I've been debating whether I should hold on to my WSJ subscription. Great articles like this certainly tempt me.
The article goes over "parent management training" and how to use it to teach a child new behaviors, specifically how to have a positive tantrum. It's not about only rewarding good behavior. Instead the approach teaches using ABCs. A stands for Antecedent, the situation leading up to the tantrum, B for behavior and the teaching of new ones, and C for consequences.
The approach comes out of research done at Yale and King's College London where there is a National Academy for Parenting Research.
"The effects can be beneficial for both child and parent. A nine-year study at the Oregon Social Learning Center, a nonprofit research center, looked at single mothers and children with antisocial tendencies—arguing, hitting, tantrums, extreme unwillingness to cooperate.
After the mothers went through a version of the ABCs training, not only did the children's behaviors improve over the long term, but the mothers also exhibited gains in income, occupation and education, according to the study, published last year in the journal Developmental Psychopathology."
One of the best ways to reinforce positive behavior is to be specific in your feedback. For example, saying "I asked you to pick up that toy and you did it," rather than "You're a good girl." This is the same advice given by Faber and Mazlish in their terrific book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.
For more on how to apply these concepts to all communication, see here.