Do you know the most important parenting tool we have at our disposal? It’s an amazing tool that’s so simple once you understand it, but, unfortunately, not so easy to understand in the first place. It’s a tool that comes in handy when talking with your spouse, or the grocer down the street.
This past week, while we were away from home, spending time with several other families while camping at a friend’s farm, we ran into a situation that so clearly demonstrates this technique and how it makes parenting easier.
One child there has autism. That in and of itself wouldn’t stand out to our children because they have many friends and acquaintances who fall on the spectrum. I point this out only because we know how our children act and react toward differently-abled people. But the mother of this child has no experience with our children, but experience with other children who are not kind.
At home our children love to play spy games. They usually gather any children they can find (typical age ranges from 2 to 12) and divide them up into teams. One or two go off on their own, while the rest are the spies. The spies’ jobs are to sneak up on the other people and surprise them. They say ‘scare them’, but I’ve yet to see them scare anyone for real. Mostly because they’re the least sneaky people I know… (but this is my knowledge of my children showing)
While we were camping our kiddos and one of the other girls there decided to play this game. They planned to spy on the child with autism. The child’s mother overheard them talking and assumed they were purposefully trying to be mean, this is based on her experiences in the past. She removed her child from the situation and prevented the child from being near any of our children the rest of the time they were there.
Had the roles been reversed, I might very well have jumped to the same conclusion, but because I know my children and the game, I know they were not being mean on purpose. I also know it wouldn’t occur to them to change a game just because someone seems a little different because to them there is no distinction between one child and another. But what I know about my children doesn’t mean they’re always nice in their actions.
Where does positive thinking fit in here?
When I see something happening and I need to discipline my children I begin by saying to myself, “I am a calm, respectful parent.” I breath deep. In. And out. “I am a calm respectful parent. I want to help my children.” I use these to put myself in the right frame of mind. I calmly listen to my children. Explain my concern. Talk to them some more. And we find a solution without yelling, threatening, shaming, or otherwise instilling fear.
Over the course of the weekend, there were many moments that required me to think positive before approaching my children. Thinking positive allowed me to assume their positive intent. If I don’t see my children as an adversary, then we quickly find a solution and come away from the situation with a stronger bond than before.
Assuming positive intent means we assume our child has a good reason for doing what they did, we just don’t know what it is yet.
From the outside, their game appeared to be about hurting others and being mean. From their perspective it was a game everyone could play and in their experience it was one everyone likes.
Their intent was to include everyone in one game. That’s not what happened though. I could have gone angry at my girls. I could have yelled or punished. I could have done many things, but none of those would lead us toward #unforgettable.
The unforgettable life we’re aiming for can’t happen if we harm the relationships within our family. Positive thinking transforms our interactions and elevates our love and connection. It’s so amazing!