My son Walter was just about to call his sister, Bella, a "Stinky” for the third time one morning for some minor infraction.
It was only a little after 8 a.m. and we had been up since 6:04 a.m. So much for sleeping in late (7 a.m.). Walter was in mid-sentence when he caught my eye. He said, “Sister you are a St- (pause) Sweetie Pie.”
I clutched my chest and proclaimed that I thought that was such a nice thing for him to do; to catch himself when he was about to call his sister a not-nice-name and instead switch it to a nice-name.
I said, “Look, I think you have made sister feel good. Do you see the smile on her face?” They both smiled at each other. Walter said, “Sister you are my friend” and Bella said, “You are my friend too.” Then they went off into the sunset with their arms around each other’s shoulders. Not quite. It was more like they went into the play area and played nicely for about 20 minutes until Bella started to play with one of Walter's favorite trucks.
So Walter called her a “Stinky” once again.
I am sharing this story because I think that most of us (parents, caregivers, guardians, spouses, partners, friends, family, etc.) find that we are chastising or giving out punishments for negative behavior. What we forget, or never learned to do, is to reward the positive behavior.
I had a conversation with a parent whose argument was: “Positive behavior should be expected.” My rebuttal? “How is a child to learn the positive without being told that what they are doing is just that, positive behavior?”
Think about it, we easily tell them, “Don’t do that.” “That’s not nice.” “Stop that.” “Get out of there.” All these phrases teach them very quickly what they are not supposed to do. Just as children learn how not to do something, we can teach them how to do something by catching them in the act of a good, kind deed and telling them what a wonderful thing they are doing. For example, “Wow, I like that you helped put the dishes in the sink.” “That was kind to ask your brother if he was okay when he fell.” "I really like those yellow lines on your art work.” “I really like that you and your sister are having a great time laughing together.”
Also, by asking how they feel about something when they have done well will teach them to fairly assess themselves in a positive way. Asking something like, “How did it feel when you carried the bags in the house for grandma?” “What do you think of the picture you drew?” “Is that Play-Doh dog something you made on your own?” “How do the three of you feel when you are playing so nicely together?”
So this Valentine’s Day, catch your family, friends, sweetheart or a perfect stranger doing something nice and reward them with a smile, a pat on the back or simply tell them, “I really like that you (fill in the blank).”
Happy Valentine’s Day!
(Editor's Note: The opinions in this article are those of Parents “R” Talking. The opinions are not medical advice. Always consult your pediatrician about any changes you are contemplating.)