“If all you did was just look for things to appreciate you would live a joyous, spectacular life.” – Esther Hicks
You could probably find negative things to say to your child all day long. All of them “deserved” and none of them effective in helping your child want to cooperate.
“Get out of bed right now… Aren’t you ready yet?…. You’d lose your head if it wasn’t on your shoulders…. How many times have I told you?…. Pick up your things…Stop that right now… You’re wearing me out…. Don’t start with me…. Leave your sister alone… Are you listening to me?… I said NOW!… What part of No don’t you understand?”
I know your child’s not perfect. None of them are. But those reactions don’t help your child grow and learn. They actually make your child feel less safe, less loved, because they come from your own fear. Fear that your child won’t grow up okay, because either you or your child isn’t good enough. That’s your inner critic, and regardless of what it tells you, it isn’t always right. Either about the ultimate outcome, or about what you should do right now. So take a deep breath and reassure yourself: He’s acting like a kid because he IS a kid.
When your child goes into fight or flight and you join him there, nobody’s acting like the grown-up and modeling emotional regulation. Nobody’s modeling that we can work things out with love.
No matter what your child does, you have a choice about how you react. I know you’re not a saint. No parent is, and no parent is empathic all the time. But when we pay attention, we usually find we can eliminate much of the drama and upset in our homes just by managing our own emotions. And then our child gives us the benefit of the doubt on those more rare occasions when we do get upset.
Finding fault with kids doesn’t help them change. (Does it help you change?) Children, like other humans, grow and change when they feel loved, accepted, appreciated, respected. That lets them drop the need to defend themselves. It makes them want to cooperate.
So if you want your child to be her best self, catch her doing things right all day long — including all those things that you think it’s about time she did right!
- Notice all progress in the right direction, even if it isn’t perfect. (“Thanks for picking up your things with only one reminder! I really appreciate how you got up and did it.”)
- Instead of evaluating her as a person (“You’re a good girl!”), say very specifically what you appreciate. (“I admire how you apologized to your friend. That took some courage.”)
- Enjoy your child for who she is (“I loved watching you as ‘Villager #3’) rather than trying to make her into someone better. (“You should have spoken your one line louder so the whole audience could hear.”) Think she could do better? That’s the drama teacher, or coach, or teacher’s job. Your job is to keep her love cup filled so she can blossom.
- Find a way to see your child positively. Things we see as bothersome are the flip side of a strength. (“I love that you have so much energy!“)
Imagine this as the sound track of your child’s day:
“I love how cheerful you are in the morning. It makes me happy to wake up… I noticed how nice you were to your sister last night… I love it when you brush your teeth without being reminded…. I notice you’re working so hard on that… I know that’s disappointing, but I see how you keep trying. Soon you’ll get it every time… Don’t worry, Honey, nobody bats 1000… Wow, you did so much better on your spelling test; all that practice is paying off! … I loved watching you pass the ball… Hey, you figured that out yourself!… I love how you came home and started your homework right away!… You’re such a great hugger and snuggler…. I love our conversations in the car…. I really appreciate you controlling your temper so we could talk, that shows real maturity.… One of the many things I love about you is how you always give the dog lots of attention… How did I get to be so lucky as to be YOUR mom?”
Wouldn’t that help your child want to be his very best self?
What we pay attention to is what flourishes. Every time you appreciate your child, every time you love something about him, you are giving him the clear message: More of this, please. He will grow accordingly.