Pay Attention to Your Attention

Turn the Volume Up on Positive Behavior

You have the power to change your child’s behavior. The force that gives you this awesome might comes from your children’s basic vulnerability. They are dependent on you for their protection, approval and nurturing. This is the power that propels their need to seek and gain your attention. Too frequently, they learn their parents will pay attention to annoying, uncomfortable, agitated, problematic, or behavioral problems more quickly and with more energy than they do to behavior that is positive, expected or routinely appropriate.

For example, recall your response to your child’s earliest cries. Nature gave the cry a unique status. To a parent’s ear, it has a unique ability to gain attention. Irritable children tend to cry a lot and their parents try to end their discomfort by responding to the crying. These same parents may ignore the child during rare moments of quiet, or when the child is behaving calmly. This usually happens because the parents’ energy and time are consumed by the high level of the child’s demands during periods of discomfort. They have very little to give when the child is not demanding.

Avoid Serving Up Attention to Behavioral Problems

This pattern of parenting, where problematic or annoying behavior gains more attention for the child than does positive, easy behavior, may continue as the child grows older.  At first, it’s a subtle process and occurs gradually over time. The power of the parent to shape and strengthen desirable behavior by the targeted use of parental attention becomes turned around. The parent becomes the servant to the child’s negative behavior and serves up the attention desired by the child upon the order of the child’s negative behavior.

The key to increasing behaviors and attitudes you desire in your child is to harness the power of your attention.

‘Tip the Scale.’ Put the ‘weight’ of your attention on the positives: Use the Rule of Five – increase by five times, the amount of attention you pay to desirable behavior and decrease by five times, the amount of attention you pay to the negative behavior.

It may not be an easy thing to do during your busy life, but awareness of the Rule of Five and your attempt to consistently carry it out will gradually make your child more positive, make parenting easier, less stressful, time-consuming and more fun. The rule of 5 will also help with family health, family preservation and overall personal health for everyone involved.

Picture this: five times more hugging; five times more laughing; five times more comfortable touching; five times more use of a pleasant voice; five times more kindness, gentleness and courtesy; five times more awareness of what is positive in your child. It’s not a fantasy, it can happen.

This is the type of family matters, positive parenting that raises the self esteem and assurance of all family members. Remember, the power to shape desired behavior is based on the child’s primary needs for nurturing; it is there for you to use, so do it. To help your child know what behaviors will get your powerful, positive attention, you should remember to:

  1. Establish eye contact, if you can.
  2. Use a happy, strong voice. Try this approach and see what happens: shout your praise and compliments. Comment on negatives with a low, controlled voice.
  3. Vary your words of praise and use a lot of them.
  4. Increase your physical contact when attending to positives.
  5. Pay attention quickly and before the child asks for it.

Parents who use the Rule of Five are providing their children something they want attention – when they are behaving in desirable ways. This rule gives children the power to enrich their experience by displaying behavior desired by the parent.

 Key Points for controlling behavioral problems:

  1. Think of your voice as a delicate tool to be used with care – not as a hammer you pound with all your might.
  2. Turn Up the Volume on Positive Behavior: Always try to praise and attend to the behavior you value by the Rule of Five: Give five times as much attention to positives than negatives.

– by Frank Doberman, PhD

Dr. Frank Doberman is Co-Founder of Karner Psychological Associates (KPA) and is a leader in the fields of clinical psychology, is a Licensed Psychologist, Certified in School Psychology, Educational Administration and is a regular contributor to News 10 WTEN.

Copyright © 2011 Karner Psychological Associates | All Rights Reserved.