Encouraging Good Behavior
Usually, you can’t get rid of one behavior without replacing it with another. This is really important to remember with kids because in addition to teaching them what NOT to do (e.g. No grabbing) we must also teach them what they SHOULD do (Ask for a turn). To get rid of a negative behavior successfully, you should always have a positive behavior to replace it with. Sometimes just working on increasing that positive behavior will automatically reduce the negative one without having to focus on it much!
So how do parents increase the good behavior?
1.We tell our children what we want them to do (If you want that toy then wait until she’s done or ask for a turn)
2. We show them how to do it (Like this: ‘Can I play with the the ball now?’ Now I’ll wait until she gives it to me)
3. We watch. Watch for an opportunity for your child to use the new skill she is learning. When you see that she is interested in another child’s toy and just BEFORE she reaches out to grab it, remind her what she should do (Remember, if you want that toy then wait until she’s done with it or ask for a turn!). Make sure you continue watching so you can compliment her as she practices her new skill.
4. We praise them! Before she even has a chance to grab the toy, compliment her for waiting (That’s it, you’re doing such a nice job waiting your turn!). Keep up this type of reinforcement periodically as long as she is not grabbing the toy. Since toddlers have a very low limit to their ability to delay gratification, you may want to help arrange for a turn with the toy before she gets frustrated! This would also be a natural reward for waiting or asking for a turn.
So the best way to increase a good behavior is by reinforcing it, but many parents are frustrated because it seems like there is no good behavior to reinforce! This is the tricky part – recognizing, noticing, or even CREATING the good behavior, and then praising your child for it. You may have to lower your expectations in the beginning. Prosocial behaviors don’t just pop up suddenly. They are learned gradually over time, with lots of practice, and sometimes in very small steps! In the ‘taking turns’ example above, if a parent simply told the child to ask for a turn and then waited for her to politely ask for a turn so they could reinforce her, neither parent nor child would feel very successful. Eventually that toddler WILL learn to ask for a turn nicely, but in the meantime, a big step in the right direction is not grabbing the toy in the first five seconds! Gradually she will be able to wait a little longer, ask for a turn, wait for a turn, etc.
As you work on teaching positive behaviors to your child, do not wait for the ‘bad’ ones to rear their ugly head. It is essential to ‘catch’ your child in the act of behaving nicely, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant that good behavior is! Gradually that tiny instance of good behavior will grow and grow into something big!! Enjoy the moment with your child as you compliment her and see how proud she becomes, then suggest the next small step you would like to see her accomplish.
The main ingredient here is supervising your child closely so you can anticipate problems and head them off before they begin. This can be a little labor-intensive at the beginning, but in the end it is well-worth it when you can help your child develop positive, prosocial behaviors that will last a lifetime. Parents who put in the time in the beginning to monitor and foster their children’s good behavior reap the rewards of fewer problems later on.