I read a great analogy today about children’s behavior using video games in the book Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach by Howard Glasser.
It pointed out how, in a video game, the player is rewarded for doing something right. That something could be for not falling off a ledge or making it through the entire level, but whatever it was, it was a positive behavior that contributed to their individual or team success.
On the Xbox they get Achievements when the level is complete and they’ve done something super awesome, and in all games they get points or extra tools, money, or perks.
When we think about how we interact with our kids, often everything they do that’s right goes completely unnoticed and certainly unrewarded most of the time.
So when do they get attention from us? If it’s only in our negative reactions, then they’ll continue to push for those. They will take negative attention from us over no connection at all.
If, when they are doing an undesired behavior, we are instead neutral and non-reactive, then they won’t associate that behavior with finally getting something fun out of mom. As much as it doesn’t seem fun to us, it can be entertaining to them to see us contort and yell! Especially when we’re normally boring old robot mommy, going through the motions of the day and barking out orders and instructions.
They want to learn about their experience through our eyes. Are they doing well? Do we see them? Did we hear what they said? When the only feedback they get is when they mess up, the video game is upside down. What would that feel like? Would you keep playing a game like that?
Imagine you’re giving this game everything you have and you keep doing everything right even though it’s all brand new to you… level after level, you’re the top player. You’ve helped the entire team, collected all the mushrooms, bopped all the stars, came up with the winning strategy that finally defeats the villain. You play it for six hours with not even one peep of acknowledgement for all of your efforts. Then you slip and drop ONE potato and the game starts screaming at you, shaming you, takes away all of your points, and the controller shakes in disgust before the game self-destructs.
Okay, so a little dramatic, but that’s kind of what it’s like for our kids, right?! This whole life thing is new to them and they are doing their absolute best, but often the only time they get any feedback or acknowledgement from us is when they screw up.
I’ve been aware of this concept since I first had children four years ago, and I still forget to put it into practice at times! Even though I almost always respond rather than react (thanks to my own transformation), just remembering to thank them for doing everything right can easily slip my mind. Sometimes I’m just lost in a Whew! They’re both alive still! daze and sit oblivious to their efforts until someone starts screaming.
If you want to be more attractive to your child (or spouse!) than a video game:
1. Remove emotional baggage with the help of a parenting coach so you are able to stay neutral and non-reactive when triggered by something they do
2. Stay mindful and aware when you’re with them so you can connect and reflect their experience back to them
3. Point out and thank them for all desired behavior as much as possible every single day
And yeah, pretty sure this applies to our marriages too. I know I’m guilty of only pointing out the bad the majority of the time. Just a simple “Thank you for picking up dinner!” can go a long way.
Try it and let me know how it works! They may test you a few times, especially if you’re a big reactor right now… but eventually they’ll buy into the new program and delight in your delight.
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