I’ve been chatting recently to a few parents who seem to be constantly firefighting with their children in terms of breaking up battles between siblings.

You might have heard of this catch phrase ‘Catch them being good’ but if you haven’t it simply means; use positive reinforcement to reinforce specific behaviours you notice your child doing that you want them to do again (e.g. sitting nicely during meal times, using manners, playing appropriately etc).

I know that sometimes there literally doesn’t seem to be a moment when you can catch your child being good to positively reinforce their behaviours and I’ll address this in a bit.

However, if you’re like most parents you’ll intervene when problem behaviours arise, having had enough of the incessant bickering. But, when your kids are playing quietly or appropriately it seems to go unnoticed, you don’t want to disturb this miraculous moment so you quietly retreat! Sound familiar??

This as a missed opportunity!

I get it… as a parent you don’t have time to quietly sit and observe your children 24-7; there is laundry to do, dinner to be cooked and the baby needs fed, however, what if I told you that there is a simple solution to this…all it takes is a little planning.

Hear me out.

Set your timer on your phone or on your oven; for example every 10 minutes. When the timer goes off go and check up on your kids – just pop your head in and see what’s happening. If they are playing appropriately give them a big thumbs up (or whatever type of social praise you would normally use) BUT remember positive reinforcement is different for every child so while social praise might do the trick for one child it might not be enough for another, in terms of making a lasting behaviour change.

Be honest with yourself about what actually serves as a reinforcer for your child – if it’s something tangible that’s ok!

If you can’t imagine your children ever playing nicely then how can you help scaffold some situations to set them up for success?

Maybe it’s preparing a special snack for them and if they can sit and eat their snack without engaging in any bickering this would be an opportunity to catch them being good and positively reinforce them. Or how about watching a movie together or doing a puzzle together?? Set up anything that you can think off where there is a likelihood your children (or child) can engage appropriately either with each other or solely with the activity.

Don’t take the good behaviour for granted or let these moments slip on by. Go that extra mile and make the effort, by setting a timer to help remind you, to ensure these moments come into contact with some form of positive reinforcement.

The laws of behaviour tell us that when a behaviour is positively reinforced that same behaviour will increase in the future.

If you want your children to sit nicely, play nicely to talk to one another nicely then think of ways that you can make this happen and figure out a strong reinforcer to use when they do happen.

The goal of catching your child when they’re good is to encourage behaviours that you want to see happen again and again. This might be using manners, playing nicely with siblings completing an activity independently or even tidying toys without being asked.

Have a think of other behaviours that could fit with catching your child been good.

Social reinforcement, or in other words; praise, is typically the primary strategy for catching your child being good but you can definitely include other types of reinforcers. For example, stickers or time with a preferred activity. Have a careful think about this – would your child respond well to just social reinforcement? And if not, what kind of reinforcers could you use that would be easy to access and apply quickly to reinforce the behaviour?

Give it a go!