Laying the Groundwork for Positive Behaviors

Laying the Groundwork for Positive Behaviors

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

When two people fall in love, everything they notice in their partner is all positive, beautiful and wonderful. Both put their best foot forward; the world appears rosy because they only see the rosy side. Courting is such an elevation of all that is good and noble in human nature, that the term "falling" in love appears to be a misnomer. The lovers don't fall, they "rise" in love.

The "fall" comes later, when the relationship gets into a routine and the luster and shine of the romance fades. The same lovers who could do no wrong and could see no fault in the other, begin to play the "Gotcha" game. They spend their entire attention catching each other doing something wrong. Even if the partner does something right, it's not good enough. The couple gets sucked into a negative cycle that's difficult to come out of.

There is a "courting" period in a parent-child relationship, too. Normally, up to the first two years, whatever the baby does feels beautiful and wonderful to the parents. They give their love unconditionally regardless of the baby's behavior. Later, the child's behavior determines the parent's behavior. More accurately, both parent and child begin to shape each other's behavior.

Some children are temperamentally "difficult" and make it difficult for parents to praise and appreciate them. Sometimes, parents and children get into a battle of sorts. They are sucked into a negative cycle that's difficult to come out of.

Angry and defiant children don't care or simply give up on trying to win the approval of others. They increasingly do things that invite criticism and disapproval. Since they don't perform actions that elicit praise or approval from others, no chance of receiving positive strokes.

The absence of positive attention provokes further resentment in the angry and defiant children. Some begin to feel that the only way they can draw parents' attention is by acting out in more drastic ways. Instead of winning the parents' attention (and praise and love) by their good behavior, they FORCE it by their negative behavior.

How do you turn it around as a parent? The kid is just not giving you the chance to offer him or her that much-needed positive stroke. In such a negative spiral, one way to turn it around might be to call attention to when a defiant child does something that might be "near right." Not exactly right, just near right. Near right is good enough to drive that proverbial thin end of the wedge.

Ken Blanchard and others in the book, Whale Done! The Power of Positive Relationships encourage parents to pay attention to the children's approximately "okay" behaviors instead of pointing out how "bad" or "mean" they are.

Attention is to a behavior like sunshine is to a seed. Whatever you pay attention to today, will grow tomorrow. Pay attention to the behavior you want from your child and you might see more of it in the future.

Negative attention comes more naturally to us. Recognition, also called "positive attention" is a difficult thing to practice. When a defiant child does the right thing, recognize it. If you want more compliant behavior from your child, praise it immediately when you see it.

The positive attention is the sunshine that sprouts the seeds that grow into healthy plants. Negative attention sprouts weeds all over the backyard of home and school and then the community.

Say, a child is compliant nine times out of ten. But, nine times compliance elicits no positive response from a parent. However, the one time noncompliance elicits such negative response from the parent as nagging or some other expression of displeasure and disapproval. It is a case of excessive negative attention and deficit of positive attention. Negative attention lays the seeds for non-compliance. Positive attention lays the seeds for future compliance.

There are other things as important as the positive attention, such as the environment that speaks the language of love and cooperation. Build a team spirit in your home team. " Family meetings" are good to cultivate a sense of family solidarity. Sit down as a family with your kids and make a "List of Agreements'' of what one person expects from the other. For example, "John" may agree to clean his room every week and his father agrees to look for ways to give more "attaboys," pats and hugs.

Just as in a sport team or a workplace, the team spirit got to be alive and well. Plan some family projects in which each member of the family works as a team and takes a specific responsibility. Such family projects enhance a sense of togetherness in a family.

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Copyright 2002, Mind Publications 


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