Parental Attention – Your Biggest Reward
Your attention is one of the biggest “payoffs” you can give to your children for their behavior. This is both good and bad. When children behave in appropriate ways, we sometimes give them attention, and the attention is a reward that causes them behave that way more often. When children behave inappropriately, we are more likely to pay attention to them, and we do this with our words, touch, time, and emotions. This often takes the form of correcting, scolding, nagging, having logical discussions, arguing, questioning, threatening, etc. Unfortunately, the research in human behavior clearly shows that this attention is reinforcing or rewarding the very behavior we want to eliminate. Since parents are about 4 to 5 times more likely to respond to an inappropriate behavior than to an appropriate behavior, we often get in the trap of rewarding and building the very behaviors that annoy and bug us so much.
One great skill for dealing with inappropriate behavior is to give your attention to another child until the first child starts behaving appropriately. A mom I was working with told me that as she arrived home from work, she declared to her 7 and 9 year old kids, “Hey kids, lets go to the mall tonight and do some Christmas shopping. As soon as you get your homework done, we can go.” The 9 year old piped back, “I’m not doing my homework. I hate homework!” Calmly, the mom said, “Well, son, that is up to you, but you will have to deal with your teachers.” She then turned to her 7 year old and said, “What is your homework tonight?” The 7 year old pulled out her books and mom talked to her and watched her start her homework.” In a few minutes, she noticed that the 9 year old had started his homework at the other end of the kitchen table. She walked over, patted the boy on his shoulder and said, “Thanks for getting started on your homework.”
What the mom did was to withhold her attention to the inappropriate behavior of refusing to start homework. She could have had a long discussion about the importance of a good education, or tried to coax the 9 year old into doing his homework. She could have raised her voice and demanded that he start, or she could have done any of a number of other responses that would have given more of her words, touch, time and emotion to the inappropriate behavior. Although any of these may have gotten the child to start his homework, it would have been rewarding and building the “complaining about homework” behavior she disliked. Also note that once the 9 year old started the appropriate behavior, the mom walked over and acknowledged the behavior without any mention of the inappropriate behavior. This is very important in the long run as it rewards and builds the appropriate behavior.
One important note for teenagers is that you must be very subtle. If a 14 year old complains about doing homework, and you walk over to the 11 year old and tell the child how much you appreciate him/her doing the homework, the 14 year old may just yell, “Hey, I hear you. I know who you are really talking to. If you want to talk to me about homework, talk to me and not that little suck-up!”
Ignoring junk behavior (behavior that does not hurt, damage, or destory) can be one of your best parenting tools. Try it, you will be amazed. If you have some questions about how to apply this skill, or have a good story to share, please give me a call or send me an email.
I would love to hear from you.
Note: Parenting coach and child behavior expert Tom Dozier can help you and your family if you live in any city in the Bay Area. The first visit should be at his office in Livermore, but after that, meetings can be held by secure internet telecommunication (similar to Skype). It is also possible to have the initial meeting with Tom via internet, so it is not mandatory that you travel to Livermore for the first meetings. Cities near the Bay Area include Alameda, Antioch, Belmont, Benicia, Berkeley, Brentwood, Burlingame, Campbell, Concord, Cupertino, Lafayette, Lathrop, Livermore, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Manteca, Martinez, Menlo Park, Milpitas, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, Napa, Newark, Novato, Oakland, Oakley, Pacifica, Palo Alto, Petaluma, Pittsburg, Daly City, Danville, Dublin, East Palo Alto, Fairfield, Foster City, Fremont, Gilroy, Hayward, Hercules, San Jose, San Leandro, San Mateo, San Pablo, San Rafael, San Ramon, Santa Clara, Santa Rosa, Saratoga, Pleasant Hill, Pleasanton, Redwood City, Richmond, Rohnert Park, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Francisco, South San Francisco, Stockton, Suisun City, Sunnyvale, Tracy, Union City, Vacaville, Vallejo, Walnut Creek, and Windsor.