Four year old Max isn’t very good at picking up his toys. His mom is working on this, but he’s slow and resistant and it really takes 10 times as long when she involves him than when she just does it herself. But his mom knows that it is worth it, in the long run, to teach him the big lesson, so she perseveres.
Tonight, when he was picking up toys as part of his bedtime routine, she noticed that he was walking back and forth from his bedroom to the laundry closet with One Sock Per Trip. One sock. Per trip. (He’s so four!) She thought about correcting his method, intending to ask him to carry the remaining things together, but remembered “One at a time.”
So, instead of interacting with him in a redirective way, she praised him, noticing how he was cleaning up his room independently and steadily. She smiled at him and thanked him for his work. He smiled back and continued cleaning.
In a few weeks, or months, picking up his toys at bedtime will be a more regular occurance for Max, and it won’t require as much supervision and adult involvement. That will be the right time to raise the bar by asking him to reach that goal in an improved way. But for now, his mom is supporting his positive behaviors best by focusing on One Primary Goal, and being more tolerant of imperfect ways of getting there. That’s what is meant by “One at a Time:” reminding us, the parents, to focus on one goal at a time, and to recognize the progress towards that single goal even when it is delivered imperfectly.
Praise is another one of the classic parenting techniques that is now subject to some controversy. I don’t mind tipping my hand here–I’m firmly in the pro-praise camp. But, like so many other areas of parenting, the devil’s in the details, so to speak… The way that praise is given makes a huge difference.
Alan Kazdin, president of the APA and the director of Yale’s Parenting Center has written a book called “The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child.” I’m reading it right now (just page 39 so far) and will post a review when I’m done. (hint: so far I like it a lot.) The thing that drew me to his book was his instruction on how to praise. I’ve been searching for some concrete, simple, and easy directions for some time now… after hearing one too many meaningless “good jobs!”. (sometimes from my own mouth, btw. sigh.)
So, Kazdin says to think of these 3 guidelines on how to praise:
1. Be very, very enthusiastic!!! (I’ve watched the DVD that comes with his book, and he really, really means this.) Super, super, super enthusiastic.
2. Be specific. Ditch the generic ‘good jobs’ and replace them with specific descriptions of what you liked: “I’m really impressed that you put your toys away the first time I asked you!”
3. Reinforce with a touch.
He also says that praise should be immediately following the desired behavior, clearly linked to that desired behavior, and frequently given.
I’m interested to hear from any parent readers who try this–does it feel different from what you’re doing now? How does it go over with your kiddos?