Encouraging Your Child’s Positive Behavior, Part Three

Psychologist Howard Glasser, author of Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach urges parents to minimize attention to their children’s negative behaviors and, instead, “energize the positive” as a way to offer recognition to our children, build character, and encourage preferred behaviors. He describes three steps for doing so. 


Step One
of energizing the positive was described in a previous blog post. Step One is “active recognition” and consists of simply stating in detail the behavior that we observe our child doing in the moment – no judgment or evaluation, just a factual observation – like a photograph. Here’s an example:

“Andy, I see you playing quietly with three trucks and two cars. You move two at a time, and you move the cars faster then the trucks.”

Step Two was described in a separate previous post. Step Two, called “experiential recognition,” builds on active recognition by adding acknowledgement of any values evidenced in your child’s actions. As an example:

“Cheryl, I see you brushing your teeth and using toothpaste on the brush. I didn’t even have to remind you about doing it. This shows me the greatness you have in being responsible for following through with your own bedtime routine.”

This blog post will describe Step Three of energizing positive choices and behaviors of your child(ren), a step called “proactive recognition.”


While Glasser urges parents to make an effort to notice, mention, and “energize” the positive behaviors, no matter how small, in which our children engage, he acknowledges that at some times or with some children having particularly challenging behaviors, opportunities to celebrate the positive may not abound, at least initially. 

To address this, Glasser suggests that parents may need to be proactive or create opportunities for children to do the things we’d like to see them do.

“Proactive recognition” consists of making a clear request of your child followed by recognition, particularly “experiential recognition,” of actions your child takes in the direction of your request.


For example, a parent might say: “ Mathew, it’s time to do your homework.” Then, the parent would observe what happens, following up with a pertinent recognition of any step in the requested direction, such as:

“I see you getting your backpack, and that tells me you are getting what you need to do your homework.”

“I notice you have your hand on a pencil, and that shows me you are getting ready to start your homework.”


“I see you checking your planner, and that tells me that you are preparing to start your homework.”


In an on-line class about the Nurtured Heart approach, Glasser describes two particular ways parents can proactively create opportunities for positive recognition of our children:

1)    Set the bar low
2)    Design situations

Set the bar low:

To “energize” the positive with kids having particularly challenging behavior, set the bar very, very low and “catch” the tiniest of opportunities as they arise.

Glasser offers the following example. When you are in the car, about to go somewhere, pay attention for the moment your child clicks the seatbelt closed, “catch” it, and say:

“Please put on your seatbelt… Oh thanks! When you put on your seat belt after I ask, that shows nice cooperation and also good attention to safety. I really appreciate those qualities in you! Thanks!”

Design situations:

Parents can also design situations to use in setting a child up for success. In this way, parents can “assist” the child in achieving success.

In this regard, Glasser uses an example of coming back from the grocery store with several bags and just handing a bag to your child to carry into the kitchen. It’s likely your child won’t drop it but will, in fact, carry it in for you.  Then, you have created a situation in which have “assisted” your child’s success, and you can say:

“Thanks so much! I was overwhelmed with all the bags. You jumped right in when I was in need and helped me out. That showed what a helpful and responsible person you are. Awesome – thanks!”

With these strategies, parents can be proactive about creating situations in which to acknowledge children for positive actions, including following rules and behaving in concert with the family’s values.


Glasser suggests that, together, active recognition, experiential recognition, and, as necessary, proactive recognition can promote positive behavioral change and support an improved self-concept in children with challenging behaviors.


Step One: Reflect on a particular behavior and/or value you would like to encourage in your child.

Step Two: Consider carefully potential situations or instances in which you might be able to “catch” (e.g. seatbelt example above) or “assist” (e.g. grocery bag example above) your child in exhibiting a small step related to this behavior or value. You will stay alert for these as opportunities for “proactive recognition.”

Step Three: Mentally prepare a behavioral request and brainstorm possible “experiential recognition” responses acknowledging the behavior or value you are watching for and hoping to promote.

Step Four: Watch for the types of situations or instances (identified in Step Two, above) in which you expect you might be able to “catch” your child exhibiting a small step related to the behavior or value you want to encourage. Or, create a scenario in which you can “assist” your child to act in the way you hope to see. When you can either “catch” or “assist” your child in taking a small step in the direction of behavior you would like to see, use an “experiential recognition” statement (such as that you mentally prepared in Step Three).


For more information about the Nurtured Heart Approach, see the following resources: 

  • The Nurtured Heart Approach is briefly described in my June 25, 2013 blog post
  • Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach (by Howard Glasser)
  • related workbook (by Lisa Bravo)
  • Online information and trainings:  http://childrenssuccessfoundation.com
  • My blog post on “energizing the positive” through “active recognition”
  • My blog post on “energizing the positive” through “experiential recognition”


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