Although Dave and I began investigating NH about a month ago, it’s only been since the new year began that we’ve made a methodical attempt to follow the program 100%. We’ve signed up for a parent training that is meant to start mid-month. In the meantime, I read his first book (Transforming the Difficult Child), watched the dvd presentation and have been reading his new book (All Children Flourishing) and am watching for every moment I feel pulled to give any energy to negative behavior (hoping to STOP myself) and for every moment I can recognize and celebrate Fluffy’s greatness with specificity (hoping to lay it on!).
This is the key.
Every other discipline approach has it backwards—not doing anything when desirable behavior is exhibited and really laying it on when undesirable behavior is exhibited. In other words, we’re giving our kids a big payoff at the exact wrong times.
Glasser says those methods work with the typical kid but not the intense kid. He says, essentially, the following are methods that not only don’t work for the intense (or challenging or difficult) kids, they actually make things worse:
Any typical discipline approach that most people use with most kids
These methods all give our kids a big energetic response for negative behavior. Unfortunately, lots of times our difficult kids aren’t getting much of any from us when they are behaving (we’re all, Oh good! He’s happily playing on his own, I’ll straighten up or make those calls or wash those dishes!) so we’re giving the good behavior not much of any energetic response and the bad behavior anywhere from slightly energized to highly energized responses depending on our mood or how many times that day our child has done/said things that push our buttons.
Now, we might say well-meaning praises like Good job! Or I really like the way you’re acting! or Thanks for being a help! We might stay nice and calm to explain why the particular behavior wasn’t okay, That hurt so and so’s feelings, It makes me feel sad when you do such and such, It isn’t okay to do such and such and if you do that again, we’re going to have to leave. But even this is usually done with far more energy and far more detail and usually dispensed at a much closer physical range than what we do/say when our child behaves. We also tend to punctuate these session with mini-lectures or threats to take a toy away or leave the premises or send a child to his room for a break, etc. etc.,
Kids get this. They have super duper antennas when it comes to energy.
Again, all this works fine with most kids. But if you’re like me and you have a kid that doesn’t respond to this and you’ve tried (and tried and tried) all kinds of approaches and even the he’s-not-developmentally-ready or his sensory system is overloaded or I just need to say it exactly right and stay ultra detached and calm, well, you might just find NH is just the ticket.
The NH approach goes in stages. We’re in what I’d call the first stage that’s all about creating a JUICY TIME IN which is what every moment is going to be that isn’t a Time Out. Now, Glasser recommends a very specific Time Out for when a rule is broken but it won’t work unless you’ve already established Time In. We haven't gotten to the Time Outs yet but they are, essentially, a clean, short, withdrawal of energy and won’t work until Time In gets integrated into the household and parents and child and the child’s own self-image begins to shift.
Time In is all about being seen and valued, about being given lots of positive feedback and energy for all the times the child is behaving in ways that we celebrate.
How do you do that? By being specific.
Glasser gives this wonderful example of a teacher who’s in the room with a group of students who all had been working away at a table together quietly for about 15 minutes. She says to them, You all are doing a great job! Keep up the good work. Now, what are the kids to think? Is it possible they each might stop and interpret this very individually and specifically? Might one say, Oh, yes! I’m being respectful of others, sitting quietly and not pulling at any else’s paper. Another, Yes! I’m respecting the materials and making sure to put the caps back on the pens. Another still, I’m showing determination and focus even though this is hard because I’m not giving up.
Not likely. Not unless we tell them.
It’s up to us to tell our kids what they’re doing that we appreciate, admire, value and recognize and what they’re not doing that we appreciate, admire, value and recognize. And what we like! Especially when they’re having a hard time.
We need to tell our kids the truth so they can hear it so it can sink in. And the truth is, even with very challenging kids (toddlers, elementary age, teens), there are countless example every day of their success right in that moment. Not what they are on their way towards, but what they are displaying right now. There are countless moments whem they are showing self-control, determination, focus, wisdom, consideration, creativity, humor, problem solving, curiosity, peserverance, respect, innovation, etc.. Even the ability to feel strong feelings in the first place is a success! Let's not forget to acknowledge them for that, for letting themselves feel the anger or frustration or excitement or disappointment!
The NH approach says to start by giving what's called Active Recognition. When you see your child doing anything (except breaking a rule), stop and tell them what you see and name a quality of something that matters to you that you see them exhibiting. For example, I notice your following the directions in that lego sheet to build your structure. You are using great focus and determination and I admire that! Or, I can see what you're doing is taking a lot of effort and even though you're getting frustrated, you are choosing not to yell or use bad language. That shows me your perserverance and self control and I really value those qualities!
Now, it might feel a little unusual at fist. But if you think it's odd to make such long statements with such detail, think of what you say when you're not happy with the behavior. Think of the amount of energy and time and words you spend on those 'teaching moments'.
Yesterday, Fluffy had a big meltdown before dinner. Dave and I aren’t to the point in the program where you do the Time Out; we’re still heavily building juicy Time Ins but we knew enough to NOT give energy to the negativity. But that didn’t mean that we did nothing until he was over it. We kept looking for moments to jump in and accuse him of success.
At one point, Fluffy paused in his screaming and yelling most likely, just to catch his breath. But I jumped in, Wow, Fluffy! I so appreciate that you stopped yelling in this moment! Thank you. I know that’s very difficult to do when you're upset. That shows a lot of inner strength! Later in the meltdown when there was another pause I said, I notice that you are having really big feelings and I really admire that you are feeling them without hurting yourself or us. (Glasser says, mention what’s NOT happening as much as what IS and use detail!). You’re not biting yourself or hitting me or dad with your hands or any objects. You’re not pushing over the chairs. You are being very powerful in choosing to respect the house, your body and our bodies and using fantastic self control.
We kept it up, looking for those moments to reflect his success. He calmed down. And came to the table on his own. There was much celebration, specific celebration, of his success. And no mention of the meltdown AT ALL since going over something difficult later, when the child is calm, DOESN’T WORK with these kids.
So here's the part that is beginning to reveal the transformation that has begun:
Last night at bedtime, Fluffy's facial gazing was through the roof--sustained, relaxed, present. At one point, I wondered if he was thinking of something like counting in his head, such was the extent of his connection to my face and I asked, Are you counting?
And he said, No, I’m just hanging out. And then he gazed at my face some more and said, You look really beautiful, mom.
And I said, Wow! Thank you, that is so considerate and loving of you to say. So do you! I love looking at your eyes.
And he said, I love looking at yours. They’re very beautiful!
And I said, The eyes really are like windows into the soul and I can see how wise and wonderful your soul is.
And he said, Aw, Mom. I'm so glad! and pulled me to him for a long, long embrace.
Nurtured Heart. It’s the foundation of our homeschool curriculum. I can’t wait to see what happens next.