It’s easy to criticize your kids when they’re being bad. After all, when they’re bad, you notice (which may be why they’re doing it in the first place). But research shows that they’ll improve their behavior quicker – and will be less likely to tune you out – if you “catch them being good” and praise them four times for every one time you criticize.
The trick is, of course, how to catch them being good, because unlike obvious bad behavior, a lot of good behavior may go unnoticed by you. So that means that it requires a little work on your part. But, trust us, it’s worth it.
We suggest you look for good behaviors in three primary areas: Things they do well that you might take for granted; small improvements toward the behaviors you want to see; and attempts at using new skills.
• Think of things that your kids already do well but you might take for granted. Going to bed on time, for instance. Or getting along with a brother or sister.
• Try to take note of small improvements in behaviors you have asked them to work on. Don’t necessarily wait for a huge milestone such as bringing home an A in a particular subject; praise them when they bring home a test with an improved score or a project with positive comments from the teacher.
• Praise your kids when they attempt new skills. Depending on their ages, this could be something seemingly simple such as remembering to flush the toilet. Or it might be something more complex, such as speaking up for oneself when asked about a menu choice by a waiter at a restaurant, instead of acting shy and making Mommy do it.
• Check out these other examples of good behaviors that you may have missed.
And when you catch them being good, make sure that you offer them effusive praise for it. This will not only create a positive psychological reward for the behavior, it will also help offset future legitimate criticisms so that your kids don’t feel that all you do is nag them.
You can kick things up a notch, too. In addition to verbal praise, you can create a whole host of fun rewards that will help further reinforce their good behaviors. In fact, we’ve created a parenting tool that lists some great ideas to reward good behavior.
And as mentioned earlier, the parenting experts at Boys Town have found through extensive research and many years of experience that the most effective way to implement this approach is to praise your kids four times for every one criticism.
Try this out yourself. You might just find that your kids actually listen to and learn from you more than you thought. Good luck!