End Bad Behavior by Praising Its Opposite 


Her mom spent many uncomfortable nights on Jane’s bedroom floor, before deciding to put Dr. Alan E. Kadzin’s well-researched methods to work.

Dr. Kazdin, Psychologist and founder of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic encourages parents to use praise over punishment.

“You can get rid of any behavior just by rewarding the behaviors that are incompatible with it,” Kadzin says. His basic premise—backed by 30 years of research– is every time your child performs a desired behavior, give her “over-the- top” praise and add points to a reward chart.

Here is how Jane’s mom describes on the process and outcome after using Kazdin’s method:

“WOW!!! You went back to sleep on your own last night and didn’t need me to sit with you!!! That’s so great!!!!” I told Jane, and gave her big hug. Then we walked into the living room and I made a chart out of construction paper, and let her put a big star sticker on “Monday.” Then I said, “Do you want to play a game where you practice going to sleep on your own? I’ll get in my bed, and you get in your bed, and you pretend to wake up and call me. If you can stay in your bed and pretend to go back to sleep, I’ll give you another sticker!!!” We did it, and she was so excited. “I want to do it again and again and again!” she said. After a few more times, we pretended it was bedtime, and I read her a story and then she practiced staying in her room all by herself. We had to add a second sheet of paper so there was room for all the star stickers.”

Following his method, Jane’s mom effectively replaced the bad behavior (refusing to sleep in her big-girl bed) with desired behavior while simultaneously helping Jane to feel like a worthwhile and appreciated participant (sleeping soundly in her bed as before.)

Putting Positive Opposites into Play:

Parents can replace the unwanted behavior by systematically and repeatedly prompting and reinforcing the wanted behavior.
Prompting the positive opposite:

  1. Get physically close to child.
  2. State the specific desired behavior.
  3. Praise any part of the (wanted) behavior with reward points on a chart, physical touch and overly enthusiastic verbal praise.

As you practice this new system, learn what works and what doesn’t. Some examples:

  1. Brother and sister and sister are playing nicely together. Verbally acknowledge this to each of them first and then give a hug. “Wow! You two are playing nicely together!! Thank you!!” (Put your hands on each child’s shoulders, followed by a hug.)
  2. Your toddler picks up all his toys and put them in their designated bins. “Look at that! You put all your toys away and I didn’t need to remind you! What a big boy you are!”(high-five)
  3. Your daughter puts her bike back in the shed when she’s done riding it, as you used to have to ask several times. “Great job! Now, your bike will stay safe and dry for the next time you go to get it. And, I didn’t even have to remind you once. Thanks for being so responsible for your things. (Hug)

There is no better way to get a child to behave repeatedly than by telling them what you think they are doing right. The extent to which a parent masters this technique will dictate the extent to which your child’s behavior will change.

Try it, and let me know the outcome!

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