Positive Reinforcement - FamilyEducation
Positive Reinforcement
05/16/2008 at 10:58 AM

Hi everyone,

I'm new to this board but I'm really looking for ways to guide my child's behavior by positive reinforcement. My daughter is seven years old now. She is very sensitive to us and very, very hard on herself when she does something wrong.  I generally punish by time out, loss of privileges or by allowing the natural consequences of her actions then talking it through. But sometimes it is very difficult to be patient and tell her things over and over and so she gets the occasional swat or verbal equivalent of a swat.  I am concerned for two reasons,

1. It seems that I talk to her over and over but she's beginning to respond only when she is punished. Since I'm trying to teach her to do right because it is right that's not working for me.

I am beginning to see that she doesn't not feel safe coming to us when she does something wrong because she knows we will be upset, so she's been trying to hide when she misbehaves. I really don't want punishment to close our lines of communication.

So I'm trying to figure out what else to do. I really feel that what happens in our relationship now sets the tone for when she is a teen and adult and I want to figure this out before that time comes. All suggestions and references are welcome.

You could have a family meeting to discuss this. Maybe you could set some guidelines together about what is acceptable or not acceptable behaviour. It is important to keep the lines of communication open. We have always done this and my son will tell me a lot of things that other teenagers might not tell their parents. This is due to the fact that we discuss these things in a calm adult atmosphere and try not to judge him harshly. We have been treating him as an adult for many years and he has responded to the trust and respect. We used to ask my son what punishment he thought would be suitable when he did something wrong. My son sometimes came up with a punishment more severe than we would have given him. I think it is very important to remember what it is like to be their age and try to have plans in place when certain situations arise. Above all, keep calm. Think before you talk. Words can't be taken back once said.

I think discipline plays a big role in a child's self esteem. I also agree that if administered poorly, it can instill fear in some children (i.e.-- they may feel scared to admit to their parents what they did wrong). Kids need boundries and structure to feel safe. This means they shldn't be left to make their own choices, especially at a young age. However, they can be given choices so that they feel important too. I think positive reinforcement is great! If you can focus more on the good behavior, and less on the bad that would be best, especially since you said your child is very sensitive. We also have learned to nip things in the bud. If we want our children to do something, we only ask them twice. We usually offer an incentive first (like ice cream) to encourage them. (My kids are 4 and 3.) If they don't respond, they either get a time-out or lose a privilege. It all depends on the situation. You have to pick your battles and try not to nitpick about the little things. Believe me when I say that this makes for a much calmer and relaxing environment. Good luck!

Talk, and more talk! Conversation and communication are the key! The most important thing is to teach your children to behave because it is the right thing to do, not because of a punishment or negative consequence. Start again with your child, tell her clean slate and from now on open discussion and and no more swats! You will be amazed how things will improve! Good luck!!!!!!

Where I work we use a 3:1 rule. For every negative comment we have to make to a child [which we try not to do too often] we make three positive ones.

I love the 3:1 rule. It works so well and really does impact children. I use it as well.

Punishment means “to subject to pain”, “to inflict a penalty”, “to put to painful exertion”. Thus, the word itself sounds so cruel to us, then imagine, how kids would feel when they sense that they will be getting one (doesn’t matter how mild a punishment could be). Unfortunately, it will only work if you want to get things done out of fear and not with respect. Things that are done with the feeling of fear will leave a scar in one’s mind and heart and reflects negatively on one’s self-esteem. Punishment creates the feeling of vengeance, initially it reflects in anger and arguments, and later on can turn into violent behavior. My sincere suggestion to you would be to do positive talk i.e. what is it that you are looking for instead of what should not be done. I am going to tell you a few techniques that have produced marvelous results for me with my 6yrs old daughter. Because of those simple but powerful talks on a couple of occasions she actually started crying, and innocently said, “Mom, I am very sorry. I know I behaved very badly with you, but you are still very nice with me.” In response, I told her, “No dear, you are an angel, and I know you didn’t want to hurt me in reality, but your mind was not thinking right. Perhaps, next time, if you first think from you heart and then say things, then you will never ever hurt me again.” For e.g.: - If they are throwing things, instead of saying, “don’t throw”, say, “ I would be really proud of you if you can put your toys neatly in the toy basket”. - If the room is messy and they are making more mess, do not use the word “not” in your sentence. Say (by boosting their self esteem) “I know you are very good in cleaning the room. Let me know if I can help you. I can be your little helper.” - If your kid is talking rudely, and exchanging arguments. Stop arguing suddenly and say, “Is there something bothering you? I can help you if you can share your feelings with me.” (Be ready to hear anything, but make sure, you are not even going to raise your voice to what you hear.). If they say that they do not want to talk to you, and keep repeating words rudely then say, “I am sure; you are upset with something, which is why I can hear rude words from you. I know you are an angel who would never hurt anyone, not even with their words.” Stay silence for a couple of minutes and then say, “Though, I am very sad, because of the rude words, I know we can be happy again if we share our feelings. I am sure; both of us can fix the problem as a team.” - Make them feel that you are their friend and not their enemy. Assume, if you are doing the same mistake, and how would you want another person to behave with you, obviously, respectfully and politely. Thus do the same with your kid that you expect other people to do with you. Yes, they are little human beings, just like us, but much more emotional that we could expect. - Make them feel that they can trust you. And remember, make only those promises that you can fulfill. If you promise that you will not hit them, then no matter what, do not hit them, otherwise your kids will not trust you. If you promise that you will not get angry, come what may, do not frown and raise your voice. Instead make a sad face, and then reply. There are a lot of other things that we could do to correct the situation, improve the behavior, and get what we want in result. It all depends on what your outlook is. If you’d like to talk to me more about such suggestions, send me an email at rsharma@cheenifortots.com Best, -Rakhi