Giving positive attention means responding to others in affirmative ways, which might include giving praise, nodding in agreement, smiling or showing physical affection. Reacting positively to people is distinguished from negative attention by the effects of the attention on the recipient. A parent might give positive reinforcement to a child who is behaving calmly in a situation that usually causes him or her to throw a temper tantrum. Cognitive therapists sometimes use positive attention to encourage progress in patients' behaviors. Positive attention also has been discussed as an effective strategy in interacting with people who have attention deficit disorders.
The different types of attention might be classified as positive, negative and neutral. Positive attention involves pleasant words and affectionate physical contact or mannerisms that help the recipient feel validated, encouraged or supported. Negative attention, by contrast, typically is defined as reacting with disapproval or criticism to another person's words or actions. It also might refer to giving excessive attention to another person's negative actions, thus perpetuating the behaviors, particularly in children. Neutral attention can be categorized as reactions or communications that carry no strong emotions.
Giving excessive attention to unwanted behaviors often leads people to continue their behavioral patterns. This is true in the scenario of a mother who laughs every time a child slaps her. The child might interpret the positive reaction as approval and continue to hit the mother to please her. Children who throw temper tantrums also might continue this behavior if a parent stops each time to recognize the distress and shower the child with affection. A productive application of positive attention in this scenario is to show affection in moments when the child is calm and well-behaved.
Positive attention also applies to individuals who have attention deficit disorder. The parent of a child who has an attention disorder might become overwhelmed by the large number of tasks that remain incomplete. Experts suggest prioritizing the most important tasks in the day and giving positive reinforcement each time improvements have been made. Giving positive feedback is most effective when it is specific and delivered during or immediately after the behavior. Examples of praiseworthy behaviors by children include waiting patiently while someone finishes a story or focusing intently on homework.
The benefits of positive attention also are visible in interactions with adults. A cognitive therapist might praise a client's newly found strength to search for a job after a long period of unemployment. Business managers sometimes assist the development of new competencies in workers by acknowledging progress and rewarding workers with praise, bonuses and promotions.