We parents (and teachers) often spend much of our day using the words “don’t,” “no,” or “stop.” Some days – those really special ones – we use all of those words all in one sentence. But these words often leave me feeling like I all I did all day was nag at my children (or *cough* husband). They leave me feeling like a failure and like my children are bad. Don’t get me wrong I know my children are sinful like myself, and I know that sometimes these words are necessary – like when your three-year old is dragging your 15 month old across the floor by the collar of his shirt (not that this has ever happened at our house…) – but many days I feel like I use them too often.
You see, our brains are geared towards finding the negative. Pointing out what is wrong is the easy thing to do. Much research shows this to be true. It is why we are fixated on negative news. It also why we feel that the world is such a dangerous place, even though statistics shows otherwise. We have more safety precautions, technology, and medicine then ever before, and yet we focus on all the bad things. Yep no more dying of bubonic plague or savage barbarian tribes or dysentery (unless you still play Oregon Trail). But I digress….
Always pointing out the negative in myself or in my children doesn’t always help them to understand what I DO want. Instead of saying, “don’t take things from others,” I have been trying to say, “please leave the toys in his hands.” Sometimes this turn of phrase can be tricky and not helpful either, but I feel like the overall message makes me feel less naggy.
Oftentimes though, it isn’t as much about turning these negative phrases into positive ones as it is about simply pointing out when they ARE doing what I want. Do you ever feel like you only speak to your children when they are being bad? I do. What about the moments that they act kind or share or listen right away? I am trying to be better at narrating those moments for my kids. I want them to know – “hey, you did good there!” I want to show them that being sweet and kind and obedient has just as many pay-outs (in terms of attention gotten) as being mean and disobedient. I found this method to be true when I was a teacher as well. The more I pointed out to my students what I wanted by saying things like, ” thank you so-and-so for being ready right away” or “I see so-and-so is sitting attentively” etc. the more they seemed to do that behavior. This seemed to help most of those students who were just slightly off-task get back on track, while also praising the behavior of those students who really deserved it. In the long run it also helped build up in them the behavior that I was looking for.
Now, before you get all “behavior modification” blah blah blah on me, I want to say that I think the biggest change this method elicited was that it changed my own heart and attitude. I started focusing less on the negative and more on the positive. I started to see that things were not always going wrong. That most of my students were doing what I wanted and acting virtuously most of the time. It completely changed my outlook on the day. I stopped feeling so much like a failure as a person and as a teacher, and started feeling more like “I got this!” That confidence only boosted my future interactions with them as I saw them more as people and less as small creatures to boss around (don’t tell me you don’t think this sometimes in your mind). I was more open, and more comfortable with them and myself. I let my hair down a little, so to speak, and that had boundless positive effects. I attribute this conscious effort on my part, and many many prayers throughout the day, surrendering to God my complete inability to do it on my own, as the reasons for my feeling of success last year.
Now, I just need to apply some of those tactics at home, a place where there isn’t constant feedback or evaluations or accountability. Home is a place where it is just me, my kids, and God. It is so much more humbling in a way because it really makes me stretch into the farthest realms of what integrity means. To be at all successful, I need to be more intentional about having some quiet time with the Lord to get my own heart right. Then I need to fight my very natural instincts to correct, correct, correct, and boss, boss, boss. I
want to need to be the first example of what forgiveness, kindness, and humbleness means to my children, and the only way to do that is to go to the source Himself. And then point it out in them.