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Be Positive

man and girl looking at each closely

Have you ever been stuck in a cycle of negativity with your child? Where everything he does seems wrong, and you can't seem to stop pointing it out?

Children are often our best teachers when it comes to being positive. One morning a four-year-old spilled his orange juice all over the kitchen floor. His mom sighed and said, "Just looking at this mess makes me tired." The little boy pointed out the kitchen window and said, "I know what, you should look over there, then!"

Though it can be difficult to break the cycle of criticism, being positive is one of the most important parenting techniques of all.

Teaching the Language of Praise

Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, creator of the Suzuki method of teaching music, based his entire teaching ideology on the idea that, "All Japanese children learn to speak Japanese."   
The profound reality he highlights with this simple idea is that a child will absorb what surrounds him. In a very real way, we teach our children the language they will speak to themselves and to others.   
When we choose to speak positively, surrounding our child with uplifting words and genuine praise, we help create a person who can use the language of praise with others and himself.

Positive Praise that Works

Associate professor of counseling psychology and special education at BYU, Dr. Michelle Marchant, along with Dr. K. Richard Young, professor, report that not all types of praise are equally effective. Effective praise is:   
Praising good behavior correctly when you know what it is will help maintain the behavior. Think of it as keeping a balloon aloft in the air: lots of little upward taps keep it from hitting the ground.   
Children have indicated to researchers that they appreciate adults who both use a calm voice and are enthusiastic (Wilner et. al, 1977). Looking children in the eye and speaking this way will have a memorable effect on a child.

Specific: Rather than a general, "Good job, Brent," try to pinpoint precisely what the child did that you appreciated. "I love it when you clean your room without my asking. And you even vacuumed!"   
The praise must be deserved and based on actual behavior. Drs. Marchant and Young point out that if a teenager arrives home at the designated time, a father could say in a sincere manner, "I appreciate the way you respected the curfew we set." If, however, the teenager was late for his curfew, it would be inappropriate for the father to give the same praise "in hopes" that the child would change his behavior in the future.

woman, girl, and man sitting in front of house

H. Burke Peterson invites us to consider, "What would you think of finding an opportunity for one sincere compliment for each [family member] each day, and then watching them respond?" You could set a goal to give effective praise (immediate, sincere, specific, contingent) to each child a certain amount of times per day this week and enjoy watching what happens.

family posing for a camera

Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, founder of the world-renowned Suzuki method of teaching music, took a ten-year-old boy named Koji, who had been in the care of a brusque caretaker for years, into his home. When Koji arrived, his "undesirable behavior and attitude" was met with "scolding and grumbling" on the part of Dr. Suzuki and his wife in order to attempt to improve Koji's behavior.

After noticing no change, Dr. Suzuki decided to stop the grumbling, speak kindly to Koji, and model the behavior he wanted to see from Koji. Dr. Suzuki hypothesized, "If we create such an environment, Koji will, without noticing it, become a good child."

And indeed, Koji did.


Marchant, M. & Young, R. (2005). 3 B's of effective parenting: Be proactive, be positive, and be consistent. Marriage and Families, (Winter), 18-25.   
Peterson, H. B. (1972) Ensign: Conference report, Oct., 148–49.   
Suzuki, S. (1983). Nurtured by Love: The classic approach to talent education. Summy-Birchard, Inc.   
Wilner, A. G., Baukmann, C. J., Kirigin, K. A., Fixsen, D. L. Phillips, E. L., & Wolf, M. M. (1977). The training and validation of youth-preferred social behaviors of child-care personnel. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 10(2), 219-230.