Reinforcing Good Behavior: Making the Princess Movie Work For You.

You know those days when you’re out and about and you cross paths with “that” kid? Come on…you know the kid that I’m talking about. She can be found wreaking havoc in any number of public places. Usually, the lucky soul accompanying the little angel is either feigning cluelessness or wanting to melt into the earth from the embarrassment of it all. Please, don’t tell me you haven’t lingered to watch from the corner of your eye while smugly saying to yourself, “Self, thank GOD you don’t have a kid”, or “Self, thank GOD that isn’t your kid!”

Is it horrible that I’ve been known exploit another kid’s crappy behavior for my own gain? I’ve seen my own wide-eyed children absorbing the offending kid’s mannerisms and watching for the parental response. Believe me, they’re processing the situation and rationalizing future use of the bad behavior in question.

Friends, this is a golden opportunity! You should jump on the chance to use some other mommy’s moment of public shame for your own benefit. This is the time to reiterate that bad behavior is socially unacceptable. For example, if the mother in question appears close to tears, don’t offer her kind words of support. Instead you should quietly say, “Look at what that girl is doing! She’s making her mommy cry.” Throw in a bit of hand wringing and say, “Oh dear, that poor mommy is sooooo sad.” While you’re saying this, don’t be afraid to paste an overly dramatic, wistfully sad expression on your face. One that shows empathy for the mom. Shortly, you’ll notice that your princess loving preschooler can’t help but feel involved and somewhat conspiratorial. After all, her own mommy is suddenly adopting facial expressions normally used by her favorite princess. By the way, peppering your sentences with princess-style language can’t hurt either. Interjecting expressions like, “Oh, my!” or “The poor dear…” can only serve to underscore your princess-ish persona.



The “Sad Princess” Expression



Overly dramatic resonates with the preschool set. Remember, they’re accustomed to watching the painfully sad expression of the Disney Princess as she experiences death/destruction/abandonment/neglect/abuse. Plus, your child is still looking to you for behavioral cues. So by adopting the “Sad Princess” facial expression, your child is likely to mimic your sorrow and, if you’re lucky, might even look at you and say, “That little girl is being bad, right mommy?” Now, this is the important part…while you have her attention, let out a big sigh, sadly shake your head and slowly tear your eyes away from the Mom-In-Hell. Make eye contact with your child and with lightening speed, change your expression to one of sheer joy and say, “I’m sooooo glad that you are such a well behaved girl! You would NEVER do that your mommy.” Give her a kiss, lovingly stroke her hair and then adopt a thoughtful look of surprise. (One that you might see in cartoon character whose brilliant idea inexplicably causes a light bulb to appear over his head.)
The “I have a Great Idea” Expression
Yes, it is at this moment that you should employ the most powerful tool in your blatant exploitation of bad behavior. You might say, “Oh my! I have a WONDERFUL idea! You’ve been such a lovely girl, why don’t we get you a treat?” BAM!! You can’t beat it. I’ve just served up an incredible method for reinforcing appropriate social behavior. Simply make the tantrum throwing kid the villain and the mommy automatically becomes the helpless Princess. It works like a charm.
The “Super Happy, You’re Such a Good Girl” Expression
So, next time the kids ask to watch Mulan/Princess and the Frog/Beauty and the Beast, don’t think of it such simple terms as the 127th viewing. Approach it as research and study the mannerisms of those princesses. Practice them in the mirror and store them in your arsenal. Now…if only I could figure out a way to have little birdies and woodland creatures follow me around…
-Toddler Discipline: Effective and Appropriate Tactics (webmd.com)

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