Spending time with family around the holidays can be wonderful, and for parents of kids with ADHD it can also be stressful. When you’re visiting family and friends that you only see a few times a year you want more than ever to have things go smoothly. It’s a tall order when your child’s routine is disrupted, and when they are so excited about the holidays! As a parent, when you are stressed, your child’s more minor misbehaviors – the ones that you would typically let slide – may really get under your skin. So, you’re more likely to notice the things that your child is doing wrong, and overlook the things that they may be doing right. As a result, your child receives even more attention for their misbehavior, and this attention – even though it’s negative – often leads to an increase in challenging behaviors.
Making an effort to notice your child’s positive behavior, and praise them when they are doing something right can help break this cycle. When you “catch your child being good” you set them up for success. You start to lay the foundation for positive family interactions, you build their self-esteem, and you increase the chance of seeing more positive behavior in the future. In order for praise to be most effective, and actually lead to a change in family dynamics and your child’s behavior, you’ll need to be strategic about how and when you deliver the praise. The following guidelines will help you get off to a good start:
- Be Specific. Let your child know exactly what they did well. For example, “You did a great job helping your sister find her toy.” rather than “Good job!” When you’re specific your child knows exactly what it is that they did well, and will be more likely to do it again in the future.
- Be genuine. Kids respond well to praise when it’s heartfelt and genuine, and when your level of enthusiasm matches their behavior. For example, let’s say that your child does something that isn’t very hard for them, like tying their shoes, for example. You respond with over the top enthusiasm, “Wow! You tied your shoes, amazing!” You’re child isn’t going to find you very believable, and might even think that you’re acting strange. But, if you say something more genuine, like, “I noticed that you tied your shoes the first time I asked. Thank you.” Then they will be much more likely to accept your praise.
- Praise effort. Studies show that kids who are praised for their hard work and effort, rather than for their intelligence or abilities, are more likely to approach new challenges with a positive attitude and have the motivation to keep trying even when things are hard. So, if your child get a good grade on a math assignment, rather than saying, “Nice job! You’re so smart at math!” focus on the things that they did in order to earn the grade, like, “You worked really hard on that assignment and double checked all of your answers before your turned it in. Your hard work really paid off! Nicely done!”
- Remember 5:1: It takes quite a few positive statements to offset the effects of negative feedback and criticism. So as a rule of thumb, aim for 5 positive comments for every negative statement. If this seems like a tall order, start with a smaller ratio, like 3:1 and work your way up.
Shift the balance in your home, from only commenting on the negative to really praising the positive. Noticing your child’s good behavior, and following these praise guidelines will go a long way in helping things go more smoothly this holiday season and throughout the year. Over time you’ll see even more good behavior and improved family relationships as your child continues to seek and receive more positive attention from you.