"One of the most important thing parents can do to make discipline strategies more effective is to build a positive relationship with their child. One of the simplest ways to build a positive relationship is to spend quality time with children. Offering them positive attention creates an environment where children become more eager to please, more respectful, and are more affected by consequences. Providing positive attention is an important aspect of behavior modification because the attention reinforces good behavior.
How Positive Attention Helps
When kids receive regular doses of healthy, positive attention, they reduce their attention seeking behaviors. For example, kids are less likely to whine, ask the same question over and over, or start poking at their sibling.
Positive attention makes negative consequences much more effective. Kids respond better to time out when they receive regular “time in.” If they do not get much attention anyway, being sent for a time out may not make much of an impact.
This is also true for ignoring. Kids who don’t receive frequent bouts of positive attention may feel ignored much of the time anyway. Ignore a child who loves attention and he will view it as a negative consequence.
Positive attention helps build a healthy relationship with your child. This can increase the effectiveness of positive consequences, such as praise or a reward system as your child will strive to please you more.
Daily Positive Attention
It is important to provide each child with 10 to 15 minutes of your undivided attention each day. During this time, allow your child to pick an activity to do together. Try to avoid using electronics, such as playing a video game, as these types of things often do not require very much interaction.
Instead, try to play a board game, engage in imaginative play, or play with your child’s toys together. For older children, go for a walk or just spend time talking. When possible, allow your child to pick the activity.
It’s best remove other distractions during your time together. Shut off the television, separate yourselves from other children in the house when safe to do so, and avoid phone calls. Show your child that they have your complete and undivided attention.
It’s important to avoid asking too many questions during this time as this can make children feel like they have to perform. Instead, for young children, simply comment on their play. For example, say, “Oh look, you’ve put the bathtub on the roof,” instead of “Why would you do that?” Also, allow their imagination to run wild during imaginative play without correcting them.
Overcoming Obstacles to Positive Attention
Sometimes parents are so disgusted by their child’s behaviors that they don’t want to spend any time together. However, this will likely cause more behavior problems.
Spending time with your child, despite their behaviors, will decrease their negative behaviors.
For parents with several children, it is best for each parent to get individual time with each child. If this isn’t possible every day, consider trying to ensure that each child gets individual attention from at least one parent each day.
Single parents with several children may face further obstacles with finding individual time. However, it is important to make the time. It can save a lot of time for you in the long-term as you’ll likely not need to devote as much time to disciplinary issues.
Some parents prefer to have a set schedule so their child knows when to count on positive attention. This works for some families but other families may prefer to do it whenever they can squeeze it in. Either way works fine, as long as your child is getting the daily dose of positive attention.
If your child exhibits behavioral issues during your time together, you can respond as you normally would. For minor behavioral issues, such as whining, consider ignoring the behavior. Bigger behavioral issues may require a time out."
By Amy Morin, LCSW
Updated May 30, 2016