Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Positive parenting

When Sally was a toddler I read a parenting manual that really struck a chord. The gist of the advice was this - heap lavish praise on everything you want a child to do, ignore (as far as possible) behaviour you don't want to continue. Given the fact that most children love attention, this made perfect sense. Every teacher knows this is why many kids can be disruptive (even if they sometimes fail to do anything about it). The approach worked with Sally like a dream. She'd soon get bored if we ignored her tantrums (which were silent anyway, with her little bum stuck in the air!) and the more we praised, the more she did what we praised her for. It seemed natural to try the same with Charlie now he's at an age when he can understand (and more than he lets on, too!).
Angel that he is, Charlie can be quite mischievous. He likes to throw things off his high chair, for a start. And he'll taunt whoever's watching him by slowly holding out his sippy cup, for instance, waiting 'til he's got your full attention, before dropping it to the floor. And he won't take 'no' for an answer. Oh no! So, bring on the lavish praise. 'Thank-you Charlie' I'll repeat, effusively, whenever the cup moves back towards his tray. 'Good boy!' I exclaim as he places it down again and carries on with his lunch. 'Well done, what a good boy!' I continue, and it clearly works. He likes the praise. He grins from ear to ear and chortles contentedly as he carries on munching for a minute in a satisfied manner. There's no doubt at all he likes the feedback that he's getting. Oh yes! So much so that - half-a-minute later - he's holding out the cup again for a repeat performance.
This is happening more and more, and appears to reveal a fatal flaw in this (otherwise excellent) philosophy of childcare. If kids really do like praise so much, and if they're praised so readily for turning away from acts of mischief, then what's to stop them repeating such behaviour again and again?
Or am I doing it all wrong?


  1. Ah, such memories....and it reminds me of another trick that a friend's dad said. He said he always tried to "catch his kids doing something right." I like that, too.

  2. It's a quandry, isn't it? The other thing I read a while ago is that too much positive praise is also a bad thing. That praising children constantly for stuff that they are perfectly capable of doing and should just be expected of them, doesn't do anything for their self esteem and just makes you, the parent, look like a numpty. So what's the answer? It's a tricky road! And it looks like Charlie has you sussed!

  3. Tom is exactly the same. He'll be mischievous so that we praise him when he stops. It's like the prodigal son constantly absconding and then returning to get a feast.

    The thing is, Tom is so damned cute when he does it...

  4. It's funny, I think that the people who write these books should studied a sample of (at least) a few hundred children before they commit their theories to the printed word.

  5. Oh Tim, I thought you were going to hand me a magic wand there. Presley still can't be trusted with his beaker. He's obsessed with pouring the water out of it. He throws unwanted food on the floor despite being highly praised when he hands it to me instead! Why don't they come with a manual?

  6. Not at all.

    When Max was a bit older than Charlie he would even go and put himself on the naughty step, as he knew - before he did it - that he was doing wrong.

  7. I can remember trying this with the same result! Thanks for reminding me for praising the positive tho'. I wonder if it still works at 12 years old? I hope I still do it unconsciously but I will try harder to do it now you've reminded me. I'll let you know how it goes and if her 'sippy cup' stays on the table!!!

  8. Sippy cup? I've never heard that expression used this side of the Atlantic before.

  9. I veer towards the always praise what you want to happen, but Chris thinks you can go too far with it and shouldn't praise behaviour that should just be expected. Quite probably either way is fine, but having two different methods in the same family is not the best idea, that's for sure!

    Anyway, Charlie is learning very well. He's not being mischievous, he's checking whether you'll remain consistent about what behaviour you reward and, at that age, he will do it again, and again, and again, and again... Probably (and really what the heck do I know, so feel free to ignore), if you can keep it up he will get as much out of this method as Sally did.

  10. I dunno. But maybe: "after cup have to have no-cup- it's The Law.

  11. That's a neat way to put it, Sue.

    I know what you mean, Nicola. I suppose the old adage - moderation in all things - applies.

    I like it, Steve!

    They always claim they have, Katherine. The problem is all children are different (even if they share similar genes!)...

    I'm thinking of writing my own, Sandy. Trouble is, it'd probably only apply to Charlie.

    Max is well-trained, Ian. Did he send you there as well?

    Well, Sub, I think it's probably a good habit to have (even if results are mixed at present).

    Neither had I before Z. But it's so appropriate, don't you think?

    Oh yes, we're reinforcing positive behaviour several hundred times each day, Tasha.

    Case dismissed, Gadjo!

  12. You find you cant' help praising your child half the time anyway. (for good things). And it doesn't seem to change when they get bigger.

    Remember going to this Parenting workshop years ago when Son had tantrums. They told us never to use praise eg you don't say Thats a good picture you're painting , you say Thats a picture you're painting. We fell about laughing!!!

  13. Wonderful entertainment...from here!

    I have no good advice other than...let him drop it and then ignore him? Does that work? I never did parenting well myself

  14. Just goes to show, every child is different!

  15. yep, every child is different and what works for one doesn't for the next. Our little angel is very good at the mischief thing. I have developed a benevolent "no" which is usually ignored (fine) but a very serious one which is not. And if it is, there are consequences (which I explain beforehand). This often works. Also defusing with humour works well and diverts attention from the item of dispute (i.e. cup in mid-air). We don't have big tantrums, just short ones, so it's working reasonably well. Also, when she has a tantrum, I try just to carry on as normal, not ignore, but not make a fuss either, and not get angry even if I feel angry.

  16. Well, I've come across some daft advice about parenting, Jenny, but that just about takes the biscuit!

    It's an approach we're trying at the moment, NB. Anything but make a fuss is the new theory.

    Absolutely. They all need their own manual, and by the time we've finished writing it, it's too late WM!

    We have two different kind of 'no's' as well, Cartside. Mine and my wife's. I'll leave you to decide which is the most

  17. Victor has just turned one and turned out very challenging... One of the last thing he keeps doing again and again is trying to standup on his highchair nevermind the straps! Last time I found him crawling on the kitchen table!
    So now the game is: he stands up
    Me: no Victor sit down
    Him: "plonk" on his bum
    Me: good boy!
    Him: smile and let's do it again... and again...
    Don't know what to do to stop this anymore!!!!
    So if you know how to, let me know :)
    PS saw that you entered Amy's competition, same prize to win at mine if you want to double the chances :)

  18. Oooh, I guess that's a question only you can answer really. Everyone brings up their children their own way don't they. But the manual isn't much use because your child is an individual.

    Praise the good, ignore the bad. Comment on the good that follows the bad but too much praise will most always encourage the bad to come first. Are you with me?!

    CJ xx

  19. Well I must be doing something wrong because I always try to praise but my son is a right little monkey sometimes!

  20. Thanks, PHM. I'll pop along and have a look in a mo!

    Well put, CJ. That pretty well sums up my philosophy, too.

    They all are CB. Keep on praising (but not too often...)

  21. I have found that reverse psychology works well on my 6yr old...if she storms out of a room and slams the door, I tell her that I love it when she does that! She can't stand that so the next time she has a tantrum, she quietly heads off and closes the door very slowly:) It might just be a girl thing, I'm not sure! lol!

  22. I hope your not asking me because I have absolutely no idea.

    You really don't want to have a playdate at my house. Well actually you do, then you'll feel really good about your own parenting skills!

  23. Yay, I can get on your blog again!!!!!! We have much the same problems with n3S when we try 'tacticle ignoring and effusive praising'... so glad it isn't just us.

  24. A flaw me thinks..... but it did make me giggle! sorry!

  25. With two mischief makers, 21 months apart, they've got me so turned upside down most of the time that I don't know which methods work and which don't anymore. I just know I was a much better parent before I had kids, but now I have more experience.

  26. I'm rather afraid that Charlie might like that, B&R. Still, anything's worth a try...

    Is that an invitation, AMM?

    Seems from the comments, DJ, that it's almost everyone. Which is veryreassuring. I think.

    Well, glad it made you giggle OMG. You've got this to come, don't forget!

    Me too, Serena. I'm excellent at theory!

  27. life is full of demands on parents, caregivers, teachers, and friends. So we don’t always have the presence of mind to respond as we’d like to. This is why parents and caregivers find Listening Tools so helpful. Special Time, Playlistening, Setting Limits, and Staylistening all can be done in limited amounts of time. Using these tools communicates directly to a child that he belongs, he is welcome, that you see who he is, that you will keep him safe from the troubles of others, and safe from his own troubles. And Listening Tools communicate your caring, even when you need to offer a course correction, or listen to a big tantrum.

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