I attended a wonderful parenting workshop taught by Sarah Ryan at the South Boston Neighborhood House. Something that Sarah said resonated so much with me, “We can’t control what they do, but we can control what we give back.” She also discussed a crucial element of parenting: finding success in our children.
What does that mean? Essentially it means you give your child attention and praise for the positive behaviors that you want to encourage, instead of “watering the weeds” (encouraging undesirable behavior) by only giving them attention when they are doing something wrong. How often do we find ourselves busy with our own to-do list, laundry, cooking, internet, reading, ignoring our children because they are getting along fine and keeping themselves busy, until suddenly *BAM* she bites him, he hits her back, she throws her doll, he takes her toy and so on. Once this happens we intervene and give them plenty of attention that may include time-out, raising of voices, or other consequences. The problem is, if the only time we pay attention to our kids is to discipline or punish them, they are going to continue acting out just to receive that attention from us. This is where this principle, finding success in our children, comes in. Rather than waiting for undesired behavior to pay attention to our children, catch them doing something right, something successful! Reward them with your praise because they are acting in a way that you would like to see continue!
Another parenting class I took years ago with my husband encouraged a daily activity called Special Play. Special Play is a one-on-one date between parent and child for a set amount of time (15 or 20 minutes), where the parent’s attention is 100% on the child and the activity is completely directed by the child. During Special Play the parent turns off their phone, ignores emails and texts, sets aside the to-do list and plays, plays, plays. Set the timer so you can focus without checking the clock. Let the child choose the activity. You will be actively engaged in the game/activity with the child and you will be narrating what the child is doing so that they know you are focused on them. For example: you set the timer for Special Play with your 18-month-old son. He walks over to the trains and picks up Thomas. You sit down on the carpet net to him and say, “Oh, look who you found, it’s Thomas.” Then he picks up some tracks and tries to put them together. You might offer assistance and try and build something with him, as long as he is directing the outcome. If he bores of the tracks and picks up a book, you might say, “Hey, that book is about Clifford the big red dog. Do you want me to read it to you?” He may make it through the entire book or not, but whatever activity he is interested in, you will narrate what he is doing in a positive and encouraging manner. Not only does this show him that you are paying attention, but it also happens to be a skill encouraged by Speech and Language Pathologists for promoting speech and language development. Double win! Special Play is a tool that can help us find success in our children by giving them a healthy dose of positive attention each day! When I am doing Special Play with my kids regularly I notice a huge improvement in their behavior and the overall happiness level in our home. Special Play is an investment of time with HUGE rewards and benefits for both parent and child, and can go a long way when it comes to averting behavior problems. If you have a newborn start setting aside time daily for Special Play. If you have an older child who is exhibiting behavior challenges its not too late to begin Special Play and you’ll soon notice an improvement in behavior! Share your experiences with us in the comments below.
Practice finding your Child’s success in the words you use:
Instead of saying “Good job” or “Thank you” try…
- I like the way you are choosing to be cooperative.
- I notice that you are using your time well, you are being very organized.
- You are being very successful by using good teamwork.
- You are being powerful in the way you are managing your frustration.
- I see that you are making good choices to get along with others.
- You are really showing leadership by choosing to follow the rules.
- That is a brilliant thought you are sharing.
- I really like the way you are working hard on that problem and showing patience.
- Thanks for being so courteous and being a gentleman.
- I see your determination and the effort you have made.
- Thanks for using integrity and not being pulled in by what others think.
- I like how you are choosing what’s important. That shows excellent judgment.
- I can see you are following everything I said. Thanks for paying attention.
- Thank you for seeing and paying attention to the needs of others.
Look for, describe, and praise success in the moment. Be specific and sincere! Set clear limits and be consistent! Create success, especially if it is hard to find.
These ideas come from Dr. Glasner’s book, Transforming the Difficult Child. Special thanks to Sarah Ryan for introducing me to Dr. Glasner’s parenting approach.