“Tina, stop that! Calm down! It’s not responsible to act that way!”
“Greg, put that down. You are not cooperating! You are supposed to be brushing your teeth.”
“Louise – What are you doing on the computer?! You should be doing your homework!”
As parents, we sometimes address rules and values with our children through instructions, lessons and lectures – not too easy for most children with ADD or ADHD to take in. Another typical way is by pointing out “or “correcting” when negative behaviors occur that show rules are broken or values are lacking. As demonstrated above: Tina is showing a lack of responsibility and self-control, Greg a lack of cooperation, Louise is breaking a family rule.
If you are the parent of a child with ADHD, this type of admonition may sound quite familiar to you.
REFUSING TO ENERGIZE NEGATIVITY
Psychologist Howard Glasser, author of Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach calls the type of admonition above “energizing negativity”: that is putting parental attention and intensity on highlighting the problematic behavior of our children.
Glasser suggests that parents refuse to energize negativity, explaining that it is actually not effective in developing the behaviors we want to nurture in our children. In fact, the frequent negativity that children with ADHD experience creates a sense in our kids that they are faulty, failures, damaging self esteem and eroding self-confidence.
ENERGIZING THE POSITIVE
Instead, Glasser urges parents to “energize the positive” as a way of offering recognition to our children, building character, and encouraging preferred behaviors. He offers three steps for doing so.
Step One of energizing the positive was described in a previous blog post. Step One is “active recognition” and consists of simply stating in detail the behavior that we observe our child doing in the moment – no judgment or evaluation, just a factual observation – like a photograph.
Step Two, “experiential recognition” is described below. Step Three will be addressed in a subsequent post.
WHAT IS EXPERIENTIAL RECOGNITION?
Experiential recognition builds on active recognition adding acknowledgement of any values evidenced in your child’s actions.
The brilliance of this approach lies in recognizing that so many challenging children learn through experience rather than through instruction, lessons, or lectures – several of the most common ways parents point out values.
Experiential recognition involves flipping around the common parental approach to emphasizing values by pointing out when they do not occur: when negative behaviors occur that show values are lacking.
Instead, experiential recognition consists in parents adding to their statements of active recognition an acknowledgment of values expressed as they are positively demonstrated in the child’s behavior.
HOW TO IMPLEMENT EXPERIENTIAL RECOGNITION
Glasser urges parents to deliver the same essential message they were addressing in the negative but, instead, make note of it when problems are not happening. For example, instead of:
“Tina, stop that! Calm down! It’s not responsible to act that way!” . . .
. . . Watch for instances in which Tina is calm and in which she is responsible. Use these instances to address the same behaviors that created concern:
“Tina, I notice that Hunter is pestering you, but you are staying quiet and calm. This shows me the greatness of your self-control.”
“Tina, I see that you are clearing your plate and cup from the table without me even asking. That shows the greatness of your responsibility and thoughtfulness.”
EXPERIENTIAL RECOGNITION AND VALUES
This way, parents can both teach the real lesson about behaviors and values as well as awaken the greatness of those very qualities.
For example, if a parent values effort, experiential recognition could sound like this:
“Ellen, I see you are using that pencil to trace tiny figures on those small pieces of paper. You have 10 or 12 of them done and it looks like you plan to make more. You have a very determined look on your face. I see you are putting a lot of effort into that!”
If parents value responsibility, experiential recognition might sound this way:
“Nate, you set the table without me even asking. That was both responsible and thoughtful of you!”
Whatever values are important to your family, or whatever areas of behavior your child may need work on can be emphasized through experiential recognition: effort, self-control, responsibility, manners, positive attitude, you name it!
BENEFITS FOR PARENT AND CHILD
Glasser suggests that the more effort we put into experiential recognition, the less likely a child will be to go to the trouble of acting out to get our attention, and the more likely a child will be to increase the behaviors we value.
More importantly, experiential recognition is a strategy that expands a child’s perception of being valued and recognized for positive behaviors in line with parental values. Each recognition gives the child a direct experience of being held in esteem.
TRY THIS EXERCISE
Step One: Today, watch for a behavior of your child’s that demonstrates, at least in some small way, a value you hold dear.
Step Two: When you notice a behavior like this, tell your child exactly what you see him or her doing. Comment briefly on the value being demonstrated. Don’t engage in any further discussion about it. Just plant the seed.
Step Three: Reflect. How did that feel? What did you notice?
For more information about the Nurtured Heart Approach, see the following resources:
- The Nurtured Heart Approach is briefly described in my June 25, 2013 blog post.
- Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach (by Howard Glasser)
- related workbook (by Lisa Bravo)
- Online information and trainings: http://childrenssuccessfoundation.com
- My blog post on “energizing the positive” through “active recognition”
- Watch for a subsequent post with more on Nurtured Heart
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