Are your children driving you mad with their whining? Or so unhelpful you feel as if you’re constantly nagging? Although we know we should praise our children, sometimes it can be hard to find the opportunity!
It is amazing what children will do to get your attention (whining, shouting, running around at meal times) they know these are guaranteed ways to get your full attention, on demand. They are biologically wired to need to connect with you and be sure you haven’t forgotten them. But by changing what you pay attention to, you can rapidly turn things around by catching your child being good.
Without meaning to, we can set up a negative spiral, fed by us responding to their annoying and demanding behaviour and forgetting to look out for those moments when they are sitting quietly, playing nicely with their younger brother or being helpful. By giving attention to focusing on the minor irritating stuff, you may be inadvertently feeding irritating and attention seeking behaviour, which can easily leave you exhausted and irritable!
But don’t despair, you can turn this around remarkably quickly using a two-pronged approach. Fundamentally, you need to ignore the minor irritating behaviour (pretend you haven’t noticed and don’t comment on it) and look for better behaviour to encourage (such as asking nicely, saying thank you, waiting their turn etc.) Easier said than done, you might say! But by simply switching YOUR attention to noticing those small positive things that your child does, that can so easily go unnoticed and unappreciated, you can turn the whole atmosphere around. Simply by noticing and appreciating some of little positive things your child does throughout the day!
Let’s be honest, it does feel like a bit of an effort at first to override your irritation and look for something positive to engage with – particularly when your child has worn you down with constant whining or winging or just being aggravating! However even the process of actually looking for those small things you value in your family can make you feel and sound more positive.
You start to notice little things you have taken for granted, like being ready for school on time without prompting, or putting their plate in the dishwasher. By simply commenting on it makes them feel valued and a part of the family team. Children who feel appreciated are much more likely to want to please you.
But be mindful of how you do this. It’s all too easy to shout, ‘Well done!’ or ‘Good job’ over our shoulder without adding the specific detail of those small improvements, achievements, and thoughtfulness. Children take in the detail of what you say to them and lay down a self-image accordingly, for example as the sort of person who is capable of… able to do.. is helpful, etc. Conversely if they’re criticised, they think of themselves as difficult, slow, irritating, stupid… etc and over time can develop low self-esteem and lack self-confidence.
So when commenting on small improvements or changes, make a point of describing exactly what you appreciated. For example, ‘Thank you for clearing your plate away, I saw you did it without my asking.’ If you wait for the perfect behaviour to give praise, it may never happen! Sadly, good or improved behaviour that doesn’t get noticed tends to drop off.
No great surprise when you think about it – if it doesn’t get noticed, why bother (think teenagers!)
How to catch your child being good!
1. IGNORE and don’t comment on minor, niggling and irritating behaviour. That means not reacting at all, not speaking, turning your head away…
2. LOOK for the behaviour you want to encourage. Even while they are being annoying, observe what they are up to from the corner of your eye. As soon as they stop being difficult.
3. COMMENT on it, describing it and show your warm appreciation, e.g ‘thank you for being quiet’ or ‘nice that you are speaking quietly’ etc; it doesn’t have to be
remarkably good behaviour just neutral, an absence of being difficult. Of course if they are being kind and polite to their brother or sister then do comment. It will probably make you feel better too. And rather than focusing on praising them for their looks, intelligence or sporting ability (which is a fixed characteristic they have little control over) focus on encouraging them for their efforts, for trying things, for persisting or being kind or helpful.
How are you going to catch your child being good? What will you be looking out for and what will you say?
Maybe you could try giving your child a ‘PAT’?
P… Pay attention to their efforts and better behaviour
A… Appreciate small improvements
T… Tell them, in detail.