What is Positive Attention?
Positive attention is the practice of showing delight, warmth, and acknowledgement toward the good behaviors and traits within your child. Experts believe children tend to increase performing behaviors that receive acknowledgement (also known as reinforcement).
Positive attention includes a range of words and actions that help your child feel valued. Some of the most effective forms of positive attention include the following:
- Smiling genuinely at your child
- Using verbal praise, compliments, and other words of celebration
- Physical affection such as hugs or high-fives
- Being physically gentle and caring toward your child
- Making eye contact and using a range of caring facial expressions
- Showing interest in your child’s interests and activities; getting on eye-level to speak or bond with your child
- Giving brief moments of full attention (or acknowledging and expressing when full attention is not possible at the moment)
- Offering rewards for achievements; recognizing a job well-done
Why is Positive Attention Important?
When children receive positive attention, they are less likely to engage in other attention-seeking behaviors. For example, children are less likely to whine, repeat questions, or start quarrels with their children when they receive individual acknowledge and positive attention.
Positive attention can also make discipline or consequences more effective. When a child receives regular praise and “time-ins,” for example, “time-outs” feel more pronounced. Children respond better to time-out once they recognize that it differs substantially from regular positive attention.
Receiving consistent positive attention is also important for a child’s self-image. For children, some of the first sources of confidence derives from reassurance from the important individuals in their lives. Similarly, a child’s sense of security and safety also increases through positive interactions. When children feel that the important adults in their lives genuinely care about their fears or worries, they feel more secure in new or unfamiliar circumstances.
But What About Bad Behavior? Do I Just Ignore It?
If children are behavior in a way that is immediately unsafe for themselves or others, the parent should intervene immediately. Otherwise, if a child is behaving in a way that you simply want to decrease, interacting with the child immediately or yelling “stop” is not the best way to stop the child. The reason is that the child will associate the undesirable behavior with attention and is therefore more likely to keep doing it.
Instead of interacting with a child regarding behaviors you would like to decrease, medical professionals recommend a practice called active ignoring. This means that you withdraw attention until your child stops the behavior. As soon as the behavior stops, provide a form of positive attention known as labeled praise. This means praising good behavior and being as specific as possible so that the children know exactly what behavior to replicate.
For example, instead of simply saying “good job,” you might specify, “I love how you are sharing your crayons with your brother” or “You are doing a great job using your indoor voice and sitting nicely in the car.” When children receive labeled praise, they are more likely to continue the good behaviors into the future.
What if Bad Behavior Does Not Stop?
If you feel that your child is not responding to labeled praise or displays repetitive behaviors, the next step is to create an individualized plan of action for your child. For example, you may create a special ritual (at a specific time and place each day) that you and your child do together consistently. This creates a focused environment for your child to absorb positive reinforcement and respond accordingly. If you need help creating a custom plan for your child, consult with a mental-health professional to create a behavior chart or journal of suggested activities.
Positive Attention for Every Age Group
Children of all age groups can benefit from positive attention and positive reinforcement. If you need inspiration, consider using some of the following positive attention ideas:
Positive Attention for Newborns and Babies
- Use gentle tone of voice, facial expressions, and gestures when handling babies to give them a sense of security and positive outlook on the world
- Comfort and soothe your baby when he or she cries
- Smile back when your baby smiles
- Respond to sounds and babbling by saying something in response even if your baby is not yet using words
- Talk to your baby about what is going on around you; seem happy to hold a simple conversation
- Notice what excites your baby (such as a rattle or teddy bear) and encourage your baby to explore further as you supervise the play
Positive Attention for Toddlers
- Tell your child exactly what he or she is doing well (for example, “I love the way you are sharing your building blocks with your sibling”)
- Give your child a few moments of your undivided attention without the distraction of a smartphone or television
- Get into the moment with your child (such as squatting at eye level or coloring together for a few minutes)
- Always allow your child to reply to one of your comments or questions (even if they child is not using complete sentences or does not always have the vocabulary for exact words)
Positive Attention for Preschoolers
- Set a few minutes aside to do some of your child’s favorite activities (such as painting or working with Legos) with him or her
- Provide plenty of positive feedback for good behavior (You might say, for example, “Thank you for helping me put the crayons back into the box. That makes it much easier to tidy up after coloring.”)
- Smile and make eye contact in the morning (and again before tucking your child into bed for the evening)
For more help with developing a custom plan for your child, contact The Warren Center.