Often, when many of us hear the word behavior, we tend to think about negative or inappropriate behaviors. But behavior refers to all kinds of positive/desired behaviors and negative/undesired behaviors. Positive and desired behaviors are those we want to see more of, while negative, undesired, or inappropriate behaviors are those we want to see less. To encourage positive behaviors, it is important to:
- Pay attention to our relationship with these behaviors
- Consider how we might be attending to behaviors
- How we are communicating our expectations
Kids tend to do well with clear expectations provided in ways they can understand and follow through. In my experience, I have noticed that many of us tend to focus more on negative, undesired, and inappropriate behaviors than positive ones. And this is not necessarily on purpose, but maybe because these behaviors need correction and attention.
For example, say your child is playing with toy cars on the car track, opening and closing the doors, and making car sounds. Your thought process might be, “He’s playing so well. Let me not even interrupt him.” But, if your child gets up and starts to run around, jump up on the TV console, and roll the toy car across the TV screen, you’re more likely to provide attention and get closer. Maybe to correct the behavior or change what he is doing.
In this example, we see that our relationship with positive and negative behaviors is different and how we attend to each is different. We may be unintentionally reinforcing and giving more attention to negative behaviors. How can we change this so that we encourage and promote more positive behaviors? We can communicate clear expectations and shift our behavior.
Communicating Clear Expectations
Having clear expectations often helps us to know how to behave and act. In most classrooms, teachers post the class rules and review them with the students so students know what the teacher expects. You can do the same at home—communicate clear expectations. For example, before your child starts playing you can say, “When you play with your toy cars, you can play with them on the floor, in the living room, or in your room. You can roll your cars on the floor or on the tracks on the floor.” This lets your child know where they can play with the toy cars and sets that expectation.
Shifting Our Behavior
To shift our behavior, we first need to recognize how we react and respond to behaviors. We need to consciously reinforce desired behaviors, especially those we have communicated expectations for. This helps the child know they are:
- Engaging in desired behaviors
- Recognized for these positive behaviors
- Being reinforced for engaging in positive behaviors
It also communicates that negative, undesired, and inappropriate behaviors will not get the same attention and will not be reinforced.
For example, you can say, “I love how you’re playing with your toy cars on the floor. Vroom vroom! Look how far you can push the car.” We want to find opportunities to reinforce positive behaviors. If you see your child using their napkin to wipe their mouth during dinner, you can say, “I like how you are using your napkin to wipe your mouth.” Providing that specific praise lets them know exactly what behaviors you are praising, and, in turn, you’ll likely see more of those behaviors.
Be Patient and Consistent
Be patient and consistent with the new changes. This might be a shift that takes time, practice, and self-awareness to get used to but it is important so that we can encourage more positive behaviors. You can also introduce your child to social stories to help them learn more about expected behaviors such as sharing, asking for help, and going to the grocery store. Check out our YouTube Channel for the latest social stories by Shaping Change, LLC.