Often, I speak with parents who feel overwhelmed with the hectic life, the complaining, difficult child or the aloof teenager. The constant battles over homework and respect seem to sucking the life right out of them. Rather than feeling optimistic about change, they convey a sense of feeling defeated.
At times, they avoid considering the inevitable consequences of the negative habit patterns that have evolved. It’s too scary to consider the direction that their son or daughter is headed down. So instead, they hide behind a vague (and quite obviously fragile) rationalization that, ‘Oh, they will figure it out… I did.’
If any part of this sounds like you, then please consider…
Don’t give up. Give it 30 days.
Okay, let’s be clear. Life can be very difficult and overwhelming at times. I get that.
But I am asking you to consider that just 30 days of intentional effort can turn around most situations. Perhaps not perfect for some of you, but a dramatic improvement can be made. If this interests you, then let’s get started.
The no excuses ‘scale of justice.’
Let me ask you to imagine this. Suppose I have been magically following you around your house for the past year carrying two huge buckets. On one bucket has a plus sign (+) for positive moments. Every time that you engaged, noticed, smiled, or talked to your kids during a positive or healthy moment, I put a penny in the positive bucket.
On the other bucket is a big negative (-) sign. Every time that you invested energy in a negative moment, I dropped a penny in that bucket. In other words, every time you were nagging, reminding, prodding, pushing, arguing, giving nasty looks, or even “commanding” your children to change their negative, sassy, disrespectful behavior, you got a penny in the negative bucket.
What is critical to understand here is that I am putting pennies in the bucket every time you engage (i.e., give your attention and energy) in either a positive moment or a negative moment.
Now, I pull out the ‘no excuses scale of justice’ and we put the buckets on the scale, the positive pennies added up in one big bucket against the negative pennies in the other big bucket. What would your buckets look like?
If you are overwhelmed and ready to give up, I can guess with certainty that the negative bucket outweighs the positive at least 10 to 1…and often more. This is the ‘scale of justice’ because it will reflect where you are investing your energy with your family, and ‘justice’ is served by reflecting back to you that investment. Again, no excuses. Just real feedback, that points us to where change must begin. This is the essential starting point, in the 30-day plan.
Why? Because you can’t nurture more positive behavior by investing your energy in negative behavior.
The strong-willed, oppositional or difficult child tends to PULL us into those negative moments (let’s call these ‘weeds’). Their negativity PULLS us into it, and gets us to react, to nag, or argue and to feed into those ‘weeds.’ This is a huge problem, because again… we can never get more positive moments feeding into the negative moments. Never, never …never will that happen.
You must master the art of watering seeds and starving weeds.
Seeds refer to positive, healthy and productive behaviors. There are seeds of happiness, seeds of responsibility and seeds of kindness; all the behaviors we want to nurture.
Then, there are weeds! They include the negative behaviors, such as whining, complaining, negotiating, arguing, not listening, disrespect, kids squabbling, and general attitudes of negativity.
If you are desperate and feeling that your home is out of control, you can bet you are feeding weeds every single day. If you take the 30-day challenge, you can turn this around.
How do you do this? How do you get started with all this negativity?
Look, we all know there are no instant results. However, we must start where we have some control, and biggest point of control is what we do with our attention and energy. Are you so frustrated that you find it hard to see the good stuff? Many of you may be. If so… we still must ….
Step 1: Start ‘watering’ seeds very heavily.
For the next 30 days, obsess on moments of thoughtfulness, kindness, hard work and responsibility. Be patient, if these positive moments show up rarely. Wait. They will happen. Any moment that is positive, smile, wink or offer a gentle touch. Nothing more. Just engage by noticing these positive moments, and you are water seeds of a positive life with your attention and energy. Again, be patient here.
Dig in. Stay obsessed upon finding the smallest of moments, the slightest bit of lightness and positive emotions. Smile at those moments. Nod or wink at those moments.
Nothing more…just a slight bit of your attention and energy for now…
But mostly, you must begin to….
Step 2: Starve the weeds of negativity.
This is more difficult than step 1, but is required. Those negative moments must go without getting your energy and attention. Otherwise, you keep feeding them.
I repeat, you must ‘starve weeds’ or otherwise they will just keep growing. So, over the next 30 days, see what happens when you start ignoring those weeds. It’s going to be hard, not to mention annoying, but you have to show them that this negative behavior is not worthy of your attention. In order to prepare them for the real world, which will not invest in these negative, annoying and unproductive moments, reflect what the healthy world will do: walk away.
In next week’s article, I will cover what to do when your children follow you, pester you and simply ‘appear’ to get stronger when you ignore their negativity. In steps 3 and 4, you will learn how to maintain your sanity in the midst of an escalating patch of weeds that refuse to go away.