In my role as Wellbeing coach, one of the questions I’m regularly asked is, ‘What can I do to help my child?’
Through my experience as a psychologist, counsellor, teacher and most importantly as a parent, I have come to a realisation that there is no one single rule to answer this question. Dependent on contexts and values, I strongly feel that the final decision comes down to what works well for your family.
Over the forthcoming weeks I will be writing a number of posts based around how we can have a shared understanding of ‘family values’ and how we can approach these in a ‘positive parenting’ manner. The posts will also be discussing: Commonalities amongst parents who raise mentally strong and resilient children. The approaches to changing a fixed mindset. Implementing GRIT into parenting and exploring ‘strength based parenting’.
Through these forthcoming posts I hope to equip you with some tips, tools and information for what many of us see as the most important role we will ever have – being a positive parent.
Parenting with a clearer view.
Parenting in a positive manner doesn’t come easily during heated moments. It was only yesterday morning when I’d spoken with my own son about his screen-time and how I thought it was creeping into an unhealthy amount. The discussion continued in the evening and we were once again arguing about why he had not taken on the advice he was given. Neither of us were going to back down from our thoughts, feelings and opinions and our conversations were not progressing as either of us wanted them to.
As the conversations drew to a close neither of us were any closer to seeing the others view point but most importantly neither of us felt good about ourselves, in fact, we both felt quite the opposite.
Through my experiences I have come to realise that these disagreements or, what I like to call, ‘Parenting Moments’, are an opportunity which can be used as the foundations of a more ‘Positive Parenting’ approach. An approach that can ultimately leave both child and parent feeling heard and respected.
If you have had similar events to me it’s likely that after these family meltdowns both child and yourself have ended up feeling angry, frustrated and misunderstood. As the adult in the situation you are also likely to be thinking ‘What have I done wrong?’
Upon reflection, I am always curious about why, in the the heat of the moment, do I focus on what my child is ‘not’ doing and seemingly become blinded to the many things that they were doing well?
As Dr Lea Waters, the author of The Strength Switch, suggests that what grabs our attention as parents, is what our children are not doing or are unable to do rather than the things that they can do and are doing well, and as a result we react by criticising, nagging, and worrying. Dr Lea explains that we shouldn’t take all the blame, part of what we focus on is the way we are hardwired. In short, put some blame on our brains, specifically, our negative bias, an ancient survival mechanism which allowed us to spot problems in our environment more quickly than spotting the things that are going well. She calls this the ‘Dirty Window Syndrome’.
Lea explains that a clean window doesn’t attract your attention, you look straight through it. But a dirty window is something you notice. What’s more, your focus on one specific part of the window, the dirt, and as a result this means you’ll often fail to see that the rest of the window is still clean and showing you a beautiful view.
In my situation that dirty spot was the amount of screen-time that was eating into my sons day (a familiar concern for many of us) and my ‘attention’ was taken away from the many good things he has recently been doing and that ‘dirty spot’ became the focus of my attention. As a result, such heated moments can overwhelm my household and at these times, parenting can seem to become a task instead of a delight.
The good news is that by learning how to shift your attention to what your child is doing well we can allow ourselves to focus on the clean part of the window and this approach can assist us to parent in a way which can build up resilience and optimism in our children.
Shifting our attention away from the dirty spots.
So how do we allow our attention to focus on whats going well, especially when life and all its events are clouding the view?
Simply notice positive moments and make comment on them: ‘You are picking up your belongings and taking them back to the room every day’, ‘ I know you find it hard spending time with your brother but I noticed you playing with him on the trampoline today’, ‘I noticed you had turned the lights off when you left the room’, ‘Thanks for the hug this morning; it gave me a feeling of warmth and love’, ‘Your teacher sent me a picture of your art today, you are very creative’. Repeat this approach often and as much as you can. Over time, your children will hear and see the behaviours they are doing well and then reflect on this. They may realise that you are attentive to the good they offer and not only the things they are not doing well. Rather than using negative examples to support ‘you’re always nagging me’ you can remind them about all the great things you have noted as well.
Keep a diary for the next two weeks and at the end of each day, write down the moments you have seen them displaying the values you have as a family. Leave a post it note on their pillow or in their lunchbox and comment on what you saw that day and continue this throughout their child to teenager life.
Finally, continually take the time to discuss as a family what has gone well today, this week, this month, and allow yourself to reward through whatever means fits with your family values and systems.
(Ideas and suggestions adapted from Lea Waters – Strength Switch).
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