So many kind and thoughtful parents are trying so hard to simply have a lovingly positive impact on their child, only to see the child slip further and further into the realm of being “challenging.” This is so prevalent, even among the best and brightest parents. Diagnosis: difficult child behavior comprises a quiet epidemic – the kind that brings so many to their knees. Let this article bring you hope and be the medicine that cures your family.
Yes, there are kids with symptoms that are of great concern, symptoms that drive parents and teachers crazy, but I have found that the very same “intensity” that has gone awry can be the very fuel for a child who comes to use that “life force” in successful ways.
In order to create the essential shift from “challenging” to “successfully channeled life force,” I will cut to the core of a method called the Nurtured Heart Approach, and hone in on a few key stands that I recommend taking, that will change everything to great in a hurry.
Four Initial Ways to Transform from Difficult to Dynamic:
1. The old broadband provider must be fired. First and foremost, bring your responses to negativity to a screeching halt. Kids can easily form an impression that they get “better broadband” connection with the adults in their life through negativity. Our responses to the positive are pale when compared to our energies of involvement and relationship when things go wrong. We lean into negativity with so much juice in our voice and so many words. I will give you a way of holding your child accountable for broken rules that allows you to stay “unplugged.” It is essential that your child now come to see that the no longer get the reward of “you” for poor choices – only a perfect, clear consequence when a rule is broken.
2. Now it’s time for 21st century broadband. Now it is time to give juicy connection when things are going well. Your attempts to see and express appreciation and recognition can have the impact you have always wanted. Statements like “good job” and “thank you” are well intended but they are inherently vague and under-energized. It is time to notch it up. Now we make our ways of conveying success truly powerful. We want our words of recognition and appreciation to hit home and be inspiring. Tell the truth of the moment to your child whenever problems are not happening. Do you know how we can see tiny increments of what’s wrong and wax poetically on problems that need fixing? Be willing to flip that into seeing even small instances of when good judgment is being used, when rules are being followed, when impulses aren’t acted on and when even small instances of good choices are being made. Be willing to voice your acknowledgment strongly. Statements like the following make a real difference in leading a child to a new impression that he can have your energized relationship for the positives: “Jason, I appreciate that you were thoughtful to your brother by walking away when he annoyed you. You could have called him a name but you made a great choice to stay calm and kind. That shows me your self control and maturity.”
3. Have clear rules and the simplest of consequences. The world thinks that children awaken to following the rules by way of ever-escalating consequences, but kids actually awaken to successful behavior when they awaken to their inherent greatness. So just like in sports or in video games, environments where challenging children can thrive because they vividly confront the child with there successes (bells and whittles, score, score, score), these games at the same time give consequences that are really just momentary pauses (that naturally feel like an eternity to the child) but they really are just quick “resets” leading to the moments of success that follow.
In the Nurtured Heart Approach we simply say “reset.” If the game-in is strong and exciting, then the child will be ever more determined to not break rules, stay in the game, and to explore further realms of success. Be willing, like in the sports and video games environments, to create exciting time-in – stay with the truth of all the successful next moments, after the consequence, and applaud, applaud, applaud the good choices. “Billy, I see you’re still mad about not getting the answer you wanted, but now your not arguing or fussing and I so appreciate you finding your center and wisdom in handling your frustration well.”
4. Be willing to put the icing on the cake. Be willing to provide recognition of the greatness you see in your child, even in the ordinary moments. You probably know how not great it is to have a child talk back, name-call, or treat others with aggression, so let that be a barometer of how truly great it is when those problems aren’t happening. Be willing to see the greatness as well when other good choices are being made and when rules aren’t being broken. Be willing to give expression to the appreciation that is in your heart when things are going well. “Sarah, I really appreciate how collaborative you are being in getting ready for school ahead of time today. You made it so easy for me to remain calm about getting to my meeting and that shows me you have the greatness of being thoughtful and the greatness of respecting my commitments. Thank you so much.”
You are the provider of better broadband. This will quickly lead to better choices and less challenging behavior in your children. The greater the range and frequency of your recognition, the greater the range of successes you will see in your kids. I promise.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.