Shaping behaviour

No one should attempt to change another person. We need to tolerate our partner’s and our children’s faults – just as they need to tolerate our faults. But bad habits can be changed over time and we can help shape each other’s behaviour with plenty of praise.

It sounds obvious, but if we want to encourage certain behaviours, then we need to reinforce those behaviours: Thank you; That was wonderful; You’ve been such a help; I couldn’t have coped without you; That meant the world to me. But many people struggle to praise what they consider normal behaviour.

I often hear women say: Why should I praise him for helping me with the chores? They’re our chores. I hear men and women in my office dismiss a kind gesture or words of love with the comments: There’s always a first time; or How long will this last? With these kinds of reactions, where is the incentive to repeat the gesture or help out again?

Children of all ages want to please their parents. If they are not praised for helping out or opening up, then they will live up to what they perceive to be very low expectations of them. If your child manages to get ready for school without being nagged, praise them. If they clear the table without being asked or tidy their room after only one reminder, thank them. Your smile will reinforce those behaviours and they will want to do them again. Whereas if you roll your eyes or say: It’s about time you did something to help, then they ask themselves: Why did I bother?

Once your child has made a habit of helping out more or your partner has continued to respond to your encouragement, then you can ease off on the praise and turn your attention to another bad habit. We can also continually shape our own behaviour in an effort to make our relationships more harmonious.

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