With the New Year underway, many of us pause to consider how we can enhance our children’s happiness and satisfaction. Yet, we are often somewhat disabled from taking the kind of action that can really make a difference…because we simply don’t know what to do.

In this article, I want to introduce three simple, yet practical ways that you can begin to make this the best year ever for your family.

Recent research from brain-behavior studies provides wonderful guidance to help us understand how the brain works. We know, for example, that most of our decisions occur quite literally “in the blink of an eye.” The brain seems to work at almost light speed, and most of our decisions are made without our conscious awareness.

Furthermore, many, if not all, of our day-to-day choices are activated (or de-activated) by some external event. It could be a question from a parent, a friend, or a co-worker. It could be an alarm clock. It could be someone’s voice in the background. It can also be activated by an internal thought, which turns our attention to a preexisting belief or conclusion. So…how can you use these findings?

You Can’t Nurture What You Want By Focusing On What You Don’t Want

In the world of parenting, we would all like to “activate” thoughts and behavior that lead to happiness and success. You play a major role in activating healthy patterns by how you invest your energy and attention.

One powerful mistake that we make is a very common one. We have a natural tendency to focus on what we don’t want…rather than focus on what we do want. Think about how easy it is to notice what’s not working in your relationship with your children, rather than build on what is working. Consider how often the bickering pulls you into the lives of your children playing, while you ignore moments of cooperation when things are going well.

So…here’s the critical distinction to hold: Notice how often you want to point out behavior you don’t want, people you don’t like, moments you don’t appreciate, and situations you can’t stand. Instead, quickly drop these in your mind, and turn your attention to what you do want, and notice all that you do appreciate in your children and in your life. This is a critical first step to helping to shape an amazing year.

Avoid Negatively Biased Questions

Another subtle, but powerful, way you shape your children’s thinking is through the questions that you ask. Almost every question contains some form of an assumption or bias. Some assumptions are bigger than others. Some are skewed positively and others are skewed negatively. Some contain bias that is harmful, pointing your children in the direction of pessimism and helplessness, while other assumptions bias your children toward optimism and success.

For most of us, there is little awareness to the nature of the questions that we ask at home. Let’s look at a few questions that “prime” your child’s brain for failure and unhappiness.

• Why didn’t you pick up your room?
• Why are you always so grumpy?
• What did the coach say when you missed that foul shot?
• How many did you get wrong on your spelling test?
• Why did you lie to me?
• Why do you keep making the same mistakes?
• What’s wrong with you son…you don’t seem to listen?

Notice where these questions direct your child’s attention. They direct your child to a thought or belief that includes a “presupposition” that is negatively skewed. It’s critical to eliminate these types of questions as a daily practice, and instead…

Use Positively Biased Questions to Prime for Success and Happiness.

Let’s imagine you took a few moments to consider what positive and healthy presuppositions you would like to build into your conversations with your kids. I must assume it would include positive experiences such as:

• Listening in class.
• Learning, excitement.
• Enjoyment.
• Thoughtfulness and kindness.
• Skills.

Most of you would view all of these as positive experiences for our kids to have. So let’s talk about creating questions that prime the pump in positive ways. Here are a few examples:

• Sweetheart what did you learn in math today?
• How many of your spelling words did you get right today?
• What did you enjoy about your visit to the museum the most?
• When you were in school today, what thoughtful and kind thing could you do for your teacher?
• In soccer practice, I wonder how much you will enjoy learning to be a better player.
• Close your eyes sweetheart, and just remember all that you learned last year. Now tell me, how might you possibly use that learning to make a positive difference in the lives of others?
• Who do you love sweetheart? Who loves you?
• When we go to your grandmother’s tomorrow, in what ways could you show kindness and thoughtfulness to her?

Choose your questions carefully, and presume positive responses before you ask the question. You’ll notice not only through the change of behavior, but by the reports of your children. They will tend to focus more and more upon the focus of your questions.