Positive Reinforcement: Does it really work?

I, by no means, am an expert on parenting.  I can’t count the number of times I reacted impulsively when disciplining my own children.  What did it get me?  So glad you asked!  A big, fat NOTHING, except for an angry, frustrated, disobedient child and high blood pressure for me.  I often wonder how I could have handled the situation differently so that my children would respond positively, own their behavior and not leave me stressed out and disappointed for yelling at them.  I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this, but parenting is HARD!

I was fortunate to be able to take a child behavior class taught by specialist Sharyn Timerman of The Early Years.  And as luck would have it, I have four unsuspecting Guinea pigs to practice her strategies on.  I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I can tell you from personal experience that positive reinforcement is one of the best tools parents can pull out when trying to modify a child’s behavior.

This past Sunday, my Husband and I took our four young children to church.  We always hold our breath because we never know how they are going to behave once we get there.  It is a given that they will be ‘dying’ of thirst and have to go to the bathroom several times in a single hour.  But this Sunday was a little different, they were all pretty well behaved (for 4 and 2 year olds, mind you), with the exception of one.  He, who shall remain nameless, was bouncing up and down, playing musical chairs, talking and asking his daddy to draw him picture after picture in his notebook.  Several times I whipped my head around, squinted my eyes and told him to sit still and be quite under my breath.  His response?  He mimicked my head whipping and raised me a snarl and continued on doing what he was doing.  Needless to say, I was getting more and more frustrated.  Then, something popped in my head from Sharyn’s class: “Catch your children doing good”.  That is exactly what I did.  For a fleeting moment, he sat still and I quickly told him, “I am so proud of you for telling your body to sit still and be quite.”  His entire demeanor changed.  His eyes lit up, he scooted back in his seat and he smiled at me like he had just won a Gold Medal.  Then…he stayed still…for the rest of church.  Every so often I looked over at him and told him how proud I was of for being so good.   It was different because he was the one who made the decision to behave, not me.  He was proud and that is so important. Okay, so I know this may only seem like a minor victory, but to me it was proof that you can get the same desired results, and probably more successfully,  by just changing your delivery.

So you may be thinking, she is a sleep coach, so why is she talking about discipline?  Behavior and sleep go hand in hand.  Lack of sleep affects your child’s behavior during the day.  Additionally, it is behavioral modification that needs to be addressed while sleep shaping.  Like adults, children need their feelings validated.  That doesn’t mean you give them what they want and give in.  Just simply acknowledging how they feel and explaining why things need to change can go a long way. 

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