It is our natural tendency as parents (and often as partners as well) to pay attention to, and focus more on what is wrong, rather than what is right. As a result, our children and teens feel unappreciated and become less motivated to change or improve their behavior. In addition, they quickly learn that they can get more of our attention through negative behavior or “acting out.”
This natural tendency, however, contradicts a very fundamental principle of human behavior: What we pay MOST attention to will increase in frequency and intensity, while what we ignore will most like decrease. Thus, although it is natural to pay more attention to bad behavior than good, we undermine our goal of stopping the former by rewarding it with too much attention.
What guidelines can we then follow in disciplining our children and teens?
Counter-intuitive as it may sound, paying attention to our children when we LIKE what they are doing rather than when we don’t, will more likely produce the results we are looking for.
In other words, react with enthusiasm and generosity when your child is kind, cooperative or prompt. When s/he is rude, uncooperative or tardy, skip the long, angry lecture and the threatening words, and instead note laconically: “I don’t like it when…” or “It really upsets me when…” Then return quickly to the activity in which you were engaged.
Minimizing criticism and focusing less on the negative will improve your relationship with your child, motivating him/her to want to cooperate and please you. Sounds simplistic? Try it!