Chiu Lau, a Psychologist based in Miranda, provides some simple tips on improving behaviours through verbal reinforcement.
As the saying goes “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” This means reducing problem behaviours and increasing adaptive, socially appropriate behaviours by focusing less on the negatives and more on the positives.
Studies have shown that parents who provide verbal reinforcement to their preschoolers for their good manners have children with better social skills (Garner 2006; Hastings et al 2007). Scientists state that verbal reinforcement helps children to be more motivated, more confident and more inclined to tackle challenges.
Verbal reinforcement is when we praise, acknowledge and express appreciation to others for behaviours and traits that we value.
What are some things that we can keep in mind when wanting to provide verbal reinforcement to our children?
- Verbal Reinforcement should be provided immediately. For example, if your child finds it challenging waiting in line at the cashier for more than 5 minutes without complaining, you may express appreciation following 1 minute and 4 minutes of queuing – “Abby, I noticed how you are waiting patiently even though the wait is so long. Thank you.”
- Think about the last time you were provided with positive feedback at your last performance review. Did you value “Nice work” or “You displayed sound leadership with the last project you managed. Your junior staff benefited greatly from your patient mentoring.” It would be safe to assume the latter would motivate you more! Hence, when providing your child with positive feedback, be descriptive and be specific.
- Being Busy Modern Parents ™, it can be easy to slide into providing automatic and almost robotic feedback. “Good boy Anthony”, “Good job Mei” and “Nice drawing Amir.” Instead, for optimum outcome, try to vary between praise (“Great effort!”), acknowledgement (“I noticed how you did your best there”) and appreciation (“I really appreciate how you always do your best even though it can be super hard”).
- Think back to a time when someone paid you a compliment. What about their compliment made you feel good about yourself? Was it what they said or HOW they said it? If you’re going to provide verbal reinforcement, ensure that it is engaging and emotive. Stop for a moment, look your children in their eyes, slap on a big smile and emote while you praise!
- Targets to reinforce can be Behaviour-based (finishing homework, packing away, sharing toys) AND Trait-based (kindness, helpfulness, cooperation, resilience). This is to assist children in understanding that life is not just about achievement; it is also important to be a well-rounded individual with pro-social values.