Simple Advice for Managing Your Child's Behavior

When done right, managing your child’s behavior provides safety and structure, teaches about appropriate behavior, and promotes self-esteem.

Using appropriate behavioral approaches with your children is vital to their healthy development. But we all know it’s much easier said than done.

But when you do it right, managing behavior creates the feeling of safety by setting limits, it educates our children about appropriate and desired behavior, and promotes self esteem. 

Managing Your Child’s Behavior: Positive vs. Negative Reinforcement

Often times the phrases positive and negative reinforcement are misunderstood. Both methods of reinforcement are used to continue a desired behavior. The difference is that positive reinforcement adds something desirable while negative reinforcement removes something undesirable as a reward for positive behavior.

For example: Positive reinforcement is giving a child a reward for getting good grades. Negative reinforcement would be not assigning homework to a class that was well behaved that day. Punishment is a different concept entirely, that is linking an adverse event to a certain behavior, such as sending a child to his/her room without dinner for hitting his/her brother. 

Out of these three behavioral options, positive reinforcement proves to be the most effective for children. It helps with a positive sense of self and best creates a lasting change in behavior. Punishment, on the other hand, produces a desired behavior only at the time of use. It can have detrimental effects to the child’s self-esteem because it is punishing the person as opposed to his/her behavior. 
What’s a parent to do?

I often give the “70/30” rule of positive reinforcement when I talk with families. As parents, we often forget to catch our children being good; their good behavior goes unnoticed and their bad behavior gets our attention. It is more effective if a parent can focus on giving 70% positive reinforcement and spend 30% of their efforts to changing a behavior with consequences.

The 70% often reminds the parents to acknowledge all the good choices our kids make but tend to go unnoticed. With praise, your child feels good about themselves and is likely to continue the desired behavior. As a result, when you need to discuss a behavior that needs to be changed, your child is more likely to listen and be receptive to your request.

Keep in mind, positive reinforcement is not just toys and candy. Sometimes the best reinforcement is as simple as praise, hugs, and high fives.  

Learn more about Renown Behavioral Health services online or by call 775-982-4100.

Contributor: Jaime Gardner, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Renown Behavioral Health