“What You Focus On,You Get More Of.”

Turn your "House Rules" into positive ones. Super-nanny recommends one rule per years old - we average "3". This is hanging by our kitchen table where I can remind the kids every morning. If MJ needs reminding, I can simply hold up my finger to remind him which rule he's forgetting.

Quote of the week…This little mantra comes from my guru’s book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey. I have it posted up around my house, and in my car, and I think it rings true not just in parenting, but for life in general. When you focus on the negative, you just seem to get more of it. Bailey talks about using the “Power of Attention” to get more of the behavior you want. The opposite is true, too, and this is the tough behavioral pattern for us as parents to change. Sometimes as a teacher or parent, it feels like all we say is “no”, and this little word begins to lose its meaning. Save it for when you really need it! When you say, “No hitting”, you have focused the child’s attention on it, and you get more hitting. In fact, just by suggesting it, you put that “picture” in their little brains, their little brains that haven’t yet developed the ability to grasp complex thoughts or inhibit control. (Your pre-schooler may talk like a little adult, but his pre-frontal lobe won’t be fully developed until mid-20’s – YIKES!) Plan ahead…sit down for 5 minutes and think of the most common conflict moments you have with your child. What negative phrases do you use in those particular situations? Is there any way to turn them into positive phrases? Write them down, and be intentional about using them instead. It takes practice, believe me.  So….

  • Change “No hitting” into “Use kind hands, like this.” or “You wanted the toy. Use your words. Say, ‘May I have the toy, please?’ ”
  • Change “Stop running” into “Use your walking feet.”
  • Change “Stop screaming” into “Can you whisper as quiet as a mouse?
  • Change “You are making such a mess! Don’t use your fingers to eat the ice cream!” to “Use your spoon, like this.”
Obviously, this doesn’t always work, it takes a little bit more effort and energy, and sometimes (when they don’t get the message) you have to assertively follow-up the “positive” comment with the negative one for reinforcement, but it can’t hurt to start by focusing on what it is you DO want out of your child. Put that picture into their brain.
The fun part of this focusing on the positive is labeling the good stuff! Most parents only add commentary to their child’s behavior when they want to correct it. Practice commenting on the good behavior at least as much, and be specific in your praise. “Ellie, I notice you using your napkin. That will really keep your hands clean.”….”Michael James, I see you sharing the instrument with Ellie. In our family we share.”…”Ellie, I see you brushing your teeth all by yourself. You are learning to take care of your body.”…”Michael James, I see you on your way to use the potty like I asked. Way to cooperate!” Remember, no need to judge. You just label the value (kindness, helpfulness, cleanliness, cooperation), and let them judge for themselves. This is really hard to do at first, but soon you’ll see them responding positively in return. (By the way, a similar shift with your partner is will reap benefits as well. Yo might just adjust the wording a bit. “Dustin, I see you taking out the dirty diapers. Way to be helpful” tends to get me eye-rolls.)
These phrases are naturally motivating to children, and they will naturally want to give you more of that behavior.I have modeled this kind of speak so much with my kids that occasionally, they label the positive behavior for themselves, and then I know they are getting it! (They’re learning the values, not just what makes Mommy happy and keeps them out of trouble, and they are proud of themselves.) One of my favorite examples of this comes from when MJ was about 18 months old, and was doing lots of signing. As he carried Daddy’s coat for him one winter day, he signed “helpful”, and said “I helpful boy.” And just the other day, I heard Ellie taking care of her “dolly”, and saying “I loving girl. I love people.”
“What you focus on, you get more of.” Try to live by this little “truism” this week. Focus on what you want more of – out of life, out of your relationships, and out of your child’s behavior. And let me know how it goes…
(More Becky Bailey discipline tips coming up on my blog…in the meantime, check out this helpful article on “7 discipline mistakes all moms make”… take note of that word “all“, and give yourself a break! It goes right along with our quote of the week…)

Read “7 Discipline Mistakes” all Moms Make


  1. Ellyn Morgan says:

    Becky Bailey’s writings are being used in schools and homes around the country. After working in public education since 1989 and being a parent since 2004, my recent discovery of Becky Bailey’s resources sums up and adds current brain research to what I already know and believe about what is best for children. Lowry, thanks for spreading the word with clear examples ready for immediate practice!