Tone of Voice
I’ve been a mom for just about 8 years and in that time some parenting-patterns have emerged. In yoga, patterns are known as samskaras. They include helpful and beneficial patterns and also in this category are the patterns or habits that aren’t so helpful. Lately, I’ve been really aware of the patterns I use to talk to my kids. For example, the general tone in my house lately is, “I want you to do this, or there will be this consequence”. 10-50 million times a day, you might hear me say some version of:You have to pick up your things, or you won’t get to watch any TV. Or,“If you don’t eat your kale, then you won’t get chocolate pudding for dessert.” This was highlighted today when in my sweet-patient morning voice I asked my 8-year-old to turn the light off when she left the room and she looked at me and said, “or what?”
This pattern I have going lately is all about the bargain. Life in our household has become a series of negotiations and threats, really. I’m both the deal broker and the enforcer. It puts my girls on an opposing team, and the tone of the house just isn’t the fun, cooperative and joy-filled place that I’d like it to be. I decided something must be done, and then I remembered that I had a tool in my toolbox already that I loved, I just let it get rusty.
A few months ago, I was seeing a child psychologist who was offering support and guidance while my girls were reeling from the emotions that came from their dad’s and my divorce. This fantastic woman turned me on to a book, Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach by Dr. Howard Glasser.
This approach changed the tone of our household,while I remembered to do it. The basic idea is this: Your child needs and wants your attention, and even negative attention can be a sort of reward. When your child receives your very focused and sincere attention, encouragement, and praise while they are behaving in a way that is positive, you are offering nurturing of the heart and the welcome behavior.
In practice, how does that look? Dr Glasser suggests you begin to notice times when your child’s behavior is either neutral or positive and give the reward of your sincere interest and attention by making observational remarks. “You are coloring that mountain purple. You have been working on that for quite a while. That sure shows a lot of stick-to-it-ness.” If there is a behavior that doesn’t appear very often or to the degree that you’d like to see, then you give words of encouragement when it appears even in part. “Your little sister hit you with her doll, and you yelled at her, but you showed self-control because you didn’t hit her back.” Offer these observations or “video moments” several times an hour. Give almost no attention or emotion to the undesired behavior. They will respond to the steady stream of your positive attention and realize that their undesirable behavior doesn’t get the attention-reward, so it loses its fun. There is more to it, but this is the gist and I’ll tell you, it is a wondrous thing…
This approach seems, at first, like it is about training your children, but really, it’s about training yourself. You begin to look for the positive and the beautiful even in moments when it might be difficult to spot and like a yoga practice or meditation, you bring yourself back to the intention of noticing when your child is doing something wonderful, even if it is as simple as sitting quietly for two minutes and looking at a book. As a parent following this model, you get to thoughtfully express what it is that you find and with practice perhaps this becomes your samskara. You bring the yoga of intention and focus to something really amazing and you start to share that perspective with your kids. These brief exchanges of appreciation and attention are the very stuff of life and the place that you direct your attention is the tone in a household.
Those months ago, when I started looking for the times that my kids were doing something with an energy that was appropriate, kind, quiet, focused or any degree of awesome, then I paused what I was doing to notice and comment on it. I chose words that were sincere and interesting and not about pleasing myself, there was all of this sentiment of appreciation floating around in the air, helping all of us to feel special and noticed and important. Giving my awareness, attention and thoughtfulness to the things my girls are doing shows them how important and interesting and good they are, and it reminds me of the great gift and privilege it is to be their mom.