positive feedback

Catch Them When They’re Good!

By | NESCA Notes 2017


By:  Ryan Conway, Psy.D.
NESCA Clinical Psychologist

If your child’s go-to response to your requests is typically “no,” then keep reading…

Children who tend to disobey rules, become easily agitated, experience temper outbursts and argue with authority figures are known to display a pattern of behaviors called disruptive behaviors. These behaviors can cause significant family turmoil and become quite challenging for schools to manage. Children who have trouble regulating their emotions and behaviors may be pinned as “the bad kids.” This is unhelpful because it does not explain what exactly is underlying the acting out. This type of reputation can also impact a child’s self-esteem, resulting in feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Disruptive behaviors could be masking other issues that are not obvious to teachers and parents. Consider the possibility that the kindergarten student who shuts down and refuses to engage in class is not oppositional, but instead experiencing anxiety about being away from his mother or father. Maybe the second grader obtains his parents’ attention most often at home when she lashes out. In trying to control disruptive behaviors, children get a lot of attention from adults for what they are doing wrong, often times unintentionally.

One of the hallmarks in teaching caregivers how to effectively manage these kinds of behaviors is positive parenting, which comes from a behavior therapy approach. Among positive parenting techniques is “catching them when they’re good,” which shifts the focus away from what is problematic and towards the appropriate behaviors parents want to see continue. With this technique, parents become more mindful about the behaviors they attend to and seek out opportunities to let their child know when he or she is on the mark. It feels good for both the giver and the receiver, and can bring you closer to your child!

Positive feedback is a powerful tool at any age. For children, it comes in many forms – a sticker for helping to set the dinner table, a praise statement (“I’m so pleased that you are using gentle hands with your brother”), even a hug! As your child starts to recognize that you are giving more attention to appropriate behaviors, they will similarly shift from negative actions (e.g., sassing off, whining, crying, etc.) to positive ones.

Behavioral parent training empowers caregivers by teaching them specific skills to not only manage their children’s behavior at home, but also to improve communication, build warmth within the parent-child relationship and create a calmer household. The Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (SCCAP), a group dedicated to disseminating information about evidence-based therapies for youth mental health problems, sites behavior therapy (individual parent and groups of parents with or without child participation) as the most efficacious treatment for disruptive behaviors in children. The SCCAP website, www.effectivechildtherapy.org, was recently updated and is a helpful resource for parents seeking information and guidance about treatment for children and teens.

NESCA is excited to be offering a new group for parents and children ages 7-10 who exhibit disruptive behaviors and/or ADHD symptoms. This group will have separate parent and child sections – with opportunities for combined parent-child sessions – and utilize both behavioral and cognitive-behavioral techniques. For additional information, visit http://www.nesca-newton.com/events.html.

Or visit our previous article about behavioral parent training and the research backing this approach: http://www.nesca-news.com/2017/04/parent-training-programs-101.html.


About the Author:


Ryan Ruth Conway, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), behavioral interventions, and other evidence-based treatments for children, adolescents and young adults who struggle with mood and anxiety disorders as well as behavioral challenges. She also has extensive experience conducting parent training with caregivers of children who present with disruptive behaviors and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Dr. Conway has been trained in a variety of evidence-based treatments, including Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Exposure with Response Prevention (ERP). Dr. Conway conducts individual and group therapy at NESCA utilizing an individualized approach and tailoring treatments to meet each client’s unique needs and goals. Dr. Conway has a passion for working collaboratively with families and other professionals. She is available for school consultations and provides a collaborative approach for students who engage in school refusal.


If you are interested in working with Dr. Conway or have any additional questions about NESCA’s therapy services, please complete NESCA’s online intake form.




Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.