Start praising every little step toward the target behavior, making a point of catching the child at being good. Suppose you have told your child he must clean up his toys when he’s through playing with them, though he’s never done this before. Praise every bit of progress, however minor. At first, praise him for picking up one toy even though he’s left three others on the floor. You might say, “It was great the way you picked up your truck and put it in the toy box. Let me help you pick up the others.” The next time, praise him for picking up two items, and so on.
The more specific your praise is, the better the child will understand what he’s doing right and the more likely he will be to repeat it. To increase desirable behaviors, you must emphasize the specific behaviors that please you. One morning, for example, you notice your child has made his bed. At that moment, he’s brushing his hair. If you simply say “Looks nice,” he won’t know whether you are referring to his bed or his hair. Instead, you can say, “I really like the way you made your bed so neatly this morning. Thanks.”
Frustrated parents often describe a child’s personality with words like rebellious, lazy and selfish. Behavior can be altered, but personality is more resistant to change. When efforts are focused on behavior, goals are more likely to be reached. For example, don’t say, “That’s a good girl!” which sends a message that being good all the time is the goal—an impossible expectation. Say instead, “I like the way you spoke to Grandma just now.” No amount of “good boy” or “good girl” will build a positive self-concept unless the child receives specific feedback on his actual good behaviors, because his self-image is composed of his accomplishments. The most effective way to build good behavior is to shape it with praise.
Discipline and punishment are not the same—discipline is guidance and teaching that promotes positive behavior; punishment is a penalty imposed in reaction to unacceptable behavior. Positive discipline is a discipline model that focuses on the positive points of behavior, and is more effective than punishment because desirable behaviors that last a lifetime must come from within the child rather than be imposed by external force.