The Power of Positive Attention
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How to use it (instead of negative attention) to change behavior

The Power of Positive Attention | Child Mind Institute.

11 Habits That Create Positive Relationships | Power of ….

When a person is misbehaving or messing up, it is natural for us to want to correct them, pointing out — sometimes not too calmly — what they are doing wrong. Though this may seem like common sense, it can backfire.

Experts have found that giving others positive rather than negative attention is much more effective in changing behavior. Research shows that praise for the behavior you want to encourage gets more results than calling out things you want them to stop doing.

So what do we mean by positive attention? And how is focusing on the positive, instead of the negative, different from “looking the other way” and letting someone off the hook when they mess up?

What is positive attention?

It’s easy to respond harshly when someone is doing something they’re not supposed to and not react at all when they’re doing what we expect of them. Positive attention requires a lens shift in which we call out someone for good behavior and ignore (at least in the moment) the not-so-good.

For most people, the idea is that attention from others, especially someone we trust, love, and respect, is so powerful that whatever behavior we pay attention to will increase, even if we’re telling them to stop.

Essentially, rather than chastising them for what they’re doing wrong, we want to catch someone doing right. It’s a simple shift, but one goes against centuries of norms and takes some practice before it becomes second nature. The definition of a habit is: “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” Once formed and ingrained into your being, habits are challenging to break. This includes patterns that are practiced in your relationships – positive or negative.

How to implement positive attention

So what does this look like in practice? Positive attention can take many forms, including verbal praise, hugs, kisses, high fives, or rewards. It may look different for a three-year-old than for a teen or an adult, but the basic idea is the same.

The key, explains Lindsay Gerber, PsyD, a clinical psychologist, is being as descriptive and specific as possible in your praise so that the person knows precisely what behavior they should replicate. Experts sometimes call this giving “labeled praise.”

Instead of saying “great job!” or “I love how you’re doing that,” try to spell out precisely what they are doing well. For example, you could say, “I love how you are remembering to put the dirty dishes in the sink” or “it’s awesome that you put down your phone when I was asking you a question.” No matter their age, letting a person know that you appreciate their behavior will make them feel good, and when they know exactly what they are being praised for, they will be more likely to do it again in the future.

But what about bad behavior?

This is the part that may be the most challenging. If a person is behaving in an unsafe way for themselves or others, then, of course, an adult should intervene. Otherwise, do your best to ignore the behavior, then provide positive attention when they stop. Experts call this “active ignoring.” By withdrawing your attention, you send the message that acting out is not the way for them to get what they want. You reinforce this message when, as soon as you see them calming themselves down or obeying an instruction, you do give them your attention.

Just because you are ignoring a behavior at the moment doesn’t mean that you don’t ever address it or that you are pandering to that person; quite the opposite. “When you see a behavior that you want to decrease, that’s not the time to interact with the person,” says Dr. Gerber. “That’s a time to take a deep breath, notice it, maybe gently try to redirect them to something else, or actively ignore it.” Later, when things have calmed down, you can circle back around to talk about it.

Creating a stronger bond

Transitioning to a model of positive attention takes patience and practice. Sometimes you might backtrack and lose your cool, and that’s okay. We’re only human. If that happens, turn it into a teachable moment by apologizing, expressing your frustrations, and talking about what you can do differently next time. In the end, beyond addressing behavior, utilizing positive attention can create a stronger bond with your child, colleague, partner, or friend.

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