What All of Us Need the Most!

Grateful Parenting

By Roxi Nevin

When you have five children there tends to be a surplus of competition in the household. Particularly among my three youngest boys, who are all just over a year apart. The older they get, the more this seems to be the case. As I watched them decide what to do with their screen time this afternoon, I pondered something I have thought about often. How can I use their competitive nature to foster positive interactions? All 3 of them chose to watch the same movie, but on separate devices, and as a mother on the Autism spectrum, listening to three simultaneous movies in the same room is quite tumultuous and nerve-wracking. I didn’t quite understand why they would choose to watch the same movie separately, and in the same room and was met with a few answers that seemed logical such as “So I can pause it when I want and not interrupt anyone” and “I just like the smaller screen closer better than the big screen farther away”. Okay, so I can find the positive in that logic, but I still felt like it was more about being in competition of some kind, or even worse a need to control the environment.

As most parents know, you choose your battles, and since I had work to do, I just let it be and moved on somewhat satisfied with their answers and reasoning. But it really got me thinking more about how I could use their competitive natures to bring out the best in them. As is often the case, the universe gave me insight in the form of the most recent “Art of Grateful Leadership” podcast. The words of Jim Trela stuck out with me as profoundly relevant to my dilemma at home. He started the episode with “I’m going to tell you about a team where Acknowledging the team had little effect, but when I acknowledged the key player, the catalyst of the group, things took off.” This intro was like a light bulb for me! To keep the competitive nature of the kids in a positive direction, simply acknowledge whichever child is the key player in the given situation.

 In terms of operations of the home itself, I treat my children like a team, similar to how I would when I am leading a team at work. I use project management methodologies to run my home, and as such, my kids become the team. I also stress the idea that we’re all a team, and we use teamwork to run things smoothly and keep everyone working together instead of against each other. I try to be very careful about avoiding doling out consequences as a group. I spend the time it takes to get to the root of the issue rather than using the old ideas that many parents in previous generations used, and attempt to discuss consequences and repercussions with the person who jump started the issue in the first place. And I think that Jim sparked the realization that it works the same in the opposite way as well.

As most people know, positive reinforcement works much better with most children than admonishment. In our house we try to acknowledge good behavior with the idea that this will in turn produce less “bad” behavior. Using terms like “Thank you, great listening!” when someone does something the first time they’re asked, or “I noticed you threw your wrapper in the trash bin instead of on the table, I appreciate that!” and similar phrases for various actions. I’ve found this to be a successful method for us and we have a lot less frustrating moments when we as parents remind ourselves to do this as often as possible. I think acknowledging our kids as often as possible helps kids develop a good sense of how powerful acknowledgment is. Before they even understand what acknowledgment is, they do understand the happy feelings that are produces when we acknowledge them, particularly for the small stuff that kids think go unnoticed by adults. Kids often feel like the adults around them only notice when they do something unfavorable – and that good actions go unnoticed. Lots of people feel like they don’t want to praise a child for doing what they’re supposed to be doing in the first place, or rewarded behavior that is expected of them, but I find this mindset to be outdated and generally unproductive. For years experts have called it “positive reinforcement” and while that term certainly fits, I think that when you get down to it – it’s quite simply just “acknowledgment”.

So let’s take to heart what Stephen R. Covey wrote in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is…to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.” And small human beings need this just as much, and just as critically — as larger ones!