What I learned from parenting
When I was pregnant with my son I read every parenting book I could get my hands on. One concept that stuck with me is “catch them doing something right”. The idea is to reinforce wanted behavior and extinguish unwanted behavior by ignoring it. What I discovered is that “catch them doing something right” is so much more than just positive reinforcement.
When you start with the proposition that your job as a parent is to “correct” your child’s bad behaviors, you will be scanning for behaviors you don’t like. You miss an opportunity to enjoy your child because you’re focusing on the negative. You might start to feel frustrated and incompetent as a parent.
If you see your job as a parent as building on your child's good behavior, you are noticing behaviors you like. Naturally, you appreciate your child more and you feel good about yourself as a parent because you are seeing the good in your child.
Note: Always “catch” behaviors rather than character traits. If a child does something kind, telling them they are a kind person could backfire. No one is kind all the time. The child will naturally think of a time when he or she was not kind and discount your feedback. Instead, praise the behavior.
What are the impacts on the child?
- Children want to please their parents. When you “catch them doing something right” you’re telling them exactly how to please you.
- One of the elements of healthy attachment for children is knowing that they are enjoyed and that someone takes delight in them. When you “catch them doing something right” you are letting them know you enjoy them.
- It’s always easier to build on strengths than to correct weaknesses. When kids feel competent and good about themselves they have a solid platform for doing the work of growing up.
- Children model themselves after their parents. You might soon find them catching other people doing something right.
It’s not just the parent-child relationship that benefits from “catching them doing something right.”
Healthy interpersonal relationships are key to our well-being in every area of life. Whether it’s our children, co-workers, employees, friends, or partners, the ability to orient to behavior we like instead of what’s wrong is an important element of successful relationships.
John and Julie Gottman, founders of The Gottman Institute, have spent decades studying what makes a good marriage. According to them, certain negative behaviors are so damaging to a relationship that researchers can predict which couples will divorce based on the presence of these behaviors. These are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
Instead, we need to consciously build a culture of appreciation and respect by regularly expressing appreciation, gratitude, affection, and respect. Couples who are in stable, happy relationships have a ratio of positive to negative interactions of 5:1. When you “catch them doing something right”, you’re putting a deposit into the emotional bank account of the relationship.
In my business, catching my employees doing something right helped build a strong and healthy culture. People know where they stand with me. They feel appreciated and valued. Pretty soon, I noticed everyone “catching someone doing something right.” It enhanced our appreciation for each other and made our work life more satisfying.
Showing appreciation by “catching them doing something right” brings friends closer together. It builds trust because it demonstrates our interdependence and vulnerability. It shows that we are celebrating them not competing with them.
Pick one relationship in your life and try “catching them doing something right.” Keep it up for at least a week. Notice how you feel and any changes in the tone of the relationship.
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