Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in a pattern of “no”? It’s easy for adults to understand phrases like “no yelling,” or “no whining,” but oftentimes children need more specific guidance when it comes to turning around an unwanted behavior. Anytime you can swap a “no” comment for one that gives instructions for what your child can do, you’re giving your child a clearer message and reinforcing their positive behaviors instead.
“You can try asking me again in a quieter voice.”
“I’m really impressed with the way you used your indoor voice.”
“It sounds like you’re feeling frustrated, let’s try this another way.”
Although it can feel overwhelming, it’s helpful to know that all children go through stages of challenging their parents and caregivers. It’s a natural part of development as children discover their personalities, emotions,. capabilities, and their impact on the world around them.
As a parent, you have lots of opportunities to reframe challenging behaviors and help nurture your child’s skills and emotions as they grow. Being mindful of these opportunities to reframe can make a big difference in your child’s life and your own.
The Importance of Learning Positive Behaviors
Teaching positive behavior starts early, as you respond to your child’s actions throughout the day. From the time your child is born, your responses to their actions are teaching them about the way the world works. By the time children become toddlers, most have learned (whether positively or negatively) how to get their basic needs met, like being fed or having their diapers changed. These learned behaviors might include asking, telling, crying, whining, acting out, giving hand signals, and many more.
For this reason, it is important for both your child’s mental health and your own to encourage positive behaviors early on. So often, it’s easy to react when a negative behavior has taken place (hitting, biting, throwing), but it’s also incredibly helpful to remember to praise your child for their positive behaviors, too. Mindfully responding to positive behaviors like waiting their turn, sharing toys, gently touching, and asking nicely makes a big impression on your child. When they are praised for desirable behaviors, children take note (whether consciously or not) and learn through positive reinforcement.
Tips for Encouraging Positive Behaviors
If you’re wondering where to begin when it comes to redirecting a challenging behavior, here are four tips to practice:
1. Allow Your Child to Make Choices
Once your child becomes a toddler and can begin making independent choices, it’s important to provide opportunities for a healthy level of control. One great way to do this is through giving two choices (instead of asking open-ended questions). Rather than putting your child in a situation when he or she can say “no!”, try giving your child a choice between two options of equal benefit. For instance, you can offer a choice between their blue jacket or red one, or carrots or apples for snack. Doing this lets them experiment with making choices and taking ownership of how they feel and act throughout the day.
2. Communication is Key
Whether you’re talking with actual words or quietly hugging your child, listening and recognizing their emotions can help open new doors to learning and expression. You can guide them through recognizing their emotions with books, music, anecdotes, or personal stories — kids love hearing about their parents when they were younger! Even simply talking and taking the time to discuss the emotions they’re experiencing can help teach them to verbalize their feelings (both the negative and positive ones) rather than act out in frustration.
3. Set Limits and Expectations
It’s important to let your child know what is acceptable and unacceptable at home, in public, and at school. Setting boundaries includes verbalizing your expectations, and showing your enthusiasm when your child follows the directions you’ve given them. Your guidance and positive reactions are some of the best ways you can encourage them to make good choices.
4. Practice Patience
Many times, negative behaviors pop up when a child is feeling antsy or impatient. There are so many ways to practice patience skills with your child throughout the day: waiting in line at the grocery store, playing games where you have to wait turns, or staying occupied on long car rides. Remember to be patient yourself, too! As you’re teaching your child this positive behavior, it’s important to be a good role model. Remember that patience doesn’t just happen overnight, and that practice will take time now for the positive reward later.
A Parent’s Influence
As you and your child journey toward exploring positive behaviors, it’s helpful to be patient and mindful with your own behaviors as well. Transitioning into a new mindset takes time, and every occasion that you can reframe and reinforce your child’s positive behavior is beneficial, even when you experience slip ups along the way. Teaching and modeling positive behaviors as often as possible is a big step toward boosting your child’s emotional and mental health, and letting them know that they are loved and cared for.
Additional reading: How to Give Clear Directions