No matter how challenging your child is, the more you focus on the good the more good you will see.
Our thoughts influence our reality in powerful ways. This principle can help us in all aspects of our lives, but I want to focus on how to use thoughts to help improve a child’s behavior: the more good you see in your child, the more good he/she will do. It might sound simple, but sometimes it’s much harder than it seems, especially when dealing with a defiant child.
Changing our Perspective of our Children
Your child really does listen, behave, and cooperate much more than you realize, even if you are a parent of a more challenging child that feels like a never ending cycle of defiance and misbehavior. There could be constant lies, aggressiveness, power struggles, anger, and many other types of challenging behavior. Yet there is a flip side that can get pushed under the carpet. There are times of compliance, compassion, love and calmness that we are sometimes too tired and frustrated to notice. These times might be fleeting, but the more those sparks of goodness are noticed the more they grow.
I know it can be very hard to notice or appreciate these sparks when the difficult behavior seems more like fireworks. Our goal here is to notice each moment or greatness in our child that we might have been blinded to until now. It is human nature to gear towards the negative, focusing on the positive takes work, but is attainable.
Noticing the Hidden Good
Where to start? I would suggest first take a paper and pen and start jotting down anything positive you can think about your child. Try to make the list as long as you can and just start writing anything down, even the smallest things. Even if all you can think of for today is that you saw him half smile one time and the only thing he listened to was when you asked who wants to bring dessert to the table.
Additionally, the list can be general positive traits and attributes, even physical positive aspects, such as she has beautiful eyes. At this point, it might seem exaggerated and feel like you are pulling teeth, but with this work, it is okay to have the “fake it till you make it” approach. Try to search for genuine good, but also write things that seem less genuine for now as well.
Once you have the beginning of your list, each day this week search out for anything positive your child does and write it down. I guarantee you there is much more than you think! Also, be aware of the things you complain about this child and how it is actually a good thing. Examples: He wakes up too early and bothers everyone—but he is the only one who gets dressed and out to school on time without any problems. She eats too much and grabs all the food impulsively without thinking of others—well she is the only one who eats your food without complaining.
Think of what you might naturally expect and take for granted such as, does your child get dressed by him/herself? Are there moments of playing nicely with siblings? Does she ever do homework when you ask without complaining? These are things we naturally expect from a child, but for a defiant child these are huge moments of greatness! Also, what good can you see behind that strong-will? Could it be passion? Inner strength? Be as creative as possible and try to search out for the good from all angles. Think of every aspect of each day, observe your child with the goal of catching all the good that IS there!
Putting it into practice
After you’ve spent the week with noticing the good and creating your list, you can begin applying this approach practically. This tool has multiple ways it can be applied and can be used in order to turn around specific undesired behavior as well. The simplest way is training yourself to actively catch the good in your child throughout the day and then point it out. Even the tiniest moments of proper behavior, and smallest efforts should be pointed out, praised, and appreciated. When pointing out the good to your child, be as specific as possible. Explain what you noticed them overcome, what character strength it shows, and how much you appreciate it.
Imagine a child who struggles with self-control and every time his siblings touch his stuff he screams and yells and hits uncontrollably. This is something you have tried to deal with in many ways, with no success. One time, your child is in a better mood than usual, and one of his sibling’s touches something and he still screams, but he does not hit. Many times we will focus on the screaming and reprimand for that, but instead, focus on the fact that the child did not hit, which for him is huge!
You can say something like, “I know you are so upset that someone touched your things, but I noticed how you controlled yourself from hitting and that shows real self-control!” You might be thinking, but what about the yelling? He still lost control, he just forgot to hit! But it is important to remember for this child not hitting is a huge success that needs to be noticed and appreciated. The yelling can be dealt with at a different point. This kind of noticing and praise also teaches the child he can succeed even if it’s in very small ways. Once he has that belief in himself, he will want to display self-control in bigger ways.
You can also set up the scene for success and make a big deal out of it. For example, let’s say you know your child loves to get out of the house. This week you can have him do different jobs that require getting out, such as taking out the garbage, helping you to bring in the groceries, borrowing something from a neighbor etc. Each time he complies, point out how much you appreciate him being so helpful and cooperative. Now you might be thinking: Is he really being cooperative? He’s only helping because he wants to get out and he still isn’t listening in general!
Yes that might be true, but remember the goal here is to show the child that he is capable of being helpful, cooperative, calm, in control, and sensitive. Once he tastes success, even in ways that don’t seem real enough to you right now, the successes will grow.
This tool is especially effective when focusing on one or two characteristic traits you see your child needs the most help with. Many times the areas where our children fall the most, we push them down even more. When there is a child who is constantly exploding, grabbing, hitting, and acting defiant it’s very hard to respond in the proper way. When using this tool to address those areas of difficulty, you can take one of two of them and focus on when you see your child acting the opposite. I guarantee you your child has many moments of acting in the opposite way of the negative traits he usually does display.
If you have a child who is really impulsive, start with grabbing every opportunity that your child shows even the smallest bit of self-control and explain to them how you see they are displaying self-control and how much you appreciate that. Search out the good, notice it, point it out to our children, and watch it grow more and more!