10 Ways to Encourage Positive Behavior

By: Jody Baumstein, LCSW

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May 2020

Parenting is already one of the hardest jobs there is. Throw a pandemic, social distancing expectations, homeschooling and the unknown of reentry into the mix, and parenting just got a whole lot tougher.

None of us has been through something like this before, so there is no textbook to follow or one right way to parent in the current environment. However, there are things you can do to improve your family dynamic, make your day-to-day a little smoother and make parenting more enjoyable.

Here are 10 ways to encourage positive behavior:


  1. Create and follow basic routines. Providing some structure to the day helps us all feel more relaxed because we know what to expect. This may seem impossible in times of chaos and crisis, but the routines can be as simple as trying to have consistent times for meals, waking up and going to bed. When your routines get interrupted, try to be flexible and be kind to yourself. As best you can, go with the flow, and get back on track when you can. Tomorrow is a new day.
  2. Have fun together. Building fun, engaging activities into the day helps keep everyone more stimulated and connected. There are so many things we can be worrying about, but years from now, we won’t remember the color-coded schedules we made or the Instagram-worthy bread we baked. We will, however, remember the memories we created with our family, such as the drive-by celebrations and the after-dinner games. So if you can, try to slow down and find joy in these new moments with your family. Who knows? Maybe something you start doing together now will become a long-standing tradition for years to come.
  3. Provide clear expectations and follow through. Everyone in the house can benefit from clear and consistent limits and boundaries. Help avoid confusion and future limit-testing behavior by being clear on the front end about household rules and expectations. For example, if you only want your kids to spend 30 minutes on a device, be upfront about how much time they have and then stick to your limits. If you say 30 minutes but let them go for however long they like, they’re not going to take you seriously the next time—and they’ll likely be even more resistant when you do enforce limits.
  4. Practice healthy habits. Not being active, not getting enough sleep or eating poorly can lead to cranky, hangry kids (and adults). On the flip side, getting the activity, sleep and nutrients we need helps keep us all feel more emotionally balanced.

    Here are some simple ways to practice healthy habits with your family:

    • Sleep: Power down electronics at least an hour before bedtime and keep screens out of the bedrooms. Dust off your old-school alarm clocks if you have to.
    • Nutrition: Take the pressure off at meal and snack times by trying to enjoy the time together instead of battling over how much your kids are (or aren’t) eating. It’s your job as the parent to provide healthy options, and it’s your kids’ job to decide if, what and how much to eat. Let the phrase “you don’t have to eat it” be your friend.
    • Physical activity: Make being active part of your routine. Get into the habit of taking family walks after dinner or following along with a yoga video online in the mornings. Physical activity not only boosts our moods, but it also helps us sleep better at night.
  5. Practice coping skills. No one is born knowing how to cope. We all need to learn and practice healthy coping strategies so that we have a variety of tools to rely on whenever we are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Keep in mind that it’s difficult to learn something new when you’re upset, tired or distracted, so it’s important to teach and practice coping skills when everyone is calm instead of in the heat of the moment. Learning healthy coping strategies will not only be helpful in dealing with current stress, but will also help your family become more resilient, so they are better prepared to handle future ups and downs.
  6. Make time to talk about feelings. When we are struggling to express ourselves with words, we tend to show others how we feel with our behavior.

    Help everyone in your family name and express their feelings by:

    • Asking open-ended questions.
    • Listening and repeating back what you hear, without judgement.
    • Letting the other person know their feelings are normal and valid.
    • Trying not to dismiss or downplay anyone’s feelings.
    • Making it a natural part of the day to talk about feelings.
  7. Choose your battles. If you can go into each day knowing that it’s not going to be perfect, and that you may need to be flexible, things may naturally go smoother. If you can go to sleep knowing that you are maintaining a strong, healthy relationship with your family—while prioritizing the rules that keep you all safe—everyone wins.
  8. Focus on the behavior, not the child. It’s natural at times to catch yourself thinking “My child is ungrateful” or “My child is bad,” but kids are human. Be realistic with your expectations and accept that kids will make mistakes—especially during times of uncertainty and stress. Try to focus on helping your child fix the behavior by telling them what they can do, instead of blaming them or thinking something is wrong with them.
  9. Praise good behavior. Show your kids that good behavior is the best way to get your attention. When your child does something good, give specific praise right away. Kids are more likely to repeat a good behavior when they receive positive attention for it. The same is true with partners and other adult family members as well! We are all more likely to repeat a behavior when someone praises us for it, so don’t hesitate to speak up and share your appreciation and gratitude for what someone else is doing.
  10. Model the positive behaviors you want to see in your kids. Don’t underestimate the power of your influence. You are your kids' most important teacher, and they learn by watching you. If your kids see you calmly expressing your feelings, taking care of yourself and choosing your battles, they will learn to do the same.

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