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Neighbors of DuPage

Exploring the art of parenting: motivate them to succeed

Feb 01, 2016 02:54PM ● By Neighbors Magazines

By: Kimberly Svevo-Cianci, Ph.D.

Earlier columns published in the Neighbors Magazine in Summer/Fall 2015, addressed the importance of empathy in parent-child interactions, as well as positive emotional communications and interactions.  We introduced ICDP Emotional Guidelines:

            1:How do you show positive feelings of love

            2:How do you follow and respond to your child’s initiatives

            3:How do you hold a close, intimate dialogue with your child, with and without          words? 

This column addressed how parents can apply these guidelines in happy times, as well as in more challenging parenting situations.

In 2016, we start up again with ICDP Emotional Guideline 4, asking “How do you give praise and approval for what your child does?”

First, let’s think about how we motivate our children to do ‘good.’  Do we guide them by identifying what they do wrong, correct them, and disciplining them? If so, we may lose an even stronger opportunity - which is by motivating them in positive ways that ensure they succeed.

It’s even more important that we guide their behavior by supporting their positive development.  Do you remember what motivated you most to do what was right, to be helpful or to achieve goals when you were a child?  Was it when your parents pointed out what you did wrong, or corrected you, or disciplined you?  OR - was it when your positive efforts were noted, encouraged and guided? 

Take a moment to check out several tips on how to make the time you spend with your children positive for the entire family. 

1.      First, consider the basic incentives for children to behave positively. When children understand the ground rules, much like the instructions on how to correctly play a game:  If children know what the expectations are, they know how to succeed, as well as what will lead to failure. Think about driving a car - if we didn’t know the ‘Rules of the Road’, how would we avoid accidents or getting tickets regularly?  These rules to guide our children may include:

       a.  “Say ‘Thank You’ when you receive a gift, and make eye contact with the giver”

       b.  “Be polite when you are offered food, including kindly saying ‘No, Thank  you,’ if you do not want any.”

       c.   “Make sure you don’t take too much (of anything) and share with others.”

       d.   “If someone seems to be feeling bad, don’t tease, shame and make them feel worse.”

       e.   “No roughhousing at Grandma’s, except outside and as long as no one gets hurt.”

2.      Positive, peaceful environments.  Children pick up on the stress and tension adults feel.  Help your children in social situations by modeling kind, caring communications and interactions with your children and with others in the family.  Encourage children to follow our lead on the tone and quality of our interaction with others (look for this while you observe your interactions with them, and their interactions with others).  In fact, it might be a good time to introduce a family relaxation technique which will be good to de-stress the entire family in the mornings, or when stress is getting high, perhaps even before bed.  Here’s a wonderful short video to watch with your kids/family (at least once!)  JUST BREATHE

3.      Positive re-affirmation/praise.  A proud look, a nod, a few words that can be applied when you ‘catch’ your child doing what’s right - these encourage children’s positive behavior.  We want our kids to know that doing what’s right gets them positive attention.  Our positive feedback can guide their positive behavior.  Further, a deeper acknowledgement of the specifics of what they are doing right - helps to reinforce that feedback, so they understand specifically what is positive, valued and appreciated.  This motivates them to live up to the standards parents guide them to achieve, and helps them to see themselves in a positive light.  Positive affirmation builds their self-image and self-confidence that they are good people who can do and achieve. 

4.      Our modeling the positive is what our children will learn to do with others.  When we consistently model giving positive feedback to our children - they will learn to identify and recognize the positive of others (even including us!).  That skill will help them in their social experiences, and in building positive, rewarding relationships. What a gift we will have given them!

In addition, this positive feedback serves to establish a relationship where children know that their parents appreciate and have expectations that they will do well, and do things good.  Then, when they make a mistake and their behavior is not appropriate, the withholding of the positive re-affirmation can serve to send them a firm, non-physical reminder that such behavior is not appropriate.  This allows them to make an effort, sometimes with our support, to fix the problem - in a constructive way, rather than through anger, shame or humiliation.

Can you remember a situation where your parent or another adult communicated to you their acknowledgement that you had acted maturely and had done the right thing, or had praised you for something that was difficult for you to do; do you remember how that made you feel?  Think about how you can do this with your child or children – encourage their positive communications, behaviors and interactions with others (as well as yourself), but also to find the good in themselves.

If you don’t consider yourself the kind of parent that heaps praises on their child, remember that your child needs to hear the positive side as well to understand what they do that is good.  This helps them know that you appreciate them and value them.  So work on creating some balance - and develop a style you are comfortable with.

In fact, positive feedback also helps our children think and develop strategies about how to achieve the “good” behaviors that we demonstrate we value.

However, remember that if we don’t consistently model the positive behaviors we are telling them we value, and guiding them to use... “be kind” “say thank you” etc. ... we lose credibility with them.  We may find that they learn that it isn’t sincere or consistent with you, so why should it be for them.  So we need to reinforce the good, by modeling it for them as well, and being consistent so they trust that this is the standard we all should live by.

Finally, we can model that it is ok to sometimes make mistakes, putting ourselves in their shoes - and sometimes sharing with them stories of when we made that mistake, or we were worried or scared.  Then they learn they can be open such things with us too.

Then, especially then, it’s a good time for a “I’m sorry” and for a hug or a smile -- and don’t forget to watch the three minute video, “Just Breathe”.

Kimberly Svevo-Cianci, Board Chairman of Changing Children's Worlds Foundation (CCWF) and Founder, International Child/Parent Development Program-USA based in Geneva. The phone number is 630-417-4567, email is and you can visit the website at