What is your child’s favorite toy? Maybe it’s a video game, hot wheels car, dump truck, cardboard box or YOU. I would guess that you are their favorite toy hands down. If you were to have them choose between playing some sort of interactive fun game with you or any one of their toys, I think they would choose YOU.
Authors Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley agree that parents are the most exciting playthings available for their children. They imagine that even the most elaborate, bright colored, and well-designed toys cannot compete with the millions of different responses that parents are capable of making. A child can press 10 buttons on a toy and the toy will make a few different sounds. Maybe it will play some music and some different colored lights will turn on. But a parent’s buttons if pushed in just the right manner can elicit a wonderful variety of responses full of varied emotion, volume, body language, facial expression, and vocabulary.
The difficult part for parents is that we tend to provide a more exciting and interesting response to our children when they are doing something wrong. We use very sharp tones, and increased volume when correcting misbehavior. We speak quickly and energetically when they are dawdling around getting ready for school. We spend lots of time lecturing about why “such and such” was a bad choice, and why we must follow the rules. How excited do we get when they do something desirable? Usually our responses to the desired behaviors are much more reserved. Maybe we give a “thank you” for putting the dish on the counter, or possibly a “way to go” when they are ready for school on time. If they are lucky they might get a “high five” and a “way to go” for picking up their toys.
The very important question is, at what times do you provide the most energy to your child? When are you most animated in your responses, when he is doing right or wrong? Some parents get stuck in a rut of only providing feedback when their children are misbehaving. But noticing when a child is behaving in a desirable manner and then responding with energy, excitement, and joy is a very powerful tool. This tool can be used to encourage honesty, kindness, sharing, helpfulness, listening, impulse control, and many other desirable traits.
I challenge parents to intentionally spend more energy celebrating their children’s successes than disciplining mistakes. As you begin to celebrate positive behavior your children will begin to display more of that behavior. Children are very good at learning which buttons get the most exciting responses from their parents. The more exciting response they get, the more they will push the button. Be sure that your buttons are programmed for celebrating successes rather than failures.