Praise for positive behavior in toddlers is more powerful than attention for negative

Though it's easy to rush to quell negative behavior in toddlers, is it really effective? Attention for the positive may prove to be the better choice.

Catching children being good can result in more rewarding behavior.

Catching children being good can result in more rewarding behavior.

Having a toddler can be very challenging at times. Most parents of toddlers would agree that some days it feels like you’ll never get it right or be able to satisfy your sweet, curious, mischievous little toddler! Anyone who has been around toddlers has surely noticed that they repeat behaviors and love to get reactions out of the audience around them. Something to think about… perhaps, if we spend more time catching our children being good rather than giving attention to the negative behavior, the results would be more rewarding for us and less confusing to toddlers.

Reacting to the negative behavior is a common reaction, not only from parents but also from society in general. For example, children often receive attention in a classroom setting for misbehaving in some way or another. It’s often the same at home. This shows our toddlers that if you misbehave you will get attention.

Toddlers are curious and explore the world around them. They are learning and understanding more and more about how much they can manipulate their environment and the people in it! The more attention they get for misbehaving or engaging in undesirable behavior, the more they will repeat that same behavior.  Often times when a child does something that is expected of them, we don’t acknowledge that behavior for just that reason—it’s EXPECTED. However, acknowledging that behavior is very important in order to see it repeated. As mentioned earlier, CATCHING OUR CHILDREN BEING GOOD rather than giving attention to the negative behavior will result in more rewarding behavior for us, as parents!

Please keep in mind, if your toddler is used to getting attention for negative behavior and you abruptly stop paying attention to that behavior, chances are the behavior will worsen and/or become more intense. Do NOT give in once you have decided to use this technique, unless of course, your toddler is going to hurt himself or another individual. If you cave in, it will display to your toddler that if he/she keeps up the undesirable behavior you will eventually give them attention. 

So catch your child being good and don’t wait for perfect behavior! Most often, that will not happen. Toddlers need immediate responses to things they do in order for them to repeat. You can catch your child being good with praise through your voice or changing the tone. You can give more physical praise, such as a pat on the shoulder and/or of course a lot of smiles and enthusiasm. For more ideas, see page 4 of  Incredible Years.

This switch in behavior may take time, but in the end it will truly pay off and make for a more confident toddler and a happier mommy and daddy!

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

Related Articles