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Downloading positives with extended family

Over the last month, my boys got to spend a lot of time with their cousins at the family cabins. There was fun and games in abundance as well as all the foibles and fumbles that happen when families get together for extended periods of time. Even slightly differing values around parenting and guidance approaches can make for interesting dynamics.

If things are getting a little crazy and you’re feeling the need to intervene but don’t want to make things worse by correcting another parent’s children, there is something you can do that almost always has a positive effect. Begin to download positives into the situation using “When you _______ I feel _______ because” as a script.

Here are some examples:

  • “I really appreciated it, Jeff, when you were careful to with the little kids during that game. It made them feel safe and they had a lot more fun.”

You can say this to Jeff even if it would be good for him to be a little more gentle, because it will help reinforce in him his prosocial skills.

  • “Jane, it was nice of you to give your older cousins a break. It helps them have more energy to play with you later when you give them a little space.”
  • “Steve, it made Buddy feel really special when you took special time to do that activity with him. Thanks a lot.”

It’s important to download the positives especially when things are getting tense. It helps to refocus the situation and bring a breath of fresh air. Grab the smallest possible positive thing you can find and maximize it. Sometimes we need to “create” a positive by mentioning one that isn’t quite manifesting yet. It’s amazing how powerful this can be at transforming situations.

One thing that was really important for Braden and I over the 4th of July weekend was to take regular father-son breaks. For us, these were imaginary hunting trips with his toy bow and arrow. It gave him a break from the competition with his cousins for attention and status. When he came back from his safaris, he got to tell his uncles about the animals he had bagged. Great fun for both of us.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2010 in Present Moment Parenting

 

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“Put ’em in jail!”

The jury is in on emotional intelligence and the verdict is that boys benefit from being able to understand, express, and control their feelings.  However, raising an emotionally strong son is tricky in a culture that tells boys they’re sissies if they don’t toughen-up and stuff their feelings. Male stereotypes are at best stoic and often come across as emotionally illiterate. What’s a dad to do to? Here’s a personal story about my son and me.

If Braden, who just turned three, gets disappointed about something, it can be hard to pull him out of the nose-dive. Emotions are really concrete for boys his age, and they run the show. A good example is when he wants to play with toys, and I want him to get in the car to go to an appointment. He usually becomes very sad and disappointed.

Since little guys don’t have a lot of control in their lives, one way they exert power passively is by changing their speed. When I want to get-in-the-car-and-go, he slows to something between a standstill and a snail’s pace. The real issue, however, isn’t the speed. It’s helping deal with his sadness, disappointment, and anger by giving him a sense of power and control.

Braden LOVES stories, so in the moment when the nosedive begins, I think of a mini-tale. “Hey, let me tell you a story.”

He looks up instead of lying down on the floor, so I know I have an opening. I pick him up and say, “Let me tell you a story about what you can do with your feelings.”

Three-year-olds are very concrete, so I grab my shirt by my chest and pretended I am pulling something off of it. Then I hold my fist out in front of me. I say, “You can grab feelings you don’t want and hold them in your hand like this. You try it.”

He smiles and copies me. “And then you can THROW ‘EM AWAY.” I make a big throwing motion with my hand as I enthusiastically say the words. He does the same.

“After that, you can grab some good feelings and pull them down to your heart.” As I say this, I reach up to the ceiling, make a fist, pull it down, and open my hand onto my heart. I tell him to do the same thing. “Doesn’t that feel GOOD?”

He says, “YES!” and the nosedive is over.  For the purists out there, I admit that this wasn’t really a story, but the boy never would have bit the bait if I’d said, “Hey, let me teach you a coping strategy you can use.”

Dads can feel self-conscious about being so dramatic. It doesn’t match the masculine code. I don’t mind saying that there is a part of me that thinks it’s REALLY cheesy too. But for the very same reasons that I think it’s silly, Braden thinks it’s great. All boys like humor and fun, and little ones especially need lessons like this to be tangible. All kids enjoy it when Dad acts a little goofy, so for their sake (and our own health) sometimes we just need to loosen up a little.

As we were walking up the steps, Braden wrapped things up by saying, “Dad, I just threw those bad feelings in jail!”

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2010 in Present Moment Parenting

 

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Energy Match

One of the most important Present Moment Parenting ideas that we talk about is the “Energy Match.” People who are familiar with the Nurtured Heart Approach will have heard about the Energy Match. Here it is in a nutshell:

  1. We want to match energy to desired behavior.
  2. We want to starve the undesired behavior of energy.

The Energy Match is rooted in sound brain science. Our brains and our kid’s brains don’t differentiate between positive or negative stimulus when it comes to creating connections. As far as the brain is concerned, if a connections fires, it becomes more reinforced, more hard-wired.

Here’s an example. Sometimes my three-year-old brings his plate into the kitchen after dinner without being asked and continues to help clear the table. I LOVE IT when he does this! So I make sure that I get excited and thank him vigorously. I match energy to the desired behavior. I let him know the concrete reasons that this behavior makes me happy:

  1. It makes cleaning up supper go faster so we have more time for family.
  2. It keeps the house clean and neat.
  3. It shows that he’s part of the team by giving him a meaningful job.

When I do this, I energetically reinforce the brain connection to positive behavior and to the fact that he did a good thing. He succeeded. He belongs in the family and is an active part. He knows how to do something right. I’m proud of him and he made me happy. The more that brain connection fires, the more that identity becomes part of his person. I’ll continue to see an increase in the pro-social behavior. This isn’t the kind of empty “self-esteem” talk that has gotten a bad rap in the past. This is real, concrete accomplishment.

It seems simple, and it is. The challenge for many people comes when it is time to starve undesirable behavior of energy. Most of us were parented with a very strong response to our negative behavior. When we see our kids doing something that we don’t like, or that we have told them not to do, or that we think they should simply know better than to do, it’s automatic for us to speak quickly and in a louder than normal voice. Sometimes we go right into a full blown temper and lecture because we think we’ve taught the child better or we believe they are outright ignoring or disobeying us.

Regardless of the “teaching” we think we might be doing with the quick, loud, sometimes angry response to the negative behavior, one thing is for certain: we’re making their brain energetically reinforce the connection to that behavior and to the fact that they screwed up. That they did a bad thing. That they didn’t get it right and maybe can’t get it right. That they disappoint us. That we aren’t happy with them. The more we fire that connection, the more it becomes a significant part of their person, their identity.

Now I’ve heard people in the past say, “I’m not going to reward my kid for doing stuff that should be normal expectations for them.” I agree with that idea. Giving kids a lot of external rewards for things doesn’t help them have self-control or a realistic view of what the world is like. The energy match is different than that. It reinforces a strong brain pathway to behavior that is responsible, respectful, and otherwise desired.

So if we’re not supposed to yell at them when our kids do something bad, how are we supposed to deal with it when they kick the dog, whack their grandmothers with toy swords, and bite their friends to get the toy that they want (that’s right, Angelface up there in the corner has a few surprises up his sleeve)?

The answer to that will be in another article, or you can get in touch with me anytime: 651-274-0031, joshua@fiddlehouse.com, or Skype me: fiddlehousecoaching.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2010 in Present Moment Parenting

 

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