Friday, May 29, 2009

Noticing Positive Moments Influences Positive Behaviors

It's crazy how many penguins I have in my office. There have to be over 300 of them. They are multiplying like rabbits! Many years ago, I went to a seminar led by a wonderful psychiatrist from California, Dr. Daniel Amen. He wrote a book about how penguins inspired him to notice the positives in people more than focusing on the negatives. I was so moved by his story that I began collecting penguins myself. It is a daily reminder for me to always look at what is working rather than what is broken; notice what you love about someone more than what you're bothered by; find something in your day to celebrate rather than holding on to something that went wrong.

So how do penguins and this notion of 'noticing the positives' influence parenting? Children are always seeking our attention. Anyone who tries to take a quiet trip to the bathroom with little ones around knows that those fingers under the door are a sign that they want you ALL the time. Or when children entertaining themselves quietly suddenly and desperately NEED you as soon as you pick up the phone. They will take ANY form of attention - negative or positive. If they know you tune in (and respond loudly) to the negative behaviors, children will be likely to display negative behaviors - in part to seek your attention. If children receive wonderful attention when they are making great choices, they will continue to seek your attention through making MORE great choices.

Consider a room filled with ten 4 year olds. If you ask the kids to clean up, chances are there will be at least 2 kids NOT cleaning, but more likely than not, there will be 7-8 kids cleaning up. If you channel your energy into getting the 2 kids on task, the kids who are cleaning may lose interest or stop cleaning to gain your attention. However, when you comment, sincerely, on "how great Susie is doing getting all the blocks put back into the bin" or how fast the kids are working, those stray few will probably join in. Make sure, when they do, that they are noticed for their participation!

So, it's easy to see how to influence 4 year olds to make great choices, but what about those teenagers? Same methods apply! Teenagers are working hard on feeling good about themselves - and it is our important mission as parents to help them foster a healthy, strong self esteem. It is so easy to focus on the shoes left by the door, or the garbage spilling over in the bathroom. But noticing the hard work your child did on an assignment, or the compassion she showed a friend who was feeling down, or how responsible your son was for coming home before curfew go a long way in teaching teens about respect and positive behavior. We actually influence their healthy choices by taking the time to notice what some parents mistakenly take for granted. Find things EVERY DAY to celebrate your teen! Don't do it in a patronizing or false way; really take the time to get to know your teenager and encourage him in being the best he can be!

Make a point to start today - look around you: your friends, spouse or partner, co-workers, employees, and children. Watch for those "penguin" moments. Tell that person when she impacts you in a positive way. And share on this blog how it changes your life!