Positive Parenting

Positive Charge: How to Reinforce Good Behavior

Nagging doesn’t work. Neither does yelling or spanking. You know why? Punishments tear down children, whereas positive parenting builds up their self-esteem and behavior.

A mother and daughter smiling as the result of positive parenting
Mother and daughter outdoors in park embracing and smiling (selective focus)
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Strong Self-Esteem Is Job #1

If you’re raising a child who has ADHD, you probably spend a lot of time focusing on his weak points — intentionally or not. There's nothing wrong with trying to work on your child's impulsivity or lack of focus — in fact, it's important for parents to do so. But focusing too intently on your child's shortcomings may be doing a number on his self-esteem. How can you keep him believing in himself while also respecting the rules? Start by using these positive parenting techniques.

A young girl playing the piano and benefiting from positive parenting
Girl playing piano
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Focus on the Positive

Like all kids, our children have strengths, passions, and dreams. Positive parenting means encouraging your child in all of her pursuits. Find areas where your child excels, and praise her for them. Sounds simple, right? Not always.

A young boy exploring grass with a magnifying glass as a result of positive parenting techniques that encourage him to pursue his interests
Little boy exploring with magnifying glass at the park
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Be A Detective

If your child struggles academically or socially, pinpointing and highlighting his strengths may feel challenging. David Giwerc, an ADHD coach, encourages parents to be detectives — to pay close attention to what your child enjoys and does well. If your child excels at math but struggles in other subjects, talk to him to find out what he loves about math — and what he can do to keep that success going.

[Get This Free Download: 4 Parent-Child Therapies for Better Behavior]

Two children making cookies thanks to positive parenting
Brother And Sister Making Cookies
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Redefine Success

Don’t force your child into a narrow definition of success. If you excelled academically and your child struggles, you may worry that he’ll fail to succeed later in life. But academics aren’t the only measure of success. Your child may have a natural athletic ability, or a knack for handling animals. Maybe he’s a four-star chef in the making. Expand your idea of what success can be, and you’ll be a more positive parent to your child.

Father using positive parenting techniques to help his daughter learn how to ride a bicycle
Father helping daughter ride bicycle — Image by © Steve Hix/Somos Images/Corbis
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The Right Words, the Right Time

The key to effective praise is timing. If you praise everything your child does, he’ll come to expect it — and it will start to seem phony. If you withhold praise entirely, your child will lose hope and stop trying. Offer him authentic praise and positive reinforcement when he really succeeds — not every time he puts a dish away.

A happy family spending time together and playing games in an arcade, thanks to positive parenting
Family playing game in arcade
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Token System

For younger children, a reward system demonstrates praise and helps establish goals. Whenever your child does something praiseworthy — finishing all her homework ahead of schedule, for example — grant her a “gold star” that can be later exchanged for a reward. This helps make the praise a little more concrete, and gives the child real-world goals to work toward.

Parents talking to their child about a mistake, practicing positive parenting
Serious parents berating their son
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Don’t Forget to Parent!

Don’t mistake good parenting for a lack of discipline. For a lot of parents, discipline comes naturally — most of the time, it’s easier to spot bad behavior than good! But in enforcing healthy discipline, you also need to make sure you don’t take good behavior for granted. Praising our kids takes creativity, vigilance, and effort to notice the good alongside the bad.

[Read This Next: “You Are Wonderful!” How Praise Triggers Better Control in the ADHD Brain]

Edward Hallowell, M.D., is a member of ADDitude's ADHD Specialist Panel.