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Techniques for Reducing Stress & Accelerating Development in Children

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Positive Scan

2002 TASH Conference

Brad Bryant
Executive Director


People Places, Inc.

A new version of this preservice curriculum for therapeutic caregivers is now available from People Places. It is,Parenting Skills Training: Teaching and Learning with Children in Care.

All parents at some time or another find themselves stuck in a frame of mind in which everything their child does seems wrong or bad. it is unlikely, of course, that the child is "bad" all the time. What happens, rather, is that we parents get stuck in a negative mode, one in which our internal child-sensing "radar" only  "blips" when our children do something irritating or upsetting. When a "blip" appears on our radar, it activates a response - usually a negative one like yelling, nagging or lecturing. If the child then stops "being bad" momentarily, our negative response seems to work and we are reinforced for it. We learn to be stuck in a negative and very unpleasant cycle with our kids.

Difficult behavior can cause us to turn on our negative scanner. When childrn are experiencing or have come from stressful family situations where "negative scan" is high, their behavior often can continue to draw a high rate of criticism and very little praise. If we get stuck in a negative mode with them, we may help confirm that image they have of themselves as "bad". It is very important to turn that self-image around. To do so, we must reverse our radar and begin to "positive scan, which, in simple terms, means catching the child being good.

Positive scan can be a powerful tool for teaching desirable and successful behavior. To positive scan effectively, parents need to adjust their radar so that their internal kid scanner blips only when their child demonstrates positive, desirable behavior.

When a ‘blip’ appears on the positive scan screen, parents then respond with a praise and/or other social reinforcer like a hug, a smile or a wink. When parents respond and attend to children more frequently for positive behavior than negative behavior, they are practicing positive scan. And, they are teaching in a very effective and powerful way. By positive scanning, parents build their relationship with children and increases the influence they have on the child as a teacher, model and reinforcer of appropriate behavior.

To summarize, positive scan happens when parents:

  1. attend positively to specific, appropriate behavior (using priase and othe social reinforcers)
  2. use lots of pure descriptive praise to reinforce desirable behavior
  3. respond in these positive ways more frequently than they respond in negative ways to negative behavior.

Ideally, a parent using positive scan attends to/praises the postive behavior three times more than he/she attends to/criticizes the negative behavior.

Ask Dr. Susan