Why do we have a tendency to focus on all the things our children do wrong, rather than the things they do right?
It’s easy to feel irritated and annoyed by their inability to do as they are asked, to listen when spoken to and for fooling about and being generally annoying when you are trying to have a serious conversation.
And right now, with all these lockdowns and tier systems, it can be even more difficult than usual to feel upbeat and positive.
Our tendency to pay more attention to bad things and overlook good things is likely a result of evolution. If we look back in human history, being on the lookout for the bad, potentially dangerous, and negative threats in the world were literally a matter of life and death.
Those who remained alert to danger and who focused more on the potential threats were going to be far more likely to survive, and in doing so secure their genetic lineage.
But research has found that negative language is not very effective when it comes to parenting.
Science finds that when a child is told no, then their amygdala is triggered and the flight, fight, freeze or flop response kicks in. When this happens children are more likely to respond emotionally, the result being you have a child on your hands who wants to run away or one who is angry and triggered, or one who feels powerless and avoids the situation.
The opposite is true when you use positive language to get something done. Positive phrasing engages your child’s pre/frontal cortex.
This is the thinking, problem-solving and curious part of the brain; it’s the centre for creativity and logic.
Positive language has a much better effect when disciplining children as it tells them how they can cooperate, whereas negative language is much harder for their brains to understand and compute.
So how can you can you change the chip and start looking for your child’s good behaviour?
It starts with being conscious of what you are saying and how you are saying it. Here are some easy examples of how to change a negative instruction into a positive phrase.
-Stop throwing your toys. Toys stay on the floor, please
-Stop making that noise. Can you think of another noise to make?
-Stop interrupting. I can see you want to talk to me, just wait a minute, please.
-Stop shouting. Quiet voice, please
-Stop annoying your brother. Come over here and play
-Stop shouting. I can see you’re feeling angry, take a breath and then tell me what’s going on.
Hopefully your actions will turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ and you’ll marvel at the change in your children’s behaviour. It’s all in the way that you say it!
No, you can’t stay in the playground. Yes let’s spend lots of time in the playground at the weekend
No, you can’t have that toy. Yes you can have that toy when you’ve saved up your pocket money
No, you can’t watch the telly. Yes you can watch the telly for half an hour after tea
No, you can’t stay up its bed time. Yes you can stay up at the weekend
There are obviously times when ‘Stop that right now!” or “No, that is completely out of the question,” are truly necessary but I think you may well find that these phrases will become less needed when you find yourself automatically turning your attention to focus on the good.
We should all try and make a genuine and conscious effort to look out for our children’s good behaviour and the kind and gentle actions they carry out every day.
Praise them straight away when they do something good or kind or sweet. Use words full of encouragement, delight and joy!
I think you will be amazed by how quickly you can turn your children’s negative behaviour around when you start looking for the good.
What you choose to focus on will grow.
Join me for a parenting session on Zoom where the focus is on emotions.
Find out more on my website. www.lululuckock.com