The Right Way To Use Positive Reinforcement | My Baba

Let’s start with a movie reference; 6th Sense is a classic psychological chiller in which Bruce Willis tries to rid a young boy of his nightmares. There’s a particularly scary line in which the tearful lad says, ‘I see dead people’.

And I see them too. Especially, but not exclusively, on Monday mornings. Hordes of folk who are alive but not really living. Too many people are having what I call a ‘near life experience’

I’ve been studying the science of happiness for 12 years and here a few lessons, for all the family (but mums especially), to help us calm the hell down and reconnect with our best self:

Lesson #1: The 8:1 Ratio

The modern take is that you should be helping your child nurture a growth mindset, that is, an attitude that equates success with hard work. ‘Nagging’, ‘punishment’ and ‘pointing out what’s wrong’ means kids will learn to stick to what they know to be safe which, over time, leads to a fixed mindset (example, ‘I’m rubbish at maths. I’ll never be able to learn it’). If you mix in a healthy dose of positive reinforcement you will be rewarded with discretionary effort.

One of the most effective things a parent and/or grandparent can do is to use a positivity/negativity ratio of about 8:1. It may seem a lot and it can be difficult to get it right, but catch your child doing things well. Notice the little things and tell them.

Oh, and mean it!

Lesson #2: Praise for effort rather than talent

The advice from positive psychology is that if your child accomplishes something, don’t say, ‘Well done, you are such a little genius!’ But rather, ‘Awesome, you put the effort in and got the reward.’

Here’s a concrete example. If your daughter does well in a mock maths exam don’t high-five, ‘Holy cow, total genius girl. You were born to do long division.’ You’d be better off saying, ‘Amazing result. That’s what practice and hard work gets ya!’ and ruffle her hair in a chummy fashion.

Lesson #3: 7 second hugs

Trust me on this. The average hug lasts 2.1 seconds. Which is perfectly fine. But for the love to properly transfer between two people, a hug needs to last 7 seconds or longer. Obviously, reserve it for the people you love most (so, for example, it’s not administered to strangers in the park) and don’t count out loud (cos that kills it) but get it right and it’s a game changer

Lesson #4: The 4-minute rule

Your emotions are contagious. It takes about 4 minutes for other people to catch how you feel so practice being your best self for 4 minutes at a time! So instead of ‘how was school?’, try asking [enthusiastically but not scarily so] ‘what was the very best thing about school today?’ or ‘What was the most amazing thing you learned?’ or ‘the funniest thing that happened?’ And then, the hardest part, give your child undivided attention and active listening for the full 4 minutes. Boom! You’ve changed them by being a better version of yourself.

Which brings me full circle. The basic rule of parenting (in case you haven’t twigged?) is that your children won’t do what you say. But they will do what you do.

So, here’s a bonus lesson… you will massively improve the odds of creating a happy child by being happy first.

Expert article written by Dr Andy Cope, from Art of Brilliance

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