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How Not to Reinforce Negative Behavior With Kids

by Tiffany Raiford

Your child is bound to exhibit some form of negative behavior occasionally. The key to stopping that behavior is to not reinforce it. According to Dr. Dennis Vickers, pediatrics chairman at Sinai Children’s Hospital in Chicago, disciplining your child should be done in a way that enforces good behavior rather than simply as a means of punishment. Essentially, not reinforcing negative behavior is done easily by enforcing positive behavior.

Learn how not to reinforce negative behavior by learning how to reinforce desired behavior, advises the Ask Dr. Sears website. For example, if your child is crying in the store, do not give him a cookie to bribe him to behave because this reinforces negative behavior. Instead, give him a cookie when he is behaving. This reinforces the fact that if he behaves, he gets a cookie.

Praise good behavior, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics. One of the best ways not to reinforce negative behavior is to notice and praise good behavior. For example, if your child is playing in her room going from toy to toy and leaving everything on the floor, do not say anything to her about the mess she’s making as long as she’s still in there playing. However, if she picks up her toys and puts them away before she leaves the room, make it a big deal by giving her a hug and telling her you are so proud of her for picking up after herself when she was done playing. This reinforces that you want her to play and have a good time and that you won’t bother her about it, but that picking up after herself is a great habit that makes you happy. She’ll be more likely to pick up after herself in the future because you made her feel so good about doing it.

Ignore all negative behavior that does not harm any people, animals or belongings, advises the Ask Dr. Sears website. Children tend to do pretty much anything for attention, and if they learn that negative behavior results in attention from you – even if it’s negative attention – they are more likely to continue with their poor behavior. However, if you ignore behaviors such as whining, crying and temper-tantrum throwing, you are not reinforcing that behavior by giving him the attention he wants.

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