I am a person who likes to envision the glass half-full, instead of half-empty; contemplating all of the possibilities that I can accomplish, instead of focusing on my shortcomings. This mindset was not something that I gained from familial patterns that were passed down to me. In fact, just the opposite! I was brought up in a generation where perfectionism reigned. I always believed that no matter how hard I tried, I could never reach the mark. I would never be good enough. There was little praise for effort or intention, with all of the attention focused on what I couldn’t accomplish. This began a breeding ground for self-deprecation, depression, and anxiety.
As a beginning first grade teacher, I made a literal choice to not abide with a negative mindset. What I had experienced in the past, would have no place in my classroom. I had struggled through my elementary and middle school years in school, and I was determined to make school a better place for my students, than it had been for me. I had a mission to make learning fun and accessible for all of my students. Perfectionism and a negative attitude would have no place in my teaching. Positive reinforcement and praise were the vehicles that I was going to incorporate in my educational plan for my students. We were going to focus on what they could do, what they could accomplish, instead of their shortcomings.
This attitude carried over into my parenting when I became a mother 4 years later. As a new mother I searched to find resources that focused on a child’s self-esteem and the effect that it had on learning. Dorothy Corkille Briggs’ book- Your Child’s Self-Esteem was one of my favorites, along with James Dobson’s book, Dare to Discipline. I saw the power of praise and encouragement in my own children’s lives. It was so much more motivational than looking at the things that they did wrong. Of course, we all make some wrong choices. We will make mistakes. But, to grow stronger and better, we need to view our mistakes as learning opportunities to choose another way, a time to learn a new strategy to implement in the difficult areas of our lives.
Now, after being a mother and a teacher for 25 years, I have witnessed the success of this way of thinking. As a grandmother of 9 grandchildren, I have seen the difference of having a positive and encouraging spirit. I believe that it is human nature to focus on the negative, on what we believe that we “can’t” do. I remember telling my 1st and 2nd grade students that one word that I would not accept hearing was the word, “can’t”, because can’t never could accomplish anything. I even jokingly spoke of cutting the word “can’t” our of our dictionaries. I wanted my students to “try” to succeed at a new or difficult task. When you “try”, you may surprise yourself in what you can do. Observing the lightbulb go off in a child’s head, when he finally understood, was thrilling to me! Making an effort to try, and adopt new patterns or strategies was essential in learning. This always happened in a child’s time, not always in “my time”. Learning new skills happen on each child’s developmental timeline. Some kids may grasp a new skill immediately, some after 1 or 2 repetitions, and others after multiple repetitions.
To gain this attitude of positivity, it is imperative that you adopt the strategy of “Catching your child being good“. That entails observing your child doing the right thing so that you can praise him or her for their good choice. Afterwards, you share this good news with other family members at the dinner table. This is your way of modeling what are the correct and beneficial patterns for your children to follow. For example:
- You see your child helping his brother up after he falls. You praise him for being kind and caring to his sibling.
- You observe your child cleaning her room. You give praise to her for being industrious and motivated to clean up her room.
- You observe your child trying to be a peacemaker amidst conflict with her friends. You praise her for her effort in trying to help find a solution with her peers.
- You see your son generously sharing his toys with others. You praise him for being generous and for sharing with his friends.
- You tell your kids to get ready for bed. One follows your directions and the others choose to play around. You praise the one child who followed directions and was ready.
These positive comments that were given, acted as a catalyst to produce more positive behavior from the kids in days to come. As a child perceives that he is getting attention from doing the right things, he will want to continue in like manner, because he is happy that he is pleasing you. He is also receiving positive feedback about his behavior, which causes him to have the desire to repeat the behavior again and again. On the other hand, if a child only gets comments when she is doing something wrong, she often will continue the negative behaviors, because this is her way of getting much-needed attention, or she might close down and stop trying altogether.
Dr. Jane Nelson on her Positive Parenting website states that you can create a positive atmosphere in your family when everyone learns to look for the good in each other and verbalize positive comments. She continues, saying:
- Compliments create a positive atmosphere.
- Children learn to be “good finders” when they look for and verbalize the things they appreciate about family members.
- Children usually fight less when they participate in regular family meetings that begin with compliments.
- It is important for each member of the family give a compliment to every other member of the family so everyone feels a sense of belonging and significance.
- Compliments may sound awkward at first, but they get better with practice. You create a positive atmosphere in your family when everyone learns to look for the good in each other and verbalize positive comments. When children and parents learn to give and receive compliments, negative tension is reduced considerably.
For the compliments given, one needs to focus on the accomplishments and helpfulness of others. Dr. Nelson gives some examples:
- “I appreciate how quickly you get dressed and ready for school.”
- “I notice how kindly you cared for your sister when she felt sad. I bet it helped her feel better.”
- “Thank you for setting the table.”
Incorporating these simple acts into your daily routine will change the atmosphere of your home. Family meetings provide an opportunity to share your comments. Dr. Nelson suggests that families have regular family meetings to find solutions to problems and have family compliments as a part of that meeting. She suggests the following:
- Place blank compliment sheets on the refrigerator or in another convenient location.
- When you or your kids see someone who deserves a compliment, write it down on one of the compliment sheets. If your child is unable to write her compliment she could dictate it for you to write down.
- At the beginning of each family meeting, family members read their compliments.
- Make sure every family member receives at least one compliment.
Another author, Arlene Pellicane shares on her website, “The Happy Home”, five ways to become a more positive, purposeful parent.
- Reward initiative and effort. Don’t buy into the “participation trophy” mentality in your parenting. Instead reward your children for their effort and initiative. When you see them reach a goal, make a point to celebrate and honor that accomplishment. Give positive rewards for the following: books being read, chores being done without complaint, test scores improving, and better behavior towards siblings.
- Make character building the highest priority. Think of what you want your child to be when she is thirty. Character traits such as being good, responsible, caring, courageous, and hard-working may come to your mind. Focus on these traits in your parenting model.
- Teach your children how to manage emotions and do the right thing. Don’t always ask the kids how they feel about this or that. In our society we have downplayed the power of the will to do the right thing, even when we don’t feel like it. Instead ask your child, “What do you think about that?” “What is the right thing to do in this situation?”
- Make the Bible and prayer part of everyday life. If you want to pass along a vibrant faith in God to your children, you must model it and talk about it. You can pray with your child about a struggle at school. Read a Psalm at breakfast. Memorize a verse a week together as a family. Help and serve a family in your community. Let your children consistently see your faith in action.
- Put good habits in place- one at a time. Studies show that 45-50% of what we do is habitual. As parents we help our kids develop healthy habits that will really help them in adulthood. Do they eat healthy food? Are they getting enough exercise? Do they finish tasks?
Arlene ends her article stating that as long as our children are under our roof, we still have time to make vital and positive adjustments. It is never too late. When you have a positive, growth mindset as a parent and you put a plan into place for your family, you will have more purpose and joy.
I heartily agree with Arlene; a positive growth mindset does produce more purpose and joy in your life as a parent and in the life of your children. So, if you are tired of negativity and pessimism in your life, why don’t you give it a try? There is great value in accentuating the positives!
May the Lord keep you in the palm of His hand,