Parenting column: Pay attention to behavior you want |

Parenting column: Pay attention to behavior you want

Julia Kozusko

Parents are always looking for ways to get their children’s good behavior to repeat. “Energy flows where attention goes,” according to Michael Beckwith. Those behaviors that parents give the most focus in their children will grow.

Here are some ideas of how on a daily basis you can dramatically increase your child’s positive behavior.

Parents must focus on what children should be doing. In “Parenting with Love,” Dr. Glenn I. Latham states that a child needs eight positive acknowledgments to one command, correction or criticism.

These positive interactions can be physical touch such as a high five or a hug or a verbal compliment. Most of children’s good behavior doesn’t get any attention.

A large study of teachers, “Quality Counts 2004” determined that 90 percent of positive behavior goes unnoticed. Children are most often given attention when they are misbehaving.

Parents say phrases like “Don’t run or don’t hit your brother” and as result, children don’t learn what to do. These “stop” commands are very difficult to follow, especially for young children who can’t easily cease what they are doing and think about what the positive opposite behavior could be.

Use coaching phrases. According to the Incredible Years parenting program, children’s academic, persistence, social and emotional behavior can significantly grow depending upon how parents speak to their children.

Parents can use sentences such as “You are staying calm and trying again.” or “The blue block is next to the yellow square, and the purple triangle is on top of the long red rectangle” and “You followed directions exactly like I asked you. You really listened.” (for comprehensive lists of coaching phrases in many areas go to the All of these skills are often not identified specifically by parents and can be dramatically increased through parents’ thoughtful attention

Think about the Tetris Effect. The Tetris Effect (also known as Tetris Syndrome) occurs when people devote sufficient time and attention to an activity so that it begins to overshadow their thoughts, mental images and dreams.

It is named after the video game Tetris. If children are constantly getting reprimanded for what they are doing wrong, parents are at a high risk for seeing this negative behavior increase.

When parents give this consistent focus to children’s good behavior, it becomes likely that they will see these good actions often in their children instead. Have an attitude of gratitude. When children do something that you want to see more of, thank them. This will not only encourage them to want to do it more but will also model this most important manner. Things like, “thank you for clearing your plate, you are very helpful to our family” or “thank you for sharing with your sister, you made her very happy” should be said frequently.

Children have an overwhelming number of skills to gain during their childhood.

Parents can both teach what children need to learn while at the same time build their relationship with them when using the philosophy of spending more time focusing on what they want to see again and again.

Licensed professional counselor Julia Kozusko is a parent coach with Elevated Parenting LLC and has led the Incredible Years Parenting Program for seven years. Through the non-profit Early Childhood Partners, she consults with teachers, home visitors and parents at local child care centers, Early Head Start, Head Start and the Nurse Family Partnership. Kozusko’s work is regularly featured on her blog, She can be contacted at

Support Local Journalism