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Understanding Your Role in Shaping your Child’s Behavior, Part 1.

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by: Amy Churchill, LPC

There are several defined ways that parents can help shape their children’s behavioral responses, as well as help their children feel understood. I’d like to take a look at those with you in this article, with a second section that will further explain these reinforcement methods through common real life examples, in order to help you be prepared to implement these techniques with your own children.

There are 4 ways of communicating and responding to your child. When parents have a more honest awareness of how they communicate to their children, the messages can be more easily received and the relationship can be positively impacted. I believe gaining a better understanding of the following terms can help parents connect more effectively with their children.



As defined by Webster’s dictionary, the act of validating is: finding or testing the truth of something. Much more simply put this means: responding to a person in a way to make him feel that his feelings are real and true.

Why is this important? Because there are no “wrong” feelings. Although we may not always understand or agree with a person’s emotions, those feelings are real and significant to him. Does this mean all feelings are rational and logical? No. But are they real and true? Yes! And you can’t help a person navigate to a more rational and logical way of thinking until he feels understood. This means when a person doesn’t feel validated or understood, that person will typically continue with the same behaviors/emotions until he feels heard. Therefore, helping your child feel like you hear and understand what he is saying is necessary in order to help him move on from a particular situation.


Modeling is the ability to set an example using your own behavior. For a parent, this can be both a blessing and a misfortune at the same time. This is because modeling is the most available and impactful way to show your children healthy and appropriate ways to respond/behave. However, if you are not aware of what you model, you may end up setting inappropriate or unhealthy examples.


There are 2 types of reinforcement, positive and negative. All reinforcement refers to strengthening or INCREASING behavior. Positive reinforcement refers to increasing the likelihood of a behavior by adding something to the environment (i.e. a reward, praise, etc.). Conversely, negative reinforcement refers to removing or avoiding something in order to increase behavior (i.e. we continue to take medicine because it relieves/reduces our pain). In terms of shaping your child’s behavior, you will likely use positive reinforcement more often. Nevertheless, reinforcement can present in a multitude of ways and whether or not you are aware of it, you are (by your responses to him alone) reinforcing your child’s behavior on daily basis.


Although I will not be focusing on punishment, I do want to define it and compare it to negative reinforcement, because the two terms are often confused. As I mentioned, negative reinforcement is when something (usually something negative/undesired) is avoided or removed from the child’s environment in order to INCREASE a certain behavior. Alternately, punishment is when a consequence is added to the environment in order to DECREASE behavior. Therefore, a spanking, yelling the word “no,” grounding, etc. are all forms of punishment because a consequence was added to the environment in order to decrease (not increase) behavior.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Understanding Your Role in Shaping your Child’s behavior, to examine real like examples that further explore a parent’s role in shaping their children’s unhealthy or unwanted behaviors.