Learn to hear the quiet, rather than the squeaky wheel:

Paying attention to positive behavior as a parent

The squeaky wheel gets the oil. That’s how the saying goes.

Unfortunately, especially in our busy and chaotic everyday lives, it is often the case that what gets noticed with our children is the negative behavior, the problem, when something goes wrong. Whatever it is that we do not want to see our children do, we notice immediately, and it becomes the screaming noise that feels as if it has to be instantly rectified.  

We jump to action. “No! Don’t touch your sister.” “Stop beating on the table.” “Stop wiggling” “You’re not paying attention.” And then, in the quiet moments, when things are going well, we tend to be quiet ourselves, relishing in the smooth sailing.  

What behavior theorists and savvy parents alike have come to understand is that our natural response, the process of focusing significant attention toward negative behaviors rather than positives, can actually increase rather than decrease the problem, creating a daunting negative cycle where parents reprimand, kids respond negatively, and parents reprimand some more.

So, in direct competition with what your instincts tell you to do, try noticing the quiet, praising the opposite (of what you do not want), and telling your child, in very specific terms, what he or she is doing well. It sounds simple enough, but can actually be a difficult feat.

Set a goal of praising at least 10 positive actions (or potentially lack of negative actions) that you notice in your child each day – that’s 10 things that he or she is doing well, 10 behaviors that you want to see.

  • “I love how you are sitting quietly at the table.”
  • “It helped me so much when you emptied the dishwasher.”
  • “You followed that direction so quickly!”
  • “You really played well today with your sister.”
  • “It was great to see you keep your hands to yourself when you got mad.”

Shifting the focus from what’s going wrong to what’s going right can make a remarkable difference in your perspective of your child as well as how your child responds to you.