What You Shed Light on, Grows


With little children, whatever behavior you pay attention to, that behavior will grow. It is important that while you are giving a consequence for a child’s behavior, you minimize your interaction during the duration of the consequence. If you interact with the child while you are giving the consequence, the interaction will reinforce the undesired behavior.

There is not a problem with sitting down and talking with the child about the undesirable behavior, after the consequence has been performed, but not during or before it is performed. It is a good idea to talk with the child, after the fact, if your goal is to help the child figure out why he/she made a mistake.

It isn’t a good idea to sit down and chew the child out or explain why something is wrong, when the child already knows. This type of behavior is less about teaching the child, and more about the parent trying to make themselves feel better by taking their frustrations out on the child. There really isn’t a good reason to teach someone an answer that they already know.

The key is to establish the rule ahead of time, so that you do not have to teach it in the moment. It is also important to establish the consequence ahead of time, so the child knows what their actions will result in. The severity of the consequence doesn’t have too much of an impact. The surety that the consequence will occur, has a tremendous impact.

Once you give the consequence, there isn’t a reason to keep interacting and explaining yourself. There isn’t a good reason to get into a power struggle. There isn’t an effective reason why lecturing would help. The only thing that interaction would do, at that point, is provide attention. The attention will very often act as a reinforcer. The reinforcer of attention will likely increase the duration, severity, and frequency of the undesired behavior. It will result in the parent feeling very frustrated that the child does not stop the undesired behavior, even though a consequence and a lecture is offered every single time.

Children love attention and that is a good thing. Since they love attention, the parent simply needs to pay attention to the things that they want the child to do more of. These things can include kind acts, chores, service, friendliness, good grades, and a myriad of other behavior that parents are thankful for, but forget to show appreciation about. Just because a child knows they are expected to do their chores or get good grades, doesn’t mean that a parent shouldn’t show appreciation when they do them. The more the parent offers positive affirmation, the more the child will do the behaviors.

Poor Example:

Mirada was very frustrated with Julian. She told him many many times in the past that he needs to hang up his backpack when he gets home from school. Julian never hangs up his backpack, instead he drops it at the door as soon as he gets home. Miranda felt very frustrated that Julian doesn’t listen to her. She felt disrespected. She felt ignored. She felt unappreciated. She walked over to Julian and started talking for the next twenty minutes about the importance of hanging up a backpack. After twenty minutes, Julian started arguing back. The pair spent the next forty minutes in a shouting match. Julian was sent to his room for the rest of the night. Julian would go to his room, but only a few minutes. He constantly came out of his room, at which point he would re-engage his mother in another argument.

For the next three days, Julian only hung up his backpack once. His mother was so exhausted from the last verbal battle that she didn’t say anything to him. After he started ignoring her again, her frustration built up. She took the frustration out on him by lecturing him once again.

Good Example:

Little Samantha walked into the house and hung up her backpack. She looked over at her mother to see if she would notice. Her mother did notice and complimented her for following the rules. This was the third day this week her mother took notice and told her, “ Thank you.”

One day, Samantha did not hang up her backpack. She was excited about playing a game and she dropped her backpack on the floor the minute she got home. When her mother saw that Samantha broke the rules, she asked Samantha to take a minute time out in her room. Samantha started to argue because she wanted to stay and play the game. Her mother did not argue back, she simply started counting 1….2….3. Samantha knew that every time her mother got to three, she consistently received another consequence. Samantha got up from her game and started walking to her room. She stopped halfway and started to argue again. Her mother did not argue back. She simply started counting 1….2…..3. At which point Samantha went to her room and completed the time out.

After the time out was completed, Samantha got a big hug from her mother who told her that she loved her dearly. Her mother explained that Samantha had to follow the rule, and if she breaks a rule, a consequence will happen. This does not mean that she doesn’t love Samantha, she is simply reinforcing the rule. Samantha took the opportunity to explain to her mother that she wasn’t trying to argue, she just wanted to finish her turn on the game. They took time to discuss if it was appropriate to let Samantha finish her turn before completing the consequence or not. The discussion was a back and forth conversation where each person tried to understand the other. Samantha’s mother modeled what a healthy discussion sounds like. This will help Samantha when she becomes an adult. After the conversation, they hugged again and Samantha went back to her game. This let Samantha know that they still love each other, even when they disagree.