- Notice. If we really want to encourage positive behavior, we have to start by noticing it. When you recognize positive behavior, it is more likely it will continue. What you focus on is what you get, so focus on what you want. So, it’s time to put down the phone and look up. Pay attention. We’re not able to notice behaviors unless we’re paying attention to see them.
- Give attention up close. Physical closeness shows that the approval is personal. Even something as simple as “thank you” in enhanced physical proximity will encourage the positive behavior to continue.
Try this experiment at home: Have your partner or friend sit across the room from you and say something nice. Then ask him/her to come up close and repeat those same words. You’ll be able to feel the difference. A good rule of thumb is to position yourself within three feet of your child as you speak to them. This may mean that you’ll have to track them down in the other room or out in the yard. But do it! It’s worth the extra effort.
- Make good eye contact. This is really basic, but it’s surprising how often we forget. Let your child know you’re talking to THEM specifically. Face your child directly, even turn your entire body toward them, if possible. This action tells your child that they are special and what you have to say is important to and just for them. Again, the phone must be put down in order to achieve this step.
- Smile! Our facial expressions often give the most important message. It’s important to reinforce what we are saying with an appropriate facial message – like a smile. Children watch body language and facial expressions for cues to mood and intention. It’s important to be intentional with facial expressions, so they know exactly what to expect.
- Compliment the behavior, not the child. Show approval for what your child has done. Children need to know why they are being acknowledged and what they have done to deserve this attention. For example, “I like the way you picked up the toys and put them in the basket,” rather than, “you are a good boy.” Important Note: This is very different from your child’s need to know that you unconditionally accept and love them for who they are regardless of their behavior.
- Be affectionate. Your child will feel acknowledged, appreciated and rewarded when you give them a friendly pat on the back, a hug or a kiss. Healthy human touch induces oxytocin, the “bonding hormone,” that’s renowned for reducing stress, lowering cortisol levels and increasing a sense of trust and security. It also strengthens the immune system and important for brain development.
- Repeat the message in a different way. Repeating the message in a different way helps keep the message fresh, new clear and genuine.