Your toddler is throwing a tantrum in the frozen foods section of your local grocery store. You walked away from your pre-schooler and his younger accomplice for just a minute, and when you returned, the living room couch was the site of their latest mural. In these moments, it can be difficult to be patient. When you’re frazzled and trying to maintain order, it’s easy to lose your temper. But recent studies have concluded that positive attention, whether your children are behaving well or causing mischief, can do more good than negative attention.temper tantrum
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Queensland, in Australia, has proven that children benefit from positive feedback and attention. According to the New York Times coverage of the study, “children do best when they receive calm and consistent feedback and assertive discipline that’s based in reasonable expectations – with significantly more encouragement and positive feedback than criticism.” The study was replicated in several counties in the U.S., and the findings showed that positive attention drastically improved the health and wellbeing of children in dysfunctional or abusive homes, but also that this type of positive encouragement and feedback boosted the self-esteem and behavior of children living in functional, healthy family environments. In addition, parents found themselves feeling less angry and under less stress when engaging in this type of parenting.
So, how can you implement positive parenting with your young child? The CDC breaks it down by age, giving parents useful tools for each stage of development. When your child is under one year of age, you can give her positive feedback by holding and cuddling her, playing with her when she is rested and relaxed instead of tired or hungry, or reading, singing, and talking to your baby. Repeating sounds that she makes will positively reinforce her use of language.
Toddlers may be encouraged by positive feedback as well. Even if your child is not yet adept at dressing and feeding himself, allowing him to perform those tasks, and praising him, will help him to develop the confidence needed to master those skills. Similarly, you can encourage him to try new things, giving him positive feedback even when things don’t go perfectly the first time! And focusing on rewarding good behavior more than punishing poor behavior will direct more attention to your child when he’s being “good” and will not encourage him with extra attention when he’s being “bad”.
Preschoolers can benefit from attention paid to positive problem-solving. When a four year-old is upset, it’s possible for her to learn how to resolve her own troubles, which will boost her confidence and her coping skills. You can also be clear, when disciplining your child, about what behaviors are acceptable and expected from her, in order to show her ways of acting and expressing herself that will garner positive feedback.
Dr. Katharine C. Kersey, the author of The 101s: A Guide to Positive Discipline, emphasizes this positive approach to discipline in young children. She believes that children behave badly often as a cry for attention. By paying little attention when your child throws a tantrum, but lavishing her with praise when she behaves well, you’ll teach her what to do to get your attention and communicate her needs. Dr. Kersey also recommends that parents model the type of positive behavior they wish to see reflected in their children’s actions. By modeling patience, good communication, and kindness, our children will mimic those traits. Refraining from yelling or losing our tempers will allow children to emulate positive traits and communication skills.
In the short term, positive parenting will use plenty of your patience, and will demand that instead of implementing bribery or punishments, parents focus on good communication and rewards for good behavior. But in the long run, this type of consistent, positive attention will pay off as your children develop into excellent communicators, problem-solvers, and respectful members of their family, classroom, and community.