Parents want to raise happy children. In all of the many parenting workshops I run, regardless of their parenting style, cultural background or socioeconomic status, all the parents want their kids to be happy, healthy and successful. The problem is that parents whose kids are not happy, healthy and successful do not understand how they contribute to this. They just cannot see how their parenting focus and the attention they give to problematic things creates these problems.
When children do not behave like we want them to and when they do things we do not like, we tend to pay attention to their behavior more than when they behave like we want them to and when they do things we like. This attitude only makes them continue to behave “badly” and creates a never-ending cycle of attention to “bad” behavior.
When pay attention to the problems, the problems keep growing, and then we pay attention to them more and we trap ourselves and our kids in this dysfunctional parenting style. In life, we get what we focus on. Some call it “the law of attraction”, I call it “the flashlight model”.
Flashlight with a Magnifying Glass
Imagine yourself living in total darkness, with a flashlight on the top of your head illuminating the things that happen in your life. When you first point your flashlight at something, you see a bright circle. Over time, your eyes get used to the light, and you start seeing more and more of what is around that circle of light.
At any point in time, you can shine your light in one direction. If you point the flashlight at good things, this is what you will see. If you hold the light on good things, you will see more of them. Similarly, shining your light at bad things will make you see more of them over time.
Simple! You see the things you focus on.
Now, imagine there is also a magnifying glass in front of your face, showing you things bigger and more detailed when you turn your attention to them.
Our mind is very similar. It has a flashlight with a magnifying glass. The more we highlight a specific situation (good or bad), the more it grows. If we focus on our kids talking to us with disrespect, we will see lots of disrespect. If we focus on our kids being kind, we will see little Dalai Lamas.
What happened in your family yesterday? How many times during the day did you point your flashlight at good things your children did? How many times during the day did you pay attention to bad things your children did?
Parents generally find it very easy to express discomfort – “Don’t talk like this”, “No swearwords”, “Stop hitting your sister”, “Stop playing with your food”, “I’m not happy with your report card”, “How many times do I have to tell you?”, “No more computer!” The list is huge.
But many parents find it difficult to express satisfaction – “You talk so nicely”, “You express yourself beautifully”, “It was very kind of you to share with your sister”, “I am so happy you like eating vegetables”, “It is fantastic you finished your homework before playtime”, “I am so proud of you for…”
Some parents tell me, “If they did great things, I would have told them good things”, and they do not understand it works the other way around. If you express satisfaction and joy, you will make them do more of the good things!
Children learn to use your flashlight to see the world around them. If you are a positive parent and you focus on good, they will also focus on it. This I what they think reality is. If you focus on what disappoints you and express it, they will also do the same. Happiness is a state of satisfaction, while complaining guarantees you will never feel happy.
Parenting Focus on What They Do Right
Use your “flashlight” to focus your parenting on the good stuff and give your kids confidence. Learn to be positive and to prefer positive reinforcement.
Praising kids is a fantastic way to encourage good behavior and it is important to phrase your praise as if it is coming from the child himself, so that he will eventually learn to praise himself. Instead of saying, “I’m happy with this”, say, “You must be happy with this”. Instead of saying, “I’m proud of you”, say, “You’re proud of yourself, aren’t you?”
When focusing on something undesirable, separate the action from the identity and use behavioral statements, like “It’s not nice to talk like that”, instead of “You are…”. On the other hand, when focusing on something you wish to encourage, use identity statements, like, “Tom, you’re a great kid”.
If you want to learn about the best ways to praise kids, read the series How to Praise your kids. It will give you an insight into the best ways to do it and strengthen your kids’ confidence.
Remember, you are walking around with the magnifying flashlight, so use it well!