Posted by Idaho Youth Ranch on May 22, 2020 3:16:24 PM
There is a lot of conflicting information out there about parenting, and it can get overwhelming for people to know what to do and how to do it. That means most of us tend to fall back on how we were raised. Sometimes that’s okay, but sometimes, it has room for improvement.
Each family is unique, with its own values, culture, and traditions. That is as it should be, since values, culture, traditions set the bedrock of your children’s character and relationships.
In addition to each family’s unique approach, there are skills you can develop that provide a road map to dealing with most day-to-day parenting challenges, which will also create a healthy foundation between parents and kids that will last a lifetime.
These skills are designed to help parents problem solve, teach kids good habits, and nurture communication, respect, and trust within families.
These are called PRIDE skills.
Praise is an important part of parenting, regardless of how old your child is. It is easy to think that teenagers need less praise and encouragement than they did when they were younger. This is simply untrue.
For kids and even young adults, their parents’ approval is paramount to their self-esteem and plays a role in their choices, self-worth, and personal identity.
The other reason praise is such an important strategy is because attention—positive or negative—is like currency for kids and teenagers. They will repeat the behaviors for which they get attention.
Have you ever seen a small child who gets louder and louder and louder until he gets what he wants, or perhaps a child who throws temper tantrums until her parents pay attention?
At the end of the day, kids need their parents’ attention. When they are small, they are still learning their place in the world, and their parents’ guidance helps them establish their value and worth. As they get older, attention helps them develop the framework for their behavior. As teenagers, their parents’ attention and approval gives them the behavioral skillset to deal with the world as they transition into being adults.
Praise is your tool to teach kids how to behave by catching them being good.
When your child or teenager does something you want them to do, regardless of how many times you asked them to do it, make sure to offer good, specific praise:
- “Thank you so much for making sure those dishes were done. You did a great job, and that really helped me out.”
- “You did a really good job cleaning up your room before your friends came over. I really appreciate how you made your bed, and you did it with me only asking you once.”
- “You did such a good job on your test. I am so proud of how you took the initiative and studied. Great job!”
Focus on praising the specific thing your child did that made you grateful, happy, and/or relieved. It does not matter if you had to ask over and over. By focusing on what they did right, you will encourage them to do it again next time and you reinforced the behavior you want.
Reflecting means repeating back key words or phrases to your kids. The goal here is to show that you are listening and paying attention to what they said. Unconsciously, this will make them feel heard, engender trust, and help them be more open to sharing with you.
This is a skill that works at every age range with kids, but it should be adapted depending on their age.
With small children, it might sound like this:
“I drew a picture.”
“You drew a picture? Wow! What a great job you did. I really like the way you…”
In this example, you immediately reflect back on what your child said to you before you give them specific praise about what they did.
With older kids, it might sound like this:
“School really sucked today.”
“School really sucked today? What happened?”
Restating their words back as a question before asking them what happened to them invites your teenager to speak more openly and will help them “take down their guard.”
This strategy also allows your child or teen to lead the conversation, which allows kids to have some power or say in the relationship and shows that their thoughts, feelings, and ideas matter to you.
Reflecting your kids’ words and phrases back to them helps provide clarity. This is really important for kids, because often they struggle with identifying emotions and what is triggering them.
For example, you can see your teenager working on homework and he is visibly upset.
“What are you working on?”
“This stupid math assignment!”
“Math assignment? What’s stupid about it?”
“I can’t get the answers to upload in Google classroom!”
“You’re mad because Google classroom isn’t working or because of the assignment?”
In this example, you can now start to flesh out the problem and you are giving your teen the ability to solve his own problem. No judgment. No directives. Your job is to guide and reflect back his words.
Have you ever heard the expression, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”?
Well, it’s true.
Your child has just done something you asked her to do. It doesn’t matter if she is 5 or 15.
“Wow! You did a great job on [insert specific task here, focusing on what she did a good job on]. The next time I have to [insert name of task] I’m going to try to do it like you did.”
You are now telling your child that they did something so well, they are teaching you. This will buoy their self-confidence and give them a huge release of endorphins (the happy hormones) and pride.
When our brains experience that release of endorphins, it creates a positive memory around whatever we were doing immediately beforehand. Why is that important? Because it means your child or teenager will be motivated to do that task again.
A couple of examples:
- “You did such a good job helping your brother. Can you show me how you did that so I can do it like you next time?”
- “I really like the way you stacked the dishes in the dishwasher. I am going to try to remember to do that the same way next time.”
- “I am really impressed with how you prepared for that test. The next time I have to prep for a meeting at work, I want to try to do it the same way you did.”
Focusing on the specific behavior or action that you want your child to repeat, and then reinforcing that behavior by saying that you—the adult with power in the relationship—want to learn from them, will give them confidence and encourage them to repeat the behavior.
Are you seeing a pattern about specificity here?
The more you can highlight the behavior or action your child is doing that you like, the more likely they are to repeat it. Describing is a way of doing that while the action is taking place.
- “I see that you’re double checking your answers on your homework. Great job!”
- “I see that you’re planning ahead by laying out your clothes for tomorrow. That is going to make the morning so much easier. Thank you!”
Describing is all about using love and praise to reinforce a desired behavior while it is happening, which will give your kids an immediate hit of dopamine. Dopamine is the hormone in our brain that we produce when we bite something delicious, exercise, or have a successful social interaction. It is the brain’s way of rewarding us for beneficial behaviors, and it motivates us to repeat those behaviors (Hartley, et al. 2019).
Describing your child’s actions in a positive, specific, and approving way will help them release dopamine and associate that exact behavior with a positive feeling and memory. You’re just using biology to help your kids learn good behaviors and develop self-esteem.
Make a point to create fun opportunities with your kids and make sure they see you enjoying your time with them.
This is not only a powerful motivator for your kids and teens to build warmth and trust in your relationship. It also gives you, the parent, those same positive feelings from a similar release of endorphins and dopamine. Taking time to do things with your family that you all enjoy together will lower your personal stress levels and build closeness in your relationship with your kids.
As kids grow up, they will come into situations where they need your help and support. Whether they are dealing with the emotional ramifications of a global pandemic or they are having difficulty with bullies at school, you want your children to feel safe in coming to you for help.
Having loving and supportive adults is one of the 7 Positive Childhood Experiences (Bethell et. Al) that have been proven to children grow into resilient, well-adjusted adults, and PRIDE Skills are designed to give parents tools to create that positive, healthy relationship with their children. Strong parent-child interactions are the foundation of a healthy relationship that will bring joy and resilience to both parents and kids.
Citations and More Information:
Bethell C, Jones J, Gombojav N, Linkenbach J, Sege R. Positive Childhood Experiences and Adult Mental and Relational Health in a Statewide Sample: Associations Across Adverse Childhood Experiences Levels. JAMA Pediatr. 2019;173(11):e193007. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.3007
Hartley, Stephen, et al. “Dopamine, Smartphones & You: A Battle for Your Time.” Science in the News, 27 Feb. 2019, sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2018/dopamine-smartphones-battle-time/.
“PCIT Research.” PCIT, www.pcit.org/pcit-research.html.
Written by Idaho Youth Ranch
Our Mission: We unite for Idaho’s youth by providing accessible programs and services that nurture hope, healing, and resilience.