On Praise and Punishment

When it comes "challenging" kid behaviors, I make an effort to use positive reinforcement instead of punishment whenever possible (which is to say when I remember to do it...)

This is a fairly common (and well documented) parenting technique these days, but given my upbringing, not one that comes naturally to me. So I mean it when I say it takes effort.

Of course, I've also had to learn not to go too far in the other direction... I try to limit the lavish praise to what is relevant or needed at the moment and NOT make a big deal of every... little... thing.... my children do.

Some things are rewards in and of themselves as in, "if you go potty now, you won't have to sit in wet pants later". Profound words of wisdom.

Then, there's what is simply expected of them because they are PEOPLE living in a HOUSE as opposed to raccoons living in the forest. "Noooo, you do not wipe your nose on the sofa!" and my all time favorite, "Mommy's shirt is not a napkin."

(Clearly, there is still plenty of "stop that", "keep your hands to yourself", and "time out" in my day.)

On the other hand, if my son is having a particularly rough time getting along with other kids at the park, but then a few days later I notice him happily giving of his sand toys, why, I make sure to commend him amply...

"I noticed you doing a SUCH great job sharing with that little girl. That was very kind of you!"

Since adopting this softer approach with my kids, I've noticed a ripple effect of positive energy throughout our household. It's the simplest thing, but it goes such a long, long way.

How it warms my heart to hear my preschool-aged son clap and cheer for his one-year-old sister! "Good standing, Lou! I knew you could do it! (clap, clap, clap) Yea!"

In turn, she's pleased as punch to clap and giggle at everything he does. In looking for ways to spin negatives into positives, I also find that I'm a much more pleasant parent. Smiling, upbeat, and chipper even...

I try my very best to hold on to this warm, fuzzy feeling when we pull into our driveway and from the backseat, I hear, "Great job not getting lost this time, Mommy! Awwww, Mommy's finally learning how to drive!"

I know my son is FOUR and really doesn't mean to be condescending. It just sounds that way.

Through gritted teeth I reply, "Yes, Son. Thank you for noticing."


  1. I remember when my son was learning to dress himself; he would always tell us "good job" when we put our socks on straight or buttoned our shirts. We used to call him "positive reinforcement boy." I guess there are worse things to be known for, right? :)

  2. it's interesting because we don't do either positive or negative, we make observations so that our children derive their own pleasure from experiences rather than looking to us to see how they should feel.
    have you read any of Alfie Kohn's books...something to look into.
    But, of course if the choice is to be positive or negative than positive is definitely better. Thanks for sharing :)

  3. "Racoons living in a forest" - love that!! Best positive reinforcement I've gotten recently is from 2 year old grandson who said "Hooray for you Nana" as he flushed the toilet for me.


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