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Catch Your Child Being Good

Linda Heppner, Extension Family Living Agent, Barron County — University of Wisconsin

Revised July 2013 by Kathleen A. Olson, Program Director — Partnering for School Success.

How would you feel if your boss constantly noticed all the bad things you did and never gave you credit for the good things you did? Children can have the same reaction.

Many parents spend a good deal of time attending to their children when they’re misbehaving. However, when they are behaving appropriately, parents often don’t say or do anything. The attention parents give their children when they do misbehave is generally negative and may include criticism, complaints, threats, and even hitting. This often leads to more inappropriate behavior by the child.

Angry parent and child

A typical scene might be:

  1. The parent criticizes the child.
  2. The child begins to argue.
  3. The parent gets angry.

As a result, a negative cycle develops.

Give Attention for Good Behavior

A major principle of positive discipline is giving more attention to behavior that pleases and less attention to that which does not. Children crave attention. Parental approval is a powerful force. Being noticed is rewarding. Some children are only noticed when they are causing problems. These children need to be “caught being good.”

That’s not easy when their undesirable behavior is very noticeable and their desirable behavior is not as obvious. It’s not easy when you are used to more criticism than praise yourself. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the effort.

happy parent and child

Catch 'Em Being Good

Consciously use smiles, gestures, and verbal comments when you really like what your child is doing.

Dennis the Menace

Avoid Backhanded Compliments

Be careful! No backhanded compliments such as “It’s about time you did such a nice job of cleaning your room” or “This is nice, BUT...” This is giving a compliment and then taking it away.

Remember that children will settle for negative attention if that’s all they get. So make sure they get plenty of attention when they’re doing what you want. At the end of each day, think about how often you caught your child being good.


Smith, C. A. (n.d.). Effective discipline. Manhattan, KS: Kansas State University Cooperative Extension Service.

Steinberg, L. (2004). The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Waterston, T. (2000). Giving guidance on child discipline: Physical punishment works no better than other methods and has adverse effects. British Medical Journal, 320(7230), 261-262.

University of Minnesota Extension. (1997). Positive parenting II: A video-based parent education curriculum. St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota Extension. This product is no longer available.

Related Resources

Praise that Builds a Child’s Self-Esteem — In an effort to enhance their children's self-esteem, parents should use praise to recognize the efforts and accomplishments of their children.

Overindulgence: The Test of Four — Overindulgence, or "too much," is not good for children or their parents. Learn the Test of Four, and to recognize what is enough.

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