Multiple studies have shown that warmth and affection in parent-child relationships is related to higher self-esteem, better parent-child communication, academic competence, positive coping skills, and fewer psychological and behavior problems.
One way to build warmth with kids is by acknowledging the positive things they do each day. Positive reinforcement also helps create intrinsic motivation for a child’s good behavior so he or she seeks good feelings (instead of just avoiding consequences for negative behavior).
Positive reinforcement works best when you:
- let go of a hyper focus on negatives, and sometimes even choose to ignore negative behavior (rather than consistently giving them negative attention),
- are very specific with your acknowledgment (e.g. “That was so kind of you to share your cheese stick with your brother” instead of “you’re a good kid”), and
- acknowledge as immediate as possible (e.g. right after the behavior, or the same day as the behavior).
A negativity bias is defined as the notion that, even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature have a greater effect on one’s mind and processes than do neutral or positive things. This factor makes it especially hard for parents to focus on what’s going right when things are also going wrong.
However, research suggests that simply setting the goal of aiming for a ratio of 5 positive comments to every one negative can improve the family dynamic. Clear intentions and simple everyday routines can make it much easier to “catch kids being good.”
1. Post-it Notes
Write your child’s specific positive behavior on a simple post-it note and sneak it on their pillow, in their lunchbox, on the fridge, or on the bathroom mirror.
2. Dinner or Bedtime Review
Use dinnertime or bedtime to maintain a treasured ritual of pointing out 2 or 3 positive things each child has done that day.
- “Plus to Jane for being so quiet when she got out of bed this morning. She let everyone sleep a little later.”
- “Plus to John for helping Dad shovel the driveway. That was a lot of hard work and now we can get our car out!”
- “Plus to Amy for sharing her new birthday toys with her brother.”
3. In the Moment
- “Thanks for helping me set the table for dinner tonight. We can get our food a lot faster that way.”
- “You were playing football really fair with your friend today. Like when he said, ‘I wasn’t ready!’ I noticed you gave him a re-do.”
- “You got yourself all ready for school so fast today. You even got your socks and shoes on before 7:00!”
An added bonus to focusing on the positives? It helps parents feel happier too.
Erin Leyba, LCSW, Ph.D. is an individual and couples counselor in Chicago’s western suburbs. www.erinleyba.com. She is the author of Joy Fixes for Weary Parents: 101 Ideas for Overcoming Fatigue, Stress, and Guilt – and Building a Life You Love (New World Library). Join her on Facebook or sign up to get free articles on parenting with mindfulness and joy.