affirmative action

Written for Simply Youth Ministry:

I’m affirming, at least when I really try to be. If I were to take a somber look at how I dialogue with teenagers and my own children, I would discover that I complain about their negative behaviors more often than I reinforce the positive things that they do. Unfortunately, I’m more about the “Don’t do that!” and “You need to be doing this!” instead of the “Thanks for doing that!” and “You’re great at doing this!” Did you notice the exclamation points? I’m not very soft spoken either.

Recently I was watching a show hosted by parenting experts. Just so you know, having children automatically precludes me from being an expert. In addition to questioning whether the expert’s teens were better behaved than mine, I was also hoping to learn parenting techniques, which didn’t include feeling guilty for my current parenting performance.

I couldn’t wait until the show’s end since they kept teasing the viewing audience with the one, sure-fire way to get kids to behave. I needed the “one way” especially if the “one way” was simple. I’m slower than most. The parenting experts said this: Reinforcing positive behavior is more effective than repeatedly pointing out negative behaviors. In other words, all I have to do is be cognizant of when my kids behave properly and applauded that behavior, figuratively of course. “Thanks for not slamming your door,” and “I love that you introduced yourself to Mr. Davis without my asking you to,” became part of my vocabulary. People love positive encouragement. No one I know gets tired of being told that they did something right.

What about the seventh-grader who insists on cracking his knuckles during prayer? Ask him quietly to stop, and then let him know how much you appreciate him saving the cracking until after the prayer. What about the girl who insists on taking the lead in every skit? Encourage her to allow another student to have a chance, and then commend her for being considerate.

If it were only that simple, I know. But at the very least, by reinforcing the positive behaviors in our children and students, we are feeding them a plate full of encouragement, which never leaves a bad aftertaste.