The real challenge to positive parenting is our own brain, that is accustomed to everything but positive thinking, especially when faced with annoying behaviors. Here’s how we can shift our thought and become the positive parents we want to be.
A wonderful mother who I met lately through my parent coaching program inspired me to write this article. Among other annoying behaviors, one triggered her the most: almost every time she was busy doing something that didn’t have to do with her five year old daughter, the little one would lie on the floor right next to her and kick her legs. I know, right? That’s super annoying. All Mom’s intents of positive parenting and empowering words seemed so inaccessible during these moments.
Oh No 🙁
When this annoying behavioral pattern just came about, she tried to ask her to stop. Clearly, that didn’t work. Then she tried to raise her voice, which surely didn’t result in anything better. She then tried avoidance, which made the little one kick harder. And then, after everything seemed to fail, she gave up.
But then we met 🙂
What We Think
When we are triggered, our brain makes it really hard on us to generate positive thoughts, let alone practice something as HARD as positive parenting. Without taking a real choice there, we automatically start generating negative thoughts.
She can’t entertain herself for five minutes. She’s constantly seeking attention. She’s trying to spite me. She’ll do anything to get any sort of reaction from me. What’s wrong with her? Why does she have to constantly do it?
What We Say
When we are irritated our automatic response machine is full on, these negative thoughts become negative words in a millisecond.
“This is annoying me”. “Could you please stop”?. “Stop it right now”. “STOP!!”
The Underlying Process
In order for us to do something differently, and actually gain that place of positive decision making, we should understand what’s really going on there:
When something triggers us, it’s usually about a need that’s not being met. In this instance, this wonderful mom needed a few minutes of peace and quiet to get something done. She believed that her little one is standing between her and meeting her need, and doing it on purpose. Her thoughts reflected it while she tried to reason with this behavior. However, we can’t reason when our needs are not met.
When we mix unmet needs, with unpleasant words, we can’t really hope for anything positive to come out of it.
So What Do We Do?
We take a second, and breath in. This breathe allows us to bring ourselves back to the real world (the world that is actually happening in front of our eyes, rather than behind the curtains of our though)t.
In this world, no one wants to hurt anyone, no one wants to spite anyone, and everything that anyone does is a strategy to having his needs met, just for him, never against anyone else. This is the basic assumption in Nonviolent Communication, and also the first understanding that allows us to practice positive parenting.
The little one wanted to play, or to connect. That’s all.
Once we are able to see it that way, we are able to address the need and assume the positive intention.
Always Assume the Positive Intention
I instructed Mom to the following, positive, conversation when this annoying behavior happens next:
“Are you inviting me to play with you?” What do you know, the little one said yes.
Mom proceeded to “that’s great sweetheart; I need a few minutes and I’ll come to you”.
Guess what happened? The little one kept busy until Mom came.
The beauty of human needs is that they don’t have to be met to make us happy, in most cases – they are very much satisfied with recognition.
Influence Our Thought → Influence Our World
We live in a troubled world; we’re systematically taught to push needs and feelings aside, and to concentrate on the behavior, when in fact, the behavior is the very last link on the chain that I call “the human experience”.
First there’s a need, then there’s a feeling, then comes behavior.
When our (very) little ones are hitting us, let’s tell them that we know they are looking for a way to show their love (instead of “stop hitting”). When they spill, let’s tell them that we know they just wanted to drink, and than next time they’ll manage without spilling. Let’s do the same when they drop, when they fall, when they cry. They listen to us; they build themselves to our words.
Let’s make sure all these words are positive.
It’s a thought challenge indeed, but I haven’t yet met anyone who regretted taking me up on my offer.
Nonviolent Communication is the key to a better world, and the more people are familiar with this incredible method, the better our chances of making it ❤️