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Parents and teachers have a tendency to tell children what they are doing wrong. That’s our job, isn’t it? But wouldn’t it be better to tell them how to do things right instead?
“You need to keep working on your math homework, so you can have your snack,” is so much better than, “Stop wasting time!” Many children do not know what they are doing that is “wasting time.” This is especially true of children who struggle with executive functioning. These children need frequent reminders to stay on task, and the reminders should tell them what to do rather than what not to do.
Another thing that can help is to catch children doing what you expect them to do, and then give them positive reinforcement. The reinforcement needs to be something very small, like a smile or a thumbs-up sign. With older children, it shouldn’t be public or be something like “I like how you are doing [fill in the blank]!” Why? Because older kids see through this and feel it is false praise. They also feel that you are singling them out in front of their friends—not cool! (But, they do enjoy your attention!).
These gentle, positive signals can help children learn what they are supposed to be doing rather than having a constant reminder of what they are not supposed to be doing.
Next time you are tempted to fuss at your middle schooler, think about phrasing your concern in a way that confirms what you would rather have him do instead of only telling him what he’s doing wrong.