4 Things To Do When You Catch Your Kid in the Act

It was the perfect setup. I may have only been 5 years old at the time, but this plan was a surefire winner. I methodically locked every door in the house, and I sauntered outside where my unsuspecting parents were puttering about the yard in the midday sun.

After a brief while, my mother attempted to return indoors. She was surprised to find that the doorknob refused to turn. She called out to my father to inform him that we were locked out, and she asked if he had the key to the front door. Bewildered, he yelled back that he did not.

Cue the hero.

I held up a set of colorful, plastic oversized Fisher Price toy keys, and I proudly pronounced, “It’s okay, Dad. I’ve got my keys.”

I was busted. I had been a bit too clever for my own good.

Our kids make mistakes. Our kids make poor choices. Our kids don’t always do things the way we think they should. Sometimes we catch our kids red-handed. We catch them in the act.

Each of my three cherubs have fallen out of line countless times. They’re all teenagers now, so you can imagine how long those rap sheets unfurl.

Even so, I believe that in my pursuit of developing high-performing prodigy, my biggest missed opportunities haven’t come from failing to recognize their shortcomings but instead from having not properly celebrated their successes.

We can each look back on a time when a child did something well – a little thing or a big thing – yet we were too busy, too preoccupied, or too caught up in “our world” to recognize the win in “their world”.

Here’s how we should give positive feedback to our kids:

  • Provide immediate and specific recognition. If a child brings home a stellar report card, shares a toy, or helps out around the house without your having to ask, take the immediate opportunity to show your admiration. Are their achievements, yours at work, and those of the world-class athletes we celebrate all that different at their essence? Seize the opportunity in the moment to share your praise, but also say what precisely you admire most. Statements like “I’m really impressed how you overcame your low quiz result from a few weeks ago”, “I love how you took turns playing with that ball”, and “Thanks so much for putting away those dishes so I didn’t have to” may barely register externally, but internally they work their magic.
  • Applaud their effort, not ability. The research is clear in this area. Praise is good when it’s focused on effort that produces the win. Psychology researcher Carol Dweck highlighted a research study that found that when students were recognized for their work effort were more confident “when faced with the harder questions, and their performance improved markedly on the easier problems that followed”. By comparison, constantly praising kids for their natural abilities – athleticism, intelligence, etc. – becomes problematic in the long term.
  • Have fun with it. I’ve found that the more ridiculous and memorable you can make the recognition, the more kids appreciate it. One of my favorites is the celebration dinner. Preparing a favorite meal or visiting a favorite restaurant offers ample pre-event anticipation and a chance to call attention to the victory during the feast. Not a foodie? Make a cheesy award and really pour it on when you bestow it upon your deserving champion. Even the moodiest teenagers may feign embarrassment, but your appreciation of their achievement will stick with them.
  • Reinforce the win after the fact. It may be surprising, but our kids are as busy as we are these days. Their schedules are jam-packed with organized activities and increasing demands. Even if you’ve done the right thing by recognizing their achievement in the moment, they may be on to the next thing. After a day or two has passed, recall the achievement to let them relive their win and cement the memory of achievement.

A Work|Life Warrior realizes that if you want to foster achievement in your family, you’ve got to seize the opportunity to recognize “what winning looks like”. You need to take the time to reward the right thing – effort that produces results – both on the spot and after a bit of time has passed.

Techniques like these are key to creating champions at home. They’re a lot more effective than plastic toy keys, that’s for sure.

(Featured image by Unsplash.com)


How do you like to provide recognition when a family member crushes it? Share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section below.

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2 thoughts on “4 Things To Do When You Catch Your Kid in the Act

  1. Excellent reminder Pep! I see much room for improvement when it comes to dealing with my “cherubs.”

  2. Very good article Matthew, I really believe positive reinforcement works in all aspects of our life.