I started out this parenting journey equipped with armloads of books. Good books. Books about developing strong connections with children and building positive attachments. Books about how to set up a gentle, warm, home environment. Books that each held some gem that I could take into my life with my kids. Books full of ideas I am grateful for.
But no matter how much I absorbed though books, or conversations with friends, or online forums or articles on attachment parenting and positive discipline, I still felt something was missing in our home. I loved the advice to build strong connections and to always give children empathy for their emotions.
I knew that the positive interactions should outweigh the negative, but I felt I was often drowning in all the things we had to discuss and work through and debate and negotiate, the nagging and the power struggles- especially with my one little fireball who gives me lots of fodder for this kind of engagement.
But a couple months ago I came across an idea that was new to me from a source that was also new (I sort of though I’d read it all by now!)
The idea was that many of us, despite our best efforts to be the very best parents we can be, are unintentionally parenting upside down.
We give our big energy to our kids when things are going wrong, rather than when they are going right.
This was a show stopper for me. Because, of course I do!
When one of my children hurts a sibling, or speaks rudely, or breaks some other family rule, they get my full attention. And while I may follow all those attachment parenting rules about staying connected and giving empathy, I am certainly giving that negative behavior a whole lot of focus and energy and weight.
And the grass grows greenest where we give it the most water, right?
This was a new way of thinking for me, but it immediately resonated. In all my efforts to connect and empathize and work things out with my kids it never occurred to me that I was shining an hugely disproportionate amount of energy on the negative.
I realized that when I interacted with my kids about negative behaviors my energy was charged, dynamic, animated, lively- whereas their helpful, sweet, cooperative moments might warrant a simple “thanks, sweetheart,” or some other subdued thanks or quiet praise.
The idea is that children, especially intense or spirited children (of which I have at least one, but some days it feels like I have three,) energy speaks louder than words and they find our big, animated responses to their misbehavior compelling. They may not exactly like it, but they find themselves drawn in- when their usually low-key parent transforms into this intriguing, emotional, colorful, energized version of themselves. Push a few buttons and things get interesting fast!
So the idea is to flip the dynamic back the other way round with the emphasis on all the wonderful, spectacular things our kids are doing and turning the volume way down on the negative stuff. Not ignoring it- setting clear boundaries, but doing so with as little drama and vim-and-vigor as possible.
This idea comes from the Nurtured Heart approach that I happened upon a few months ago and it resonated so much that I started applying the principles right away. And the change in my kids- especially the aforementioned fireball- was instant and profound. Really.
After all that reading and applying endless principles over the years, I have never seen an overnight change like this before. They were like thirsty little buds, drinking up all the positive recognition and examples of their greatness and blooming right before my eyes.
Of course, it isn’t perfect. My kids are still kids. They bug each other and test boundaries and act out sometimes. And I am still an imperfect mother, making all sorts of mistakes and blunders along the way, as I always have. But having some tools to really shine the light on how great they are and how many successes they are having (even in the midst of conflict or discord,) and to not get caught up in reacting to misbehavior, helps me so much in my daily life with my kids.
It’s been a few months now, since we discovered this approach, and I feel nothing but gratitude for it. I am grateful to learn this simple but powerful truth- that our children need our energy to reflect what we truly feel– that they are precious, and amazing, and full of greatness, and that they mean so much more to us than the squabbles and daily grumbles that can too easily become the focus in our busy family lives.
I don’t always get it right. I still sometimes get dragged into the drama and the disputes, and I still find my energy flipped upside down some days- focusing on the negative rather than the positive. But I am thankful for this new perspective that helps me get things the right way around again and to focus on all the myriad of ways my children are getting things right too.
I am not connected with the Nurtured Heart or Children’s Success Foundation in any way other than thinking they are awesome. I have been reading a few books on the Nurtured Heart Approach and am enjoying them, although the focus does tend to be on difficult kids. All Children Flourishing seems like a good overview and it focuses on average kids and families if you want to check out the ideas.