Communities that Care: Create parent-child cooperation with positive strategies

May 7, 2014 

Children often resist when we say no. Naturally, they have ideas about how they want things to be and they want some control over their lives. Parents and caregivers can create a positive environment that encourages cooperation through some simple communication skills. Remembering to use these skills is the challenge for a concept called positive noticing, which is the encouragement of behavior you want to see.

To engage in positive noticing, first think of the positive qualities you would like a child to develop. When you see those behaviors, notice them and use specific praise, such as:

• “I saw you help your sister with the scissors earlier. That was thoughtful.”

• “I noticed that you took a deep breath and calmed down. That took a lot of self-control. “

• “You did your homework without a reminder today! You’re becoming a responsible person.”

Specific praise is much more effective than global praise such as “Good job!” because it highlights particular traits and actions. A great thing about using it often is that it helps us become more positively focused ourselves.

When it becomes a habit to respond this way, we see more positive things all around us.

• When/then: If a child resists doing something that needs to be done, saying, “When you have finished (doing the resisted thing), then you may (do the thing you would rather be doing or want to do instead.)

An example of this would be if a child won’t come put on pajamas when it’s time to get ready for bed, a caregiver might say, “When you have put on your pajamas, then we can read a story together.” This keeps the child focused on the positive thing that will happen afterward.

• Offer choices: Children do get told what to do often; offering choices allows them an opportunity to have a bit of control. For young children, choices should be limited to one or two things, both of which are equally acceptable to the caregiver.

For example, ask, “Would you rather wear the blue pants or the red ones?” or “Would you like an apple or an orange?” For the child who is resisting getting into the car when it’s time to go: “Would you rather hop to the car like a bunny or see if you can walk backwards to the car?” This turns the perceived challenge into a game and could get a child more focused on fun.

The when-then and offer choices strategies go together well when a child is having a particularly difficult time going with the schedule. For example, the child who wasn’t getting pajamas on might need an additional positive focus after hearing the “when-then” statement. The adult may say, “After your P.J.’s are on, would you rather brush your teeth before or after your story?”

These strategies are just a few of many others that can contribute to positive interactions and cooperation.

For more ideas, a great resource is “The No-Cry Discipline Solution” by Elizabeth Pantley (

Connie Schulz is the family outreach specialist with the State College Area School District. This weekly column is provided by the Communities that Care Prevention Coalition of Centre County serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley, Philipsburg-Osceola and State College area school districts.

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