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When You Throw a Glove in Mud, the Mud Doesn’t Get “Glovey”

This tidbit of wisdom was delivered to my brother-in-law by his mother when he was a junior in high school. He was a good kid, but he had started hanging around with kids who were not so good. The point she was making was that although he was a good kid, it was more likely that the “badness” of the friends he had chosen would rub off on him than it was for his “goodness” to rub off on them.

For parents today, this means being perpetually vigilant about their children’s companions, especially those who may bring a negative influence to the relationship. Adaptive, appropriate, prosocial behavior is not nearly as infectious as maladaptive, inappropriate, antisocial behavior. The reason is that the social payoffs of appropriate behavior come much more slowly than the emotional payoffs of antisocial behavior. Behavior that bends or breaks the rules tends to be exciting virtually as it’s happening, whereas behavior that follows the rules is usually not exciting and doesn’t typically lead to immediate pleasant outcomes.

So here is a second recommendation for parents. In addition to being watchful about their children’s chosen friends, parents also should go out of their way to provide abundant, positive praise to their children whenever they engage in appropriate or expected behavior. In other words, if parents focus on catching their children being good and reward them accordingly, they may not have to work so hard on making sure they aren’t spending time with kids who are not so good. 

To be doubly sure, and for the best results, parents should make both practices a major part of their parenting approach.

Read all articles in this series.

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