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Parenting Skills: How to Balance Using Encouragement and Limit Setting

Parenting Skills Balance: Using Encouragement and Limit Setting

Erica Herzog, parenting skills balance blog contributorBy Erica Herzog, LMFT
Supervisor of Family Preservation, KVC Kansas

This article from the KVC Institute for Health Systems Innovation is the eighth in an 12-part series on parenting skills. See previous articles.


Do you catch your child misbehaving on a daily, hourly, or even near-constant basis? I’m sure there are many parents out there that can relate and list off a slew of discipline strategies they use. But I also encourage you to think about all of the opportunities you have throughout the day to catch your child being good. Recognizing good behavior is an easy and powerful tool that parents can use to encourage and reinforce good behavior.

Earlier in our parenting blog series, we covered how to use encouragement to reinforce your child’s good behavior. We also discussed how to discourage and prevent your child’s disruptive behaviors, also known as limit setting. Encouragement and limit setting are very effective skills, but an additional skill is knowing how to balance the two approaches.

Parenting Skills Balance: Using Encouragement and Limit Setting

A good rule of thumb is to focus on a 5:1 ratio. This means that parents should practice giving their child five encouragements to every one discipline. This is helpful in maintaining a positive environment while teaching desirable behaviors to your child.

Examples of Catching Your Child Being Good

  • When your child is sitting quietly and engaged in an appropriate activity, say, “I really appreciate how you are sitting there so quietly and playing nice with your toys!
  • When you catch your child sharing with neighbors, say, “I saw you out there sharing your toys with the neighbors! I’m so proud of you!”
  • When you see your child hold the door open for someone, say, “Thank you for holding the door for them. You are so respectful!”
  • When you are having a conversation with your child and they are listening to what you are saying, tell them, “I can tell that you are hearing everything that I am saying and I really appreciate how well you are listening.”
  • When your child becomes frustrated and instead of escalating, he/she goes to their room to calm down. Say, “I saw that you were frustrated and you did a good job of going to calm down.”

Another great way to encourage good behavior is to develop a token system. This allows the child to earn a small token for each desired behavior. Once they earn a pre-specified number of tokens, the child earns a small reward.

Interested in learning how to balance using encouragement and limit setting? Download this practice worksheet!

Balancing the use of encouragement and limit setting is one of twelve skills taught in the Parent Management Training- Oregon (PMTO) model. PMTO is developed on 40 years of research and practice with the core belief that parents are their children’s best teachers. KVC teaches this empowering evidence-based practice to parents and caregivers involved in the child welfare system, but the lessons learned from this model can be beneficial for any parent or caregiver. To learn about PMTO in Kansas, visit the Kansas Department for Children and Families’ website.

Read the other articles in this parenting skills blog series.

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