Building Positive Behaviors
  • Authoritative Parent - Responsive and Demanding

    Try this....

    • Convey warmth, caring, and respect when responding to child's emotional, social, and academic needs (remember, problems communicate needs)
    • Help your child feel accepted, competent, and self-confident
    • Talk about your child's day at dinner every night. Provide support and guidance, when needed.
    • Establish clear behavioral and academic expectations and routines (and stick to them!)
    • Have fair rules and consequences.
    • Try creating expectations, rules, and routines with your child

    Common challenges include....

    • Conveying anger and revenge when responding to problems.
    • Consequences that are isolating or humiliating and do not teach alternative behaviors.
    • Adult attention is reactive (only given when there is a problem) and is not given when child is behaving as expected.
    • No clear rules, expectations, or routines.
    • No clear consequences.

    Praise and Rewards

    Try this....

    • Pay attention and notice Good Behavior!
    • Reward good behavior, especially behavior related to engagement (completing assignments, doing chores, expressing interest in positive activities)
    • Think about what your child likes (praise, snacks, activities) and use this as a reward (remember, every child is different)
    • Limit the rewards. For example, give a

    Be sure to praise and reward your child for good behavior, but especially for behavior related to student engagement, such as completing assignments, receiving good grades, and expressing and demonstrating an interest in school activities. This approach not only helps to demonstrate that you are responsive to your child's needs, but also often calls attention to the behaviors you desire and increases their occurrence. Using rewards wisely and strategically also means that you are not harming your child's intrinsic motivation.

    (NASP:Engagement and Motivation: Helping Handout for Home)

    Homework Help

    Provide a set time and appropriate place for completing homework, have clear expectations, and check to make sure all assignments are completed and on time.

    (NASP:Engagement and Motivation: Helping Handout for Home)

    Offering Choices

    Parents generally know what interests their children most and what they value. Often, they also know what their children's goals are in life, especially as children become older. Parents also know that children are more motivated and engaged when the subject matter or activity is of great interest to them. When your child has options to choose from, guide your child to choose materials and activities that match those interests, values, and goals. For example, allow your child to choose books on topics that interest him or her, while making sure that the materials and activities also match your child's abilities.

    Of course, choices do not always exist, such as when children who dislike math have to learn math skills. In such cases, try to point out the value of learning the new skill—even if the skill does not relate directly to the child's interests and future goals. For example, you could emphasize that working hard on tasks that are of little personal interest helps to develop patience, demonstrates a work ethic to others, and helps achieve the more immediate goal of receiving good grades.

    (NASP:Engagement and Motivation: Helping Handout for Home)

    Change It Up!

    Motivation and engagement often decreases when the same methods and activities for learning are repeated over and over, whether over days or within the same day. Variety and novelty generally increase interest and engagement and make learning fun. Where appropriate, try to make learning fun by playingeducational games or including gamelike and fun features in learning activities, such as novelty, surprise, fantasy, and humor.

    (NASP:Engagement and Motivation: Helping Handout for Home)

    Goal Setting

    These goals should be realistic and geared toward both academics and behavior. For longterm goals, especially for a student in highergrades, challenge the student to reflect upon his or her possible self in the future. Ask questions such as: “What does it mean to be a successful student and adult?” “What must you do to achieve your goals?” Provide activities to help your child develop strategies for attaining short- and long-term goals. Activities might focus on the importance of completing homework, managing time, volunteering for community service, and working with others. Help your child to set standards and methods for monitoring progress toward achieving those goals. For example, if your child's short-term goal is to complete all homework assignments for the marking period, suggest monitoring progress by recording daily homework completion on a chart. For long-term goals, your child can reflect on and discuss or write down what activities have helped to meet the goals each week.

    (NASP:Engagement and Motivation: Helping Handout for Home)

    Effort and Persistence

    Thinking this way leads to the adoption of what is called a growth mind-set rather than a fixed ability mind-set. With a growth mindset, students understand that with effort and persistence one can become smarter, and that intelligence is not fixed.

    (NASP:Engagement and Motivation: Helping Handout for Home)


    Encourage your child to stop often and think about the progress he or she has made. This activity includes self-evaluation not only of progress toward shortand long-term goals, but also of performance on daily tasks and assignments. Encourage your child to focus on specific performance feedback, both positive and constructive, rather than Selfon a grade alone. Your child should be asking, “What did I learn and how can I do better?” and not just “What grade did I get?” In sum, encourage your child to identify and learn from mistakes, reflect on achieving goals, and gauge the mastery of the material taught.

    (NASP:Engagement and Motivation: Helping Handout for Home)


    Just as it is important that you and family members model engagementrelated behaviors, such as persistence and hard work, it also is important that they model good mental health. It is extremely difficult for a child to be motivated and engaged when a parent or significant other in the family is clinically depressed, abusing alcohol or drugs, or otherwise experiencing issues of mental health, especially if family members are not receiving treatment.

    (NASP:Engagement and Motivation: Helping Handout for Home)

    Work with Staff!

    Your child's teachers and others in the school can help provide more intensive interventions and supports. Those interventions and supports might include the following, guided by an individual assessment of your child's needs, if needed (conducted by a team of mental health and educational specialists):

    • Increased home–school communication and collaboration. The school and home should work closely together in monitoring and promoting your child's engagement, such as by holding a teacher–student–parent conference, using a daily or weekly report card or behavioral contract, and using electronic postings of assignments and work completed.
    • Counseling or social skills training. Either individual or group counseling and training can be used to address your child's needs and build on strengths.
    • Tutoring. Tutoring can take place either during school or after school to teach your child skills that may be lacking.
    • Individual mentoring and guidance. The program Check and Connect has the strongest evidence base for fostering engagement among likely dropouts. A school staff member serves as a mentor, meeting at least weekly with the student and coordinating communication with the student's family. The program is successful because the mentor builds and maintains a positive and supportive relationship with the student; works with the student to monitor signs of disengagement, such as attendance, grades, and behavioral referrals; and addresses areas of need, such as tutoring, study skills training, social skills training, or counseling. Your school might offer this program or one like it.

    (NASP:Engagement and Motivation: Helping Handout for Home)


    GAMES! for Social Emotional Development

    Recommended for 5 years old and up


    Charades (non-competitive): Expand categories and think of animals, insects or vacation destinations to act out for one another with no teams and the simple enjoyment of nonverbal acting and guessing.


    I Spy Interesting People: Identifying feelings is critical for each child when he or she is trying to become self-aware to be able to communicate her needs and challenges and to develop into her own best problem solver. This is a spin on a favorite game.

    I spy with my little eye a person who is

    • …happy
    • …sad
    • …bored
    • …frustrated
    • …excited
    • …silly

    Try to expand a child’s feelings vocabulary by adding in creative or lesser discussed emotions such as disgusted, peppy, or inspired. 

    Creature Sightings: See how many creatures your child can spot outside, including birds, rodents, and insects and keep a running list with photos or drawings.


    Teddy Bear Tea Party: Have your child set the table with your help for the party. When ready, invite his favorite stuffed animals to join you. Let your child lead the pretend play. Encourage him to teach his guests the rules of the party. Have him serve each of his guest and perhaps, suggest a toast or speech.


    Create Your Own Feelings Poster: Have child/children brainstorm feeling words and write each word on an index card. Organize the words alphabetically, record those words on the poster paper under the appropriate letter labels. Expand the chart by reading sentences and having the child identify the feeling words for the particular “trigger”:

    • When someone pushes me, I feel ______________.
    • When I make a mistake, I feel ______________.
    • When I finish a project, I feel _______________.
    • When I help someone and they say thanks, I feel _____________.
    • When someone calls me a name, I feel ______________.
    • When someone won’t share with me, I feel ______________.
    • When someone will share with me, I feel _____________.
    • When someone smiles at me, I feel ___________.
    • When I get a snack I didn’t expect, I feel ____________.

    Use and add to the poster to help children name their feeling. Draw faces with expressions to match the feelings. Come up with more trigger phrases and feeling words together.



    Balloon Bop: All should stand in a circle with chairs and all obstructions behind them. Participants need to link arms (holding hands is another alternative). A balloon (not helium) is passed into the circle and participants need to keep it up and inside the circle for as long as possible without unlinking arms or letting it touch the ground.


    Twister: Five and six-year-olds love this game! Throw the matt out on the floor. Have each player take turns with their moves versus all moving at once to get practice with turn taking. An adult will likely need to spin and provide support with left and right directions. Giggles always ensue.


    Alphabet or Word Treasure Hunt for Young Children: This is a good indoor game and great for young children who are learning letters or words. Write each letter of the alphabet on single index cards, one per card. Tape a letter or word card to an object that begins with that letter. For example, the “P” card gets taped to the piano. Place the cards all over the house. You can make the placement of the cards easy or hard to find depending upon what kind of challenge you anticipate will be enjoyable for your child. Give your child a full alphabet as a reference throughout the game (if finding letters) and also a gift bag to collect the cards. Now hunt! Each time your child finds a card, in order to “claim the prize,” (a.k.a. put it in his gift bag) he must name the letter (or word). If he cannot, no problem. Look and sing through his alphabet reference and find it together or sound out the word.


    Big Wind Blows (for Elementary and Up): Sit in chairs in a circle. You will start by saying “The big wind blows for all those…who wear contacts or glasses, or who are going into third grade or who live on our street.” Each person will add their own commonality. Explain that all individuals who share that common trait need to get up and move to a different seat (and it cannot be the seat directly to the right or left of them). One chair is removed so that one person ends up without a seat in the middle. That person is the next one to call out, “The big wind blows for…” It’s fun after playing it a few rounds for the facilitator to call out a commonality that everyone shares so that all are forced to move. Reflect by asking: What did you like about this game? What did you find out you had in common with others? Did you learn something new about your friends? (Listed as “A Warm Wind Blows” in The Morning Meeting Book)


    Hanging up the Anger Suit: Have someone wear the Anger Suit (an old suit, t-shirt or dress). Let everyone know that the suit has magical powers and makes those who put it on instantly and intensely angry. The task is to help whoever has the Anger Suit on, get out of the suit and hang it back up. The only way that they can do that is by following the advice of the audience – anger management experts – who will each offer tips that can help him calm down. The experts must come up with anger management techniques for example: “anger feels like your heart is beating really fast” and suggest that taking deep, slow breaths will change that. Make a list of the anger diffusion techniques that he group comes up with. As they suggest things, have the volunteer act them out, slowly taking off the Anger Suit as they calm down, until they take it off, hang it up, and return to normal. Give other kids a chance to try on and take off the Anger Suit as the experts suggest techniques from the list.



    Dinner Games: Trade places, roles, and personalities with all family members at dinnertime. For example, daughter plays mom. Play out your typical conversations acting as one another. Or play “If a new person came to dinner, what would he or she say?” You can use anyone, real or imagined. “If Darth Vader came to dinner, he would say ‘Join me on the dark side.’”


    Celebrity Teacher: Circle up. Create a story about their classroom teacher becoming a famous celebrity. Go around and have each child add one sentence to the story.

    What’s the story?: The ability to understand and articulate someone else’s perspective is a challenging skill even for adults. Understanding another’s perspective is a critical part of problem solving and helps a person become more empathetic in any number of circumstances. As with any skill, children will become more adept with practice. Use this game when you are waiting in line or at the park where you can people watch. Find a person in the crowd on which to focus. Now just from her appearance and facial expression, decide what she is thinking. What she’s feeling. Why is she feeling that way? Try to make up either the craziest, silliest story, or the most realistic reason for her feelings. This is a good exercise for teens who attempt to do this all of the time as they size up their friends and classmates.


    Playing School: Let your child lead the play script. Help him get a school room set up with chairs, chalkboard/dry erase board, favorite books, and other supplies. His students can be you, a sibling and stuffed animals. Encourage him to teach the rules of the class first and then teach whatever he’d like.


    Who Done It?: Mystery lovers will enjoy this game. It teaches skills in careful listening and communicating information in an accurate and concise way. It also stirs a child’s creative thinking. Pretend that your precious pet turtle was stolen by someone. Describe what that person looked like taking cues from a variety of people around you. “He wore a plaid, flannel shirt and had a large forehead.” He was carrying the turtle in one hand and a flashlight in the other.” You must include 10 details about the appearance of the turtle-napper. Try repeating those 10 details twice for your listener. The listener must be able to repeat all 10 descriptors in order to solve the mystery.



    Jam Band: Haul out the musical instruments or better yet, invent a few with pots, pans, rubber bands and wooden spoons. See if you can produce music together. Record and play back to listen to your creations.


    Parachute Play: This one requires a play parachute or a flat bed sheet and it offers a wide range of collaborative games with children holding each side of the material. You can make a tent or bounce balls on the top of the parachute and see how long you can keep them up there. You can also add stuffed animals to volley back and forth. This is a particularly special treat at birthday parties.


    “Cell-aphone”: Remember the old game “Telephone”? It’s as effective at teaching listening and communication skills as it always has been. Place the kids in a circle. The first child whispers a short sentence in the next child’s ear. Each child passes on what he heard. The last child reveals the message. Giggles ensue when the message invariable changes from start to finish.


    Rainstorm: Stand in a circle without tables or chairs in front. Tell the group that you are going to begin a motion and expect that they will not do the motion until it comes around to their turn in the circle. Give them an example by clapping your hands and the person next to you, passing on the clapping motion to the next and the next. They must continue that motion until it is changed and comes around to them again from the person next to them. When you do this series of motions together, it sounds like you create an indoor rainstorm (though let them guess after you’ve done it, what sounds you’ve made together). Lead with the following motions:

    • Softly rub your hands together back and forth palms facing one another
    • Snap your fingers moving back and forth from one hand to the other
    • Pat your thighs one at a time from one thigh to the other
    • Stomp your feet loudly from one foot to the other
    • Reverse the moves by going back to patting your thighs, then, snapping your fingers, to softly rubbing your hands
    • Finally hold both hands up, palms out in silence
    • Reflect by asking: What did we create together? What did it sound like? 

    Pass the Face: This is a game that produces laughter. Circle up and the starting child makes a goofy face at her neighbor. The neighbor replicates that face and must create a new one to pass.



    Litter Pick-Up: Participate in kindness together by taking care of your local park. Provide gloves for each child to make sure it’s safe. Then see how much litter can be picked up.


    Commercials: Write out value words like “friendship” or “teamwork” or things found in nature like lakes or ladybugs on separate strips of paper. Put the strips of paper in a hat. Sit in a circle and have one person select a word out of the hat. The group should work together to create a commercial for television to advertise the value or natural phenomenon. Have them develop and rehearse it before showing it to you and any other adults you can round up for the audience. It’s an even better and more exciting game if you video tape their performances!


    Our Town: Cooperatively create a town in the park in which kids can play and bike. Use sidewalk chalk, cardboard, or place traffic cones, sticks or other natural materials to outline your area.


    Hide the Treasure: Pick anything to be the treasure – a stuffed animal? Someone’s shoe? Have one child leave the room. The other children hide the treasure. When the child returns, the other children must guide her to the treasure without speaking.

Last Modified on April 20, 2020