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mother hugging child, praising his good behaviorPay attention to your child’s good behavior

Nina Chen, Ph.D., CFLE, Human Development Specialist, University of Missouri Extension


All children will misbehave at times. Parents often try to teach children by attending primarily to their misbehavior, but when children behave appropriately, parents may be missing the opportunity to acknowledge and encourage that behavior.


When parents focus on misbehavior, the information the child receives is generally negative, possibly including threats or criticism, which may lead the child to misbehave more. If you were criticized all the time and were not given credit for things you did right and good, how would you feel? Children have the same feelings and reaction.


If a parent ignores good behaviors, always criticizes the child and only pays attention to bad or annoying behaviors, the child begins to talk back or argue, and then the parent gets more angry. This pattern becomes a negative cycle. Bad behaviors will occur more often in the future as a result.


According to Dr. Alan Kazdin of Yale University Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic, “Attention to bad behavior increases bad behavior (yelling, lecturing, scolding, spanking and punishing are all forms of negative attention), while attention to good behavior increases good behavior.”


When you really like what your child is doing, tell him right away. Be specific to praise the action, words or behavior to let the child know what it was he did right. For instance, saying “I like how you clean your room” is more effective than saying “You are a good boy.” Use a smile and give your child a hug, a high five or a touch on the shoulder.


Here are some tips you can follow to guide your child toward good behavior:


  • Every child needs attention. It is better to give them positive attention for good behavior than negative attention for misbehavior.
  • Don’t save attention for perfect behavior. Pay attention to your child for good or appropriate behavior.
  • The more immediate your positive attention to your child’s good behavior, the more likely your child will associate the good feelings with that specific behavior and with positive behavior in general.
  • Show your enthusiasm and let your child see how thrilled you are with their good behavior.



Heppner, L. (1997). Catch your child being good. University of Wisconsin Extension.


Kazdin, A. (2009). The Kazdin method for parenting the defiant child. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.


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Last Updated 06/18/2012