Attention and your child’s behaviour
Your attention is a big reward for your child. If your child behaves in a particular way and gets your attention, they’re likely to behave that way again.
When you give attention for good behaviour, it shows your child that behaving in a way that you like will get positive interest. This means you can use attention to encourage the behaviour you want.
When you start paying attention to good behaviour, you might find you start to feel more positive too. That’s because you’re more focused on your child’s good behaviour than on their challenging behaviour.
Positive attention is also about showing delight in your child and warmth in your relationship. It helps your child feel secure and loved, which is important for your child’s overall development and learning.
Using positive attention as a behaviour management strategy
Positive attention for behaviour means catching your child being good. It means tuning in to what your child is doing and letting your child know that you’ve noticed they’re doing the right thing and you’re pleased.
There are many ways you can give this kind of attention:
- praise – for example, ‘Good sharing, Kezia’
- encouragement – for example, ‘Keep trying, Lachlan’
- physical affection or gestures – for example, smiles, hugs and cuddles, or a ‘thumbs up’ when your child plays quietly while you’re on the phone
- active listening – for example, listening with interest when your child tells you something in a normal voice instead of shouting.
This kind of attention works best if you do it often, rather than occasionally. That’s because you get into the habit of looking for positives. Also, your child gets plenty of reminders of the kind of behaviour you like and want to see more of.
You can also give attention for good behaviour anywhere – at the supermarket, when you’re eating, doing the dishes or walking to school. It doesn’t take any extra time when it’s something you do as part of your everyday interactions with your child.
Praising good behaviour is particularly important for behaviour that your child has found difficult to learn. You can praise the effort as well as the behaviour. If you praise your child’s effort even when they don’t succeed with the behaviour, they’re more likely to keep trying.
For example, your child might have had a lot of trouble remembering not to interrupt when you’re on the phone. You could say something like, ‘Well done, Darcy. I know it’s hard for you to wait while I’m talking. I really like how hard you tried not to interrupt’.
In general, try to praise your child or give positive attention more often than you correct or criticise.
Your child won’t always behave in ways you like. So the trick is to pay more attention to the behaviour you want, and less to the behaviour you don’t want. You can also use planned ignoring and consequences to show your child their behaviour isn’t OK, without giving them too much attention.
Giving your child positive attention: how to make it part of everyday life
The more you give your child positive attention, the more natural it becomes – and the better it is for your relationship. A good relationship with you is also good for your child’s behaviour.
Here are some things you can do that will help with both your relationship and your child’s behaviour:
- Take time to tune in to your child. Notice the things that fascinate your child – petals on a flower, ants crisscrossing the pavement, sauce bottles at the supermarket – rather than rushing your child on to the next activity. Take notice of the books your child is choosing at the library, or the skills they’re building on the monkey bars at the park. Your child will know they’re valued if you take an interest in the things that interest them.
- Follow your child’s lead. When you’re spending time with your child, it’s good to let your child choose games or activities whenever possible. This sends the message that your child’s interests are important, which helps your child feel loved and gives your child confidence.
- Get close. You can sit on the floor, kneel in the grass, or squat beside your child’s chair. Face your child and move to their side rather than watching from across the room. Look into your child’s eyes, uncross your arms, and smile at them.
- Comment on what your child is doing. For example, you could say, ‘I see you like the red truck’ or ‘That’s an interesting bug you’re looking at’. This shows your child that you’re paying attention and are interested, which builds your child’s trust and confidence. It also builds your relationship.