Encouraging Your Child’s Positive Behavior: Part One

“Tim, you were supposed to set the table! What have you been doing?! I asked you 20 minutes ago to do it! No dessert tonight!”

“Hurry up and get your homework done, Lily! You’ve been sitting there for an hour doing nothing!”

“Marty – no running in the house! Listen to me! I’ve told you that too many times! Next time, there will be a consequence!”

If you are the parent of a child with ADHD, this type of admonition may sound quite familiar to you.

REFUSE 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.

HOW DO WE ACKNOWLEDGE THE POSITIVE?

Glasser suggests that the way parents typically address positive, preferred behaviors in our children needs some work.

See if these sound familiar to you: “Good job.”  “Thank you.”  “Nice work.”

These words are positive, but certainly not “energized.” They are much less interesting to a child than any yelling we might do and may hardly even grab a child’s attention.

Praise can be tricky too, because children with a poor self-concept often won’t believe praise and may feel that a parent offering praise doesn’t know who they really are inside.

Glasser urges less emphasis on the negative, the bland positive, and praise. Instead he challenges parents to “energize” the positive that they see in their children, no matter how small, as a way of offering recognition, building character, and encouraging preferred behaviors.

Glasser offers three steps for “energizing” the positive things kids do. Step One will be addressed in this blog post and Steps Two and Three in subsequent posts.

ENERGIZING THE POSITIVE

So, how would it look to really energize the positive?

Step One is called “active recognition,” or simply noticing and energizing success. 

Active recognition involves 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.

This “snapshot”-like description of the helps our children know that they are seen, noticed, paid attention to.

Glasser recommends that parents pause several times each hour, or multiple times a day, to offer active recognition to their children.

Here are some examples of “active recognition”:

“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.”

“Alex, in that soccer game, I noticed that you didn’t fall over when that larger guy ran into you. He came right down the field and rammed straight into you. You looked a but stunned, and you wobbled, but you didn’t fall.”

“Beth, your eyebrows are down and the muscles on your face look tight. It looks like you might be angry.”
 
“Mario I heard you singing in the shower for several minutes. You sounded happy.”
 
The neutrality of active recognition messages allows children to take in recognition and acknowledgement without feeling the shame of being noticed yet again in a negative, judging way, and also without the prickly discomfort some challenging children feel when receiving praise.
 
Glasser recommends that parents pause several times each hour, or multiple times a day, to offer active recognition to their children. According to Glasser, being noticed in factual detail for ones-self, in regular everyday moments, rather than just being noticed for a behavior gone wrong, begins to create a dynamic nurturing a supportive, affirming role for the parent in the child’s inner world.

HERE’S AN EXPERIMENT TO TRY:

Step One: Today, once or twice, just pause and notice something your child is doing. It could be anything.

Step Two: Simply tell your child exactly what you see him or her doing. Use several sentences to that you are giving a full description, but don’t attach any judgment or evaluation. Avoid following up with any further discussion. Just offer your observation and move on.

Step Three: Reflect for a moment. How did that feel? What did you notice?

RESOURCES
For more about Glasser’s Nurtured Heart Approach:     

  • An overview from my June 25, 2013 blog post
  • Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach by Howard Glasser
  • & workbook by Lisa Bravo
  • Online information and training:   http://childrenssuccessfoundation.com 
  • Watch for subsequent blog posts about improving your parenting approach and your child’s behavior by “energizing” the positive!
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