Start on a new note. Help your children nurture their inner goodness.
What do we typically do when we find our children doing something we don't approve of? We become reactive parents. We criticize, complain, compare (How dare you do this? Your sister never put us through this), we're sarcastic (You must be so proud of yourself) and catastrophize (You will never be able to get through college admissions). Often, we pepper our reactions with lectures and nagging sessions. When none of it works-and predictably so-we end up screaming and dole out a punishment. And our children react with an equal measure of negativity, through rebellion, anger, resentment and a 'can't-be-bothered' attitude.
Not only do these reactive strategies fail, I think they can be quite damaging for our children's growth. Buddhist Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh put it beautifully when he described how each child has both negative seeds-of anger, despair, hatred, fear and violence-and wholesome seeds-of love, happiness, compassion and forgiveness. According to him, what will blossom depends on the seeds we nurture.
Try a new approach
A parenting and educational approach that's gaining a large following internationally, called the Nurtured Heart Approach (NHA) by Howard Glasser, is very much in keeping with this Zen approach. I have been using it with my own children and the kids I work with, and it has worked wonders. The three main aspects of this approach are:
- Refuse to energize negativity.
- Relentlessly energize their positives.
- Reset: Do not react negatively and stay calm when the child does something wrong.
Let me explain how this works: Parents following this approach commit to not saying or doing anything that may fuel negativity in the child (refer to the reactive measures mentioned earlier). And any time the parent feels that she/he is becoming reactive, she/he resets, moves away, refusing to energize the child negatively. But the parent has to make sure she/he does this without any anger or resentment.
While on a mission to cut the negative, the parent looks for every opportunity to energize the positive in the child. This is done through persistently appreciating the goodness in the child in the smallest of ways: You were really generous about sharing your pizza with your sister; I appreciate the hard work you have put in your project; It takes courage to stand up to a bully. If you observe, the appreciation is not about saying "excellent", "amazing" or "good", which is really an empty praise and does not speak much to the child. Qualifying a praise, on the other hand, gives the child direction and she/he begins to understand what qualities, values and strengths are appreciated. These are also necessary ingredients for life skills and success.
This approach is not merely about noticing when the child is being good, it is about recognizing the child's worth at every step. It's about aligning his energy in believing that he has great qualities, which are being identified and validated by the parents at every step. The basic belief is that when the kid is energized through regular strength-based recognition; he realizes that there is no point choosing negativity, as there are no pay-offs in it. So start building your child's inner wealth-there is nothing to lose but loads of negativity.
NURTURED HEART APPROACH
The NHA focuses on creating healthy relationships. It lays bare the workings of a relationship-what makes it work, what makes it go awry-and helps develop awareness and understanding to improve the ways we interact with others and ourselves. It shines a spotlight on greatness rather than problems. It inspires challenging children to focus their intensity and energy in ways that will help them lead passionate and purposeful lives.
The author is a Delhi-based child and adolescent psychologist, family therapist, co-founder of Children First and author of All You Need is Love: The Art of Mindful Parenting.