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Responding to Good Behavior

Boy lying on the floor playing with blocks

Attention from you and other caregivers is important to your child. In fact, toddlers and preschoolers demand A LOT of adult attention.

Attention can be both positive and negative. Positive attention is used to show your child he has done something you like. Positive attention includes things like praise, hugs, kisses, pats on the back, and high-fives. Negative attention lets your child know you do not like what he has done. Negative attention includes things like scolding, correcting, and yelling. Let’s take a look at an example of positive and negative attention.


You are in the check-out line at the grocery store with your child.

Positive Attention

If your child waits by your side, you might say, “Thank you for being patient and staying by me.”

Negative Attention

If your child runs away, you yell at him, “Come back here, now!”

As you can see from this example, the child received attention for both behaviors. Sometimes use of positive attention is better. But at other times, you have to use negative attention, like if you need to stop your child from running away from you. There are two key things to remember about attention. First, any attention (positive or negative) your child receives right after his behavior increases the chance that the behavior will happen again. Second, negative attention becomes a problem when we use it MORE than positive attention.

When to Not Give Attention

Your attention is powerful. Any attention you give after your child’s behavior makes the behavior more likely to happen again. So, if you give your child attention after he does something you do not like, the misbehavior can increase. You can decrease misbehavior by limiting the negative attention you give. Ignoring is another good way to limit attention for behaviors you do not like. Click here for more information on ignoring.

Learn how praise and imitation are helpful in improving young children’s behavior »

Learn how description can be used to improve your child’s behavior »