A few months ago my son went through a stage where he was hitting. It was mostly his sister and he would do it a lot and hard. She understood that she was older, and she didn’t want to hit him back, so she would stand there bewildered not knowing what to do. I tried all different tactics to get him to stop; asking him nicely, I would explain he was hurting her, show him that she was crying, I tapped him on the hand once to show him hot it felt. I I would say it gently and I said it more forcefully. It pained me that it was happening; first of all because I hated to see het get hurt and cry, but also because I know he is such a sweet boy; all children are sweet and all children are inherently good.I was also sure that she was provoking him in some way and that it is somewhat the nature or siblings.
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One day when I picked him up from school, I found out that at carpool he had begun to hit the backpack of one of the girls in his classroom and made her cry.
I was embarrassed, I felt terrible, and I realized that this could escalate past sibling fighting and we needed to figure it out.
It dawned on me that nothing was changing and he wasn’t listening because I had the approach all wrong. I kept telling him what NOT to do, what he shouldn’t be doing. “Don’t hit her”, “Stop hitting her” “You are hurting her” “If you hit her again you will get a consequence” “You are making her cry.” When I shifted my approach to the positive, the proactive, the constructive slowly his behavior began to change. I began to tell him things like “you are such a gentle boy” “show me how you can be gentle to your sister” “You don’t want to hit your sister” “I know that you are gentle and that you love your sister.” I would take his hand and stroke her or myself gently with his hand and then praise him for how gentle he is. This empowered him to believe that he was gentle and allowed him to make the choice to allow the best version of himself to come out.
It might sound to you like a silly and simple example, it is so much easier with a two year old, you might think. Well I whole-heartedly disagree. It is a method that can be applied to everyone, no matter their age or relationship to you in your life. positive reinforcement works better then bringing up the negative with everyone.
My husband introduced me to this idea of “two glows and a grow;” for every constructive criticism you give to someone, you give them 2 praises. No one likes to be told what they’re doing wrong; but even worse is that it will rarely make someone feel confident and strong, and believe in their ability to do better. Usually we will feel angry, defensive, insecure, self-destructive, unimportant, etc…it is human nature. When we share what we value in a person, and all of the wonderful things we see in them it makes it much easier for them to change their behavior.
Personally in my relationship with my husband when I thank him for the things he does, it always just makes him more helpful; as opposed to when I criticize or bring up what he doesn’t do the conversation goes south very quickly.
With older children the examples can be about homework, choosing a college, making a relationship decision we don’t agree with, the list goes on, but one thing is certain; the more we tell our children what they are doing wrong, what we don’t agree with; when we approach from the negative, the higher the chances are that they will become even more defiant, rebellious and it won’t inspire them to look inside and see if they are even making the right choice for themselves. It’s human nature, we are all the same way.
If we want to help bring out the best in our children, or anyone in our lives for that matter, we have to shift our approach to the positive, the constructive, and focus on building them up, rather than the negative. Catch yourself every time you are about to tell your child what they shouldn’t be doing share with them all of the good you see in them instead. In this way, we are not only empowering them we are also re-enforcing that we believe in them too.