One of the most important lessons that I ever learned is: “Never reward negative behavior!” That one line can make a world of difference in your family life. It is so simple, really!
Think of the little boy in the shopping cart seat who is whining, whining for candy. We’ve all seen it (and maybe lived it too!) The little guy is working up to a pitch, and his exasperated mother is getting frustrated. Next scene, the little boy is happily licking an ice cream cone. What lesson was just taught? “If I whine loud and long enough, I’ll get a treat!” You can bet that behavior will be repeated every time they go to the grocery store!
The husband who forgets to take out the trash (or mow the lawn, or pick up his socks) finds that his wife has become impatient and done it herself. Lesson learned? “If I wait long enough, somebody will do it.”
The child who can’t find his book (shoes, mitt, etc.) and keeps complaining until his mother finally gets up and finds it for him. Lesson learned? “If you bump around complaining long enough, Mom will do it for you!”
I don’t mean to suggest that loved ones are conniving. It is just human nature—no hurt is intended, but if it works, the behavior will be repeated. So, never reward negative behavior.
What about the child who can’t sit still and behave during a class or church service? If the parent gets exasperated enough, they may be taking a trip out into the hall for awhile. Nice reward! What if being taken out entails the parent’s displeasure—is it still a reward? Yes it is! Any undivided attention (even negative) is better than being ignored.
I once watched a young mother who was so sweet with her children but suddenly went “deaf” whenever a child whined. She didn’t scold or remind, she just couldn’t hear them, apparently! I was amazed at how quickly her “whiner” changed her tone when she could no longer get a response. Next time you observe behavior you don’t like, watch for the reward. People don’t keep doing things unless there is some kind of payoff. If you are involved in paying, stop! . . . and the behavior will stop too.
Now, you know the secret, Mom!
(Never reward negative behavior.)
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