The Power of Attention
It's easy to get overwhelmed and lose your cool when things aren't going as planned. When you see an unwanted behavior, it's a natural response to want to correct it, but it's important to be mindful of HOW you do it. Are you using a lot of words? Do you look and sound upset? Have you repeated yourself over and over again? If the answer is YES, you've given the unwanted behavior too much attention.
Attention is the key word here because it's so POWERFUL. Attention—positive and negative—can increase the likelihood that a behavior will happen again or be maintained. Therefore, if you want to stop a behavior, minimize negative attention to it, and if you want more of a behavior—increase positive attention to it.
Here are some helpful tips to minimize your attention when correcting your child:
1. Try to stay flat or calm as opposed to angry or mad (probably most difficult).
2. Tell the child what you need them TO DO instead of what you want them to STOP doing. (Example: During dinner, if your child is jumping on the sofa, ask them to sit at the kitchen table instead of just telling them to stop jumping.)
3. Try only giving your commands twice (If child hasn't sat at the dinner table after telling them twice, jump to step 4)
4. Implement a consequence immediately and precisely without lecturing. (You can discuss the event once the child has calmed down).
Now let’s discuss positive attention to wanted behavior. If you see your child behaving well and would like the behavior to continue, try giving it positive attention. Positive attention to good behavior is best communicated with your whole body:
1. Approach the child (rather than saying it from across the room).
2. Make eye contact and smile.
3. Show affection, like a hug, fist bump, or pat on the back.
4. Use LOTS of enthusiastic, descriptive words (NOT a simple ‘good job’). The more specific you are when praising, the more powerful it becomes.
One important note: these approaches are most effective when you do both! This will take a lot of practice because it's sort of unnatural: When things are going well, we tend to be relaxed; when things are not going well, we tend to get activated or upset. But if you stick with it and keep practicing, you will notice a positive trend!