Recently I published a post on how to use the rule of positive opposites to improve behavior. But some have asked that I provide more detailed information on how to identify and use this powerful parenting tool in day-to-day life.
In case you missed the first post, positive opposites are behaviors that are the exact opposite of problem behaviors. For example, the opposite of shouting is talking quietly, and the opposite of running is walking. When a positive opposite increases, then the problem behavior decreases.
This is important information for a parent, because of the magic of positive reinforcement. If you reinforce the opposite of a problem behavior, then the positive behavior will increase, and by extension, the problem behavior will decrease. It’s a clever way of reducing problem behaviors without punishments, lectures, or the ubiquitous “no”, “stop”, “don’t” or “quit” habit that parents can fall into when trying to change behavior.
Below is a list of problem behaviors and some of their positive opposites. This list is intended to be an example, to illustrate how to think about positive opposites and identify them for yourself. It is not complete or exhaustive.
|running in the house||walking|
|biting, kicking, spitting when angry||using words when angry|
|saying “no!”||following parent’s directions|
|ignoring parent||listening carefully|
|whining||using big-boy/girl voice|
|pulling dog/cat’s hair/tail||petting gently|
|leaving a mess||cleaning up|
|forgetting chores||remembering/being responsible|
|being shy around others||reaching out/being friendly|
|using bad words||polite talk|
|breaking toys, household items||playing carefully|
|standing by while others work||pitching in|
If you recognize one of the problem behaviors as something that you struggle with at home, then watch out for its opposite. This takes some refocusing. Most of our time and attention is spent catching the problem and correcting it. This approach is very different from what we normally do: look for the good behavior, the opposite of the problem, and reward it when you catch it. A reward can be as simple as a “way to go” or a hug. The important thing is to point out what the behavior is that is being rewarded.
When you look for positive opposites, and reward them when you see them, they will increase, and the problem behavior will decrease.