The positive opposite of bad behavior

Several months ago I started thinking a lot about how to improve my own behavior while parenting. I identified what I needed to change, but found myself reverting back to the same initial response during escalated moments. I even spent some time completing a button jar with my daughter to help remind myself what I was working on. Time moved on and I mostly forgot about the original goal, until those moments of frustration or hard days when I knew I hadn’t mastered changing my behavior.

While again recommitting myself to work on the same negative behavior, I had an epiphany of something I used to teach parents when they were choosing a main area to work on with their children. Focusing on the positive opposite of the negative behavior you want to change. For example, I tend to be rough with my children when frustrated. If my son won’t take a nap, I’ll firmly lay him back down in bed, or it my son or daughter won’t go where I want them to go I’ll take their arm and force them to walk with me, or if I have to tell my toddler something multiple times when she didn’t hear or understand the first time, I speak in a rude, condescending tone. I have continued to tell myself I need to be less rough and stop talking rudely, but in this moment I thought that I should try to be more gentle with my children. This changed my entire frame of my mind and perception of how I’m viewing my children.

Rather than only trying to calm myself down in the moment, and often reverting back to my usual tendencies, if I’m always trying to be more gentle, then when those hard moments come I’m more patient and understanding.

This idea of working on the positive opposite of the behavior you want to change is a lot more effective than trying to stop a negative behavior. Focusing on what behavior you or your child should do rather than what you shouldn’t do gives a replacement for the negative behavior. It is a lot harder to stop a negative behavior, especially in a highly emotional situation, if you are only telling yourself not to do something. If you have something you can do instead and have taken the time to practice that behavior (LINK TO ROLE-PLAYING) you’ll be a lot more effective at succeeding. You will also be in a more positive state of mind dwelling on what you can change rather than what you are struggling with changing. First make a list of what you believe needs to be changed most and then focus on what positive behavior you should work on.

After making a list and deciding what positive behavior to work on first, it’s helpful to create either a reminder for what you’re working on or establish small rewards for yourself. This could be sticky notes where you will frequently see them, or your own reward chart with an incentive for a certain number of times you use the positive behavior. Be creative with how to provide reminders. There are thousands of different tactics and what works best changes from person to person.

Focusing on the positive opposite also transfers to helping children work on their negative behaviors. Again, start by creating a small list of the negative behaviors you would like changed (if it’s an older child, have them help you create a list). Then write down what the positive opposite would be.

Once both you and your child decide the new positive behavior they are going to work on first, make sure to use Preventive Teaching to teach them how to implement, which includes role-playing possible scenarios. Then create a reward system. This could be a simple marble jar or reward chart, where they earn a marble or sticker each time they do the positive behavior. Or it could be a written contract that includes the child’s expectations and what privileges they earn over time for using that positive behavior. As with anything else, change takes time. There will still be times of regression, or times when a behavior needs to be reinforced again, however, working on a positive behavior will create more long-term change, even if it has to be worked on again in the future, than stopping a negative behavior.

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