Catch the Little Rascals Red-Handed

Children love to get attention from their parents. They will work to gain your attention by any means necessary. I’m sure you’ve noticed this truth on more than one occasion. For instance, the time your child quietly played until you received an important phone call and Father Daughter Chatthey suddenly “needed you.” Or, the time you tried talking to a friend but your child suddenly appeared and began to tap your shoulder and called your name. Your children do this because they crave your attention. They need to know you find them more important than a favorite TV show, book, phone call, game, or store clerk. This fact provides us with an amazing parenting tool…your attention. In fact, the attention you give your children will powerfully reinforce their behavior. Your children will do whatever behavior effectively gains your attention…and do it more often to gain your attention. So, give your child attention when they whine or tantrum and they will whine or tantrum more often. Give them your attention when they put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher and they will do that more often. Let me repeat these principles so we don’t miss them:

  1. Children crave their parents’ attention.
  2. Children will repeat any behavior that elicits attention from their parents. They will even increase that behavior to gain their parents’ attention.

Attention becomes a powerful tool in changing your children’s behavior. Any powerful tool must be used with caution. Attention is no exception…powerful when used with caution. So, use the tool of attention with these 3 hints in mind.

  1. Don’t just give your children attention willy-nilly. Give them attention for positive behavior. Catch the little rascals red-handed being good. Catch ’em red-handed in the midst of positive behaviors and give them attention for that positive behavior.
  2. Avoid giving your children attention for negative behavior. Nagging, scolding, and yelling provide your children with energetic attention that will increase the negative behavior you’re actually trying to stop by yelling! Instead, give negative behavior as little attention as possible. Ignore it if you can. If you must address the negative behavior, do so in as neutral a tone and non-energetic a manner as possible. Save the energetic interactions for positive behaviors.
  3. Be creative in how you give your children attention. For instance, you can:
    1. Give attention through physical affection like hugs, kisses, high-fives, pats on the back, etc.
    2. Give your children attention with simple 1-3 word acknowledgements like “thank you,” “that’s great,” “cool,” “this is fun,” “I appreciate that,” I enjoy our time together,” etc.
    3. Give attention with specific recognition of positive behaviors they have done. Do this with statements like “Thank you for (taking out the garbage);” “I really appreciate it when you (clean your room);” “I see you’re (washing the dishes);” “(You made your bed), thank you;” etc. You get the idea. Be creative and acknowledge what you see your children doing well.

Give this powerful tool a 2-4 week trial. Catch the little rascals red-handed being good. Acknowledge it with a simple statement or gesture. Try it out for 2-4 weeks. You’ll find your children’s positive behaviors increasing, their undesirable behaviors decreasing. No, they won’t be perfect, but you will see improvements. You’ll have more fun, positive interactions with your children. Life in your family will improve.

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