Acceptance is a magical thing. It gives us confidence. It makes us powerful. How often do we feel this way? Truly accepted for being ourselves? Truly seen and loved just as we are? Probably not enough.
It’s hard to overlook imperfections and things that aren’t the way we hoped they would be. It’s also hard not to let our mood or our own expectations dictate how we behave toward the ones we love the most. “Pick your battles,” I always tell myself. Easier said than done!
Thinking about the ones our words and actions impact the most…what if picking our battles could change our children’s future? There is much evidence to show that positive reinforcement produces positive results. Call it Positive Parenting, Operant Conditioning or “Catch them being good.” It all produces the same result. Reinforce good behavior with a reward. The reward can be praise, a hug, a treat…whatever you decide it should be…just keep it positive.
Here are some specific ways it can work:
Let empathy be your guide: Of course there are rules and expectations, but everything is not black and white. We know in our own adult lives that things happen to throw us for a loop—in our jobs, our relationships, our moods, etc. The same thing is true for our kids. Give them grace when they mess up and figure out why, before you go straight for the punishment.
Make your expectations clear: If your child isn’t sure what you want him or her to do, he/she is set up for failure right from the get-go.
Get to the root of any problems that exist with your child: If you are having to ask your child again and again to comply with your requests and it is creating conflict, there may be a bigger issue at hand. Giving them your undivided attention can help. Are they feeling overwhelmed by something else? Are they upset about something they aren’t telling you about? Do they feel that what you’re asking is unfair? Lecturing and nagging will only make things worse and undermine your relationship. Show your child that what matters to him or her matters to you, and figure things out together.
Check yourself: Take a look at your own worries and expectations and think about what you can do about them. For me this took some soul searching and figuring out how to deal with my own issues, which should not become their problems. It can be hard to accept that in some ways our kids might not meet the image we had in mind for them. A time comes when getting honest with yourself is necessary, and understanding why you might be pushing too hard can benefit everyone!
Be generous with your love, your praise and your attention: Regardless of where your child is at any given moment, remind him or her how special and wonderful he/she is. Don’t make your approval performance-based. This certainly doesn’t mean they get a pass for not meeting their goals and expectations. There are always consequences for not meeting expectations, and those are something you can decide on as the parent, or you and your child can decide together. I like to get buy-in from my children on their consequences, because it packs a bigger punch when they have helped set them up.
Reward positive behavior: Rewarding positive behavior begets more positive behavior…or so the theory goes. If the young person knows they will be rewarded for their actions, and the reward matters to them more than exhibiting the negative behavior, you have a winner! Do everything you can to find a reward that will matter. Sometimes the reward that matters most is a parent’s pride and happiness that the kid is doing the right thing. So make sure you are telling the kid that often. If they mess up, find out why and try, try again!
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