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How encouragement can lead to better behavior

As my family and I were leaving my daughter’s concert, we were behind a young mom with her son and daughter. When they arrived at the doorway her little boy held the door open for us without being prompted by his mom. Our comments of “thank you” and “that’s very thoughtful of you” were greeted with a chubby cheeked smile and a glimmer of pride in his eyes. As I passed the mom I said to her, “What a sweet young gentleman you’re raising, you’re doing a great job!” She responded with a beaming smile and said, “Thank you! It’s not easy but I’m doing my best.”

When was the last time you were acknowledged for something you did well? How did this make you feel? Were you more likely to put ‘your best foot forward’ the next time because you knew your efforts were appreciated?

“What does this have to do with parenting?”

Parents frequently ask us how they can make their children behave better. At times parents lean on punishment to stop a behavior. While these methods may stop the behavior at the moment, they are only a short-term fix and can damage the parent-child relationship as well as the child’s self-esteem.

Parents have the ability to lay groundwork for positive, long-term changes in their child’s behavior by using the skill we call the “Art of Acknowledgement.” This does NOT refer to non-stop praise for everything your child does. Instead, you’re using your words to gently guide their choices. How will your child react if you say:

“Thank you for being such a great helper!”

“I really appreciate how kind you are being to your brother.”

Development expert Rudolf Dreikers is quoted as saying, “Children need encouragement like plants need water.” Just like adults, children need to hear they are appreciated and respected. Words can have an enormous impact on your child’s behavior and very quickly it can change the interactions in your family. The following is an example of how gentle words can be used as part of the positive discipline process.

A mom was concerned about her older child hitting her younger sister. After attending ourManaging Misbehavior program, she began using the 4 steps of effective discipline that help deal directly with misbehavior. She also began acknowledging her daughter’s positive behaviors, which is another piece of the discipline process. There are times when she notices the older child reading to her younger sister. As soon as she makes the observation she simply comments, “Your sister sure is smiling, she really likes it when you read to her!” This quick acknowledgement of a positive behavior choice will support her older daughter’s decision to be kind and will also build her daughter’s self-esteem.

Changes in behavior will not happen overnight…

Redirection of misbehavior takes time, patience, discipline when necessary, and your acknowledgement of appropriate choices. Using a few kind words throughout the day will give your child the gifts of:

  • Self-esteem

  • Confidence that he can control his behavior

  • A strengthened relationship with you

  • Respect for how his choices affect others

As that young mom said, parenting isn’t easy! At times it may seem like one discipline issue after another, yet with some positive discipline strategies, some patience and a lot of love, you’ll do just fine.

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