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As a licensed mental health counselor who provides therapy to elementary aged children and families at Legacy Counseling Service in Broken Arrow/Tulsa, Oklahoma, I’m always looking for new ways to use positive reinforcements when it comes the families I counsel and for my own family. Personally, I’d rather encourage my kids with praise and rewards than nagging and arguing. When you feel like you are giving your kid’s negative behaviors all the attention, it is time to change things up. Just think how you would feel, if your boss or spouse was constantly telling you to stop doing something and pointing out what you were doing wrong. It doesn’t feel good and relationships suffer. However, if someone points out the things you are doing right, you will feel happier, motivated to keep doing great things, and relationships will grow stronger. We know that strong, healthy relationships are an important part of preventing children from experiencing future mental health problems and helping kids develop resiliency.

Here are three ideas that can bring more attention to the things your child is doing right. By making it a point to notice the good behaviors, you and your child will both start feeling more positive and lessen any mental health concerns you may have about your child. And, you will probably be really surprised at how well your child is already doing when you stop focusing on the negative behavior.

Tip #1: Good Behavior Balls

This is one of the first things I tell parents to try when they are having problems with their children’s behavior. All this requires is a bag of fuzzy craft balls or cotton balls and a see-through jar. When you catch your child doing something good, you let them put a ball into the jar. Some examples would be, only having to tell your child once to brush their teeth, cleaning up their mess without being asked, letting their brother go first, or not getting upset when you told them they can’t do something. When the jar is half-way filled, the family gets some type of treat, like going out for ice cream together. When the jar is filled to the top, the parents decide on a bigger surprise like a trip to the zoo or roller skating.

Tip #2: “Let’s Celebrate You” Plate

A friend told me about this idea, and I have loved it ever since. They have a special plate for their family that they use when someone has had a particularly good day. So, if your kid got student of the month or an A on a test, they would get the pleasure to eat on the special plate. It is not always practical to take the whole family out to a restaurant or have a big treat, but using the special dinner plate is an easy way to say “You deserve to be celebrated!”

Tip #3: Fun Sticks

This is one of those simple ideas that can have a big effect on the whole family. You only need a jar and some popsicle sticks. On the popsicle sticks, you write a reward on each of them. Here are some ideas for rewards: Go on a family walk, make cookies, family game night, make a craft, and build a fort. If you are trying to stop sibling fights, tell you kids that after dinner they will get to choose a Fun Stick if they’ve been able to get along. Or if you are working on better bedtimes, they can pick one out in the morning if they did well at bedtime. Put the jar in plain sight, so it can be a reminder of the rewards and all the fun things your family could be doing.

Parenting can be very difficult and it’s easy to get overwhelmed to the point of depression, constant anxiety, anger, or marital strain. Sometimes making small changes in your parenting style can make a big impact on the whole family. These three tips can help bring fun, family connection, and positive behavior to your home.

If you worry that your child is suffering from anxiety, depression, ADHD, or adjusting to a life change, or if you believe that you or your child would benefit from learning more about changing behaviors and coping skills, please contact Abby Simpson, Licensed Professional Counselor at Legacy Counseling Service in Broken Arrow (www.legacycounselingservice.com) to schedule an assessment for your child.

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