain amount of times per day this week and enjoy watching what happens.
We sometimes become more adept at noticing misbehavior because it is disruptive. Dr. Glenn Latham, a parenting expert, suggests that parents ignore all the annoying misbehaviors possible. Unless it's harmful to self or to others, see what you can do this week to attend only to what's working, instead of what's not.
Sometimes it's easier to think of positive things when the busyness of the day is not distracting us. During your morning prayer time you could meditate and think about moments you might be able to offer sincere praise to your child.
Gratitude will make us more positive people. When you're feeling frustrated with the many little realities of being a parent, give thanks for the many little wonders there are as well. This simple mindset change can work wonders in helping you notice the good in your children.
Some parents find it helpful to place an object around the house that reminds them to praise a child. The child, of course, doesn't need to know that each time you see the trophy you won in high school you're actually reminding yourself to offer her sincere praise!
Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, founder of the world-renowned Suzuki method of teaching music, took a ten-year-old boy named Koji, who had been in the care of a brusque caretaker for years, into his home. When Koji arrived, his "undesirable behavior and attitude" was met with "scolding and grumbling" on the part of Dr. Suzuki and his wife in order to attempt to improve Koji's behavior.
After noticing no change, Dr. Suzuki decided to stop the grumbling, speak kindly to Koji, and model the behavior he wanted to see from Koji. Dr. Suzuki hypothesized, "If we create such an environment, Koji will, without noticing it, become a good child."
And indeed, Koji did.
Marchant, M. & Young, R. (2005). 3 B's of effective parenting: Be proactive, be positive, and be consistent. Marriage and Families, (Winter), 18-25.
Peterson, H. B. (1972) Ensign: Conference report, Oct., 14849.
Suzuki, S. (1983). Nurtured by Love: The classic approach to talent education. Summy-Birchard, Inc.
Wilner, A. G., Baukmann, C. J., Kirigin, K. A., Fixsen, D. L. Phillips, E. L., & Wolf, M. M. (1977). The training and validation of youth-preferred social behaviors of child-care personnel. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 10(2), 219-230.