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Affirming Effort Toward Right Behavior

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It’s a long journey from the kitchen table to the dishwasher; at least it is in my house. My kids’ dirty dishes usually wind up at the halfway point of that journey, in the kitchen sink. Parenting expert, Scott Turansky, says the way to get kids to do things the right way–is to praise their “approximately right behavior.” In my dishwasher case it would sound like this: “Andrew, thanks for bringing up your cereal bowl. Go ahead and put it in the dishwasher.”

“Sometimes,” Turansky says, as he explains his approach to positive parenting, “our kids are trying and just haven’t mastered certain skills needed to be fully obedient in the way we desire. But if they receive praise for their good-faith efforts and positive steps, they’ll be motivated to keep working on it, if we make a habit of looking for the positive behavior.

One way to keep a positive focus in your discipline is to look for approximately right behavior and affirm it. Don’t wait until things are absolutely right.”

Here are some examples of ways to praise a child who is trying to get it right:

  • If you ask your child to clean up the toys but find that he’s only put away two things and left six out, you might say, “Oh, I see you put the blocks away. That’s great! And I like the way you lined up your trucks! Now let me see you put the balls in the box where they belong.”
  • One little boy was learning to dress himself, and Mom had a rule that he needed to be dressed before coming to the breakfast table. When he came downstairs with his shirt on backward and his shoes missing, she still praised him. He was trying. Pointing out his shortcomings would have been discouraging. He’d tried and was feeling good. Mom wanted to encourage his efforts.
  • If your teen is having a hard time finishing a homework assignment, you could be encouraging and point out how much she’s done, rather than focusing on how much is left.

How to Remember that Children are a Work in Progress:

By affirming approximately right behavior, you’re encouraging steps in the right direction. Imagine that your child is on a path from a weakness to a strength. If you spend too much time focusing on where your child is now, and point out the weakness, you make change more difficult. Rather, focus your words and your encouragement on the progress your child is making or on the destination or strength you’re trying to build. Those comments go a long way toward producing internal motivation in your kids.

Sometimes parents think that if they give encouragement, their kids will slack off and feel that they don’t need to keep working to improve. The reality is that encouraging children by pointing out progress can actually motivate them to hang in there and keep growing. Growth is a process. It takes time. Character isn’t developed overnight.

What about using rewards in this process? Dr. Turansky says rewards do have a place in behavior modification, but ultimately, our goal is to have our children become self-motivated. Here are 10 great ways to motivate your children. And, remember, as Dr. Turansky says, “As you encourage children about their progress and their focus on the goal, you’ll be strengthening the internal motivation they’ll need to continue on.”

What task are your children least motivated to complete without prompting?

Dr. Scott Turansky is an author and speaker known for his heartfelt parenting approach. He offers moms practical, real-life advice for many of parenting’s greatest challenges and is the founder of the National Center for Biblical Parenting.


Who is the most patient and kind person you know?

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