Hi, my name is Jacob, and I've worked with kids and families for over five years and currently work as a therapist here at YESS. I absolutely love the work I do and the clients I serve. More times than not, I am working with youth experiencing behavior issues at home or school. Often parents are struggling with addressing these behaviors, and they find themselves stuck in a cycle of issuing consequences that don’t seem to have a positive impact on their child’s behavior.
One thing that stands out when working with kids struggling with behavior issues is how the adults consequence and engage with the child. What is typical is shame-based language with the intention of changing their child’s behavior through embarrassment or guilt. A child who is spoken to in this matter often develops a narrative in their head that reads ‘I am bad’ or ‘I am worthless'. These negative thoughts can impact children’s behavior as well, acting in a way that matches the label given to them by the adults in their lives. The impact of this shame-based communication reverberates with intense volume in the mind of a child who has survived traumatic life events. Often these children already carry with them a great deal of shame and guilt, which is then amplified by caregivers who are simply trying to get them to behave.
With this in mind, I challenge parents to attempt praise instead of shaming, with the intention that positive reinforcement will encourage the child to engage in more positive behaviors. Essentially, instead of waiting for the child to mess up, we have to catch them being good. Here are a few ways that adults can offer praise in a productive way:
- Specify the praise: Instead of saying ‘good job’ say ‘great job putting away your toys when you were finished’.
- Positive frame: Instead of saying ‘good job not whining when you didn’t get your way’ say ‘I am very proud of you for having patience when you wanted to do something different’. Mixing praise with criticism minimizes its impact.
- Keep it realistic: ‘you do a great job passing the ball’ instead of ‘you’re the greatest soccer player ever!’
Offering praise is not a cure all, and consequences will still need to be used. However, reinforcing positive behavior does encourage a variety of pro-social behaviors, builds a positive relationship with the child, and promotes positive mental health and an overall positive perception of self within the child. Not only does this reinforce positive behavior, but adults who can switch their perception, and look for positives in the child feel more positively about the child, may experience an increase in patience and empathy, and may have elevated feelings of hope for their child and their future.
I hope this information was helpful for you or someone you know.
about the work my colleagues and I do with YESS' Hope Hall Counseling program and how we can best support you and your family.