It took months for Margo to help her son Michael to show some self-regulation and talk about his feelings rather than having a tantrum and hitting. She spent a lot of time coaching him. “Can you say ‘I’m angry that I can’t keep playing?’” She gave Michael positive recognition when he used words rather than exploding.


Talking with Margo, I suggested she pat herself on the back for these concentrated efforts to work with a behavior in a patient, supportive way. Margo shrugged her shoulders, as if I were joking. Why is it that applauding ourselves as parents or as teachers feels silly? Perhaps it’s because we see making incredible efforts as part of our roles, and we do so out of love.


We probably wouldn’t shrug off compliments about our accomplishments in another area of life, like finishing a long project or achieving a sales goal. We also get predictable recognitions in a weight-loss program, and those are designed to help us keep going.


In the day-to-day energy expenditures of parenting or teaching, we don’t usually stop to mark moments of success or to even be conscious that we need a pat on the back or a time out. There can even be a kind of shame connected with parents and teachers admitting that they need positive feedback in the midst of constant self-giving.


We also aren’t taught the symptoms of burnout from exhaustion and stress. One of the signs is losing our sense of accomplishment and feeling that we are going on autopilot. In actuality, stopping regularly to recognize our efforts, knowing when we need a break, and tuning in to our own self-criticism and over-expectation is crucial.


This is a time of year when we naturally think about and celebrate children’s accomplishments. It’s also an important time to reflect on our own and to make adjustments that bring us more nourishment in life. Learning to do this for ourselves, and for those around us, is the way we protect our most precious inner resources, which allow us to give children what they need.


This is the second in a series where we summarize and discuss a chapter of the book The Inner Wealth Initiative, which is geared toward educators but is great for parents too. This chapter discusses how to find behavior to celebrate and provides more details about the “three-legged table” of the Nurtured Heart Approach. Over the next few months, we’ll share more on subsequent chapters and explore other helpful Nurtured Heart Approach resources. Parents may enjoy reading this book themselves and following along with our articles.


The Nurtured Heart Approach, a relationship-based approach designed to “awaken the inherent greatness in all children,” is critical to what we do at The Meher Schools. We use the Nurtured Heart Approach because it is perfectly aligned with our values and mission: it emphasizes love, kindness, compassion, and positivity.


The Inner Wealth Initiative: Chapter 2

Children’s attention is captured quickest by the toys that have the most features. They’re eager to discover how to make the lights flash and bells ring. The authors of The Inner Wealth Initiative use this analogy to explain that adults are “more interesting than any other toy” because “we’re loaded with features and we’re animated, reactive, and interactive.” (p. 32) While we might not appreciate being compared to a child’s toy, the parallels are clear and the comparison helps us understand why children may try “pushing buttons” to find the ones that elicit the most energetic results. This is especially true for children who are sometimes called “attention seekers,” though the authors clarify that what they are really seeking is “energized attention.”


The authors give an example of a situation where the adult “toy” feels “baffled, loses control, and tells the child he is to blame for that misery and distress.” In this scenario, the message the child learns is that “there is more intense relationship through routes of adversity.” (p. 33)


Children may not be as knowledgeable as us, but they are incredibly intuitive and perceptive. In the first chapter of Inner Wealth, the authors introduce the strategy of celebrating a child’s successes. In this chapter, they remind us that this encouragement needs to be genuine, rather than “disingenuous or untruthful,” because “they see right through it.” (p. 26)


The authors share a charming example of being able to adjust how our perspective makes all the difference. Howie Glasser, founder of the Nurtured Heart Approach, uses this example often: A toll taker at the Bay Bridge is having a great time dancing and enjoying his job. When asked how he is having so much fun, he explains that he’s getting paid to dance, he has an amazing view, and he likes meeting kind people as they drive through. Others with the same job, however, are less happy because of their different outlook. The authors suggest we keep this in mind when “finding the good” in our children’s behavior.


There may be times when parents or caregivers struggle to find a good action to celebrate in a child. Even at times when a behavior is primarily bad, we should keep in mind the phrase that the Meher Schools staff is fond of, and we have posted in some shared spaces around campus: “There’s always something going right.” Sometimes finding the good may mean recognizing what a child is not doing. Children prone to hitting can be celebrated when they’re feeling anger but resisting the urge to hit: “I see that you’re angry, and you could be hitting me now, but you’re not. Thank you! That shows your kindness and self-control!”


Other times, if we adjust our outlook, we can find little things to praise. Our own preschool director, Susie Kohl, reflects on a student who was struggling with behavior. Unable to find any major actions to compliment the child on, she told him how great it was that he was wearing warm and comfortable shoes, which were appropriate for the weather. As minor as it seems, that was enough to make the boy feel valued, and it opened a door in him that led to future success.


The Inner Wealth authors also explain how to create success. In their example, when picking her son up after a hard day at school, a mother has him briefly hold her purse while she opens the car door. Then she says, “I really appreciate your holding my bag. Thank you for helping out.” This seems like a small act, but if the boy doesn’t go to a school that uses the Nurtured Heart Approach, it “might be the first positive thing he’s heard all day, and it could be the first step toward turning things around for this child.” (p. 28)


Last month we introduced the metaphor of the three-legged table, which appears first in chapter 1. The authors go into more detail about it here in chapter 2, starting on page 34. These are the three main elements of the Nurtured Heart Approach, and it’s important to keep in mind that like the legs of a table, it cannot stand without all three legs intact.

  1. Consistently celebrate the child’s successes.

  2. Praise even small successes.

  3. Create opportunities for “renewed patterns of success.”

  4. “Be like the mirror … that makes you look spectacular. The reflection isn’t a lie … it is the truth about you in that moment.”

  5. Set clear limits.

  6. Set clear, predictable rules.

  7. Avoid vague positive language rules like “Be responsible” and “Play nice.”

  8. Avoid giving warnings and threats on the spot such as “If you don’t finish your homework, you can’t have any dessert.”

  9. Always follow through with consistent consequences, which can often be a simple “reset” (more on this in chapter 5).

  10. Don’t reward negative behavior with attention.

  11. Avoid giving the child more animated responses for negative behavior.

  12. Even a one-on-one “lecture” about children’s negative behavior can be an unintentional reward, as they desire attention and intimacy.

  13. Some children will “resist your attempts to create success” at first, but you can view this as a “challenge to topple that wall by bringing forth even more success” instead of reverting to negativity.

  14. This “leg” can be a perfect example of “easier said than done,” so don’t get discouraged if you slip up.


In chapter 3, which we’ll explore next month, we’ll see lots of real examples, and we’ll learn what makes successful praise and what it means for a child to “reset.”


Thanks for reading, and thank you for all you do to support the growth and development of your wonderful children!




  • Meher School Community

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. As part of the school’s activities this month, the Equity and Inclusion Committee has prepared a diverse and engaging list of things families can do outside of school to support the AAPI community and celebrate AAPI heritage.


Created with a variety of ages and developmental levels in mind, the list includes book and song recommendations, family-friendly fields trips, restaurants, and events, equity-and-inclusion-based discussion topics, and delicious recipes – all centered around Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage.


Each week this month we’ll send a new set of activities from the committee’s list. Here are Week 3’s offerings.

Book Recommendations

The Name Jar by YangSook Choi Age Range: Children

Mela the Elephant by Dow Phumiruk Age Range: 5–8

Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo Age Range: 5–10

Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida Age Range: 10–12


Songs to Explore (From Cartoons and Movies)

Studio Ghibli Cafe (Japanese)

Studio Ghibli: Spirited Away (Japanese)

Ni Hao, Kai-lan (Chinese)

Bollywood songs (Indian)


Recommended Field Trips

Gen Korean Barbeque House, 1353 Willow Pass Rd., Concord

Vanda Thai, 1250 J Newell Ave., Walnut Creek

My Tofu House, 4627 Geary Blvd., San Francisco

Sargam Indian Cuisine, 140 N. Civic Dr., Walnut Creek


Discussion Topic

Talking About Race: The Lee Family (for parents and children), Sesame Street


Recipe:

Braised Tofu (Korea)

Ingredients

1 18-oz pack firm tofu

1 tbsp vegetable/canola oil

3 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp water

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp minced garlic

Optional: 2 scallions (1 if large), finely chopped, about 1/4 cup


Instructions

  1. Cut the tofu block into 1/2-inch rectangular pieces.

  2. Pat dry with a paper towel.

  3. Prepare the sauce by mixing all ingredients together.

  4. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large non-stick skillet, carefully add the tofu pieces (tofu breaks easily), and sear over medium to medium-high heat until lightly golden brown (about 3–4 minutes each side).

  5. Spoon the sauce over the tofu pieces. Slightly lift a side of the tofu pieces to get the sauce under them.

  6. Simmer for 3–4 minutes over medium to medium low heat. Flip them over and simmer for another minute or two, spooning the sauce over the tofu pieces.

  7. Serve warm or cold with a bowl of rice.


Recipe:

Mongolian Chicken

Ingredients

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into 1-to-2-inch cubes (chicken drumsticks can be used instead); use poultry function on Instant Pot)

2 tbsp sesame oil (or extra-virgin olive oil)

3/4 cup brown sugar

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced

3/4 cup lite soy sauce (or 1/2 cup regular soy sauce)

3/4 cup water or chicken broth

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tbsp garlic powder

2 tbsp cornstarch

Optional: Cooked rice


Instructions

  1. Heat your Instant Pot, press Sauté.

  2. Add the oil to the hot pot, add the chicken and sauté for 2–3 minutes, stirring a few times.

  3. Cook until it just starts to get golden.

  4. When sautéing it, stir constantly so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

  5. Deglaze the pot with 1/4 cup water and scrape it with a wooden spoon. If you leave the bits stuck to the bottom, they may burn or cause the pot not to come to pressure.

  6. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot: minced garlic, minced ginger, lite soy sauce, brown sugar, water, and red pepper flakes.

  7. Stir well until all the ingredients are combined and coated in sauce.

  8. Close the lid and pressure cook at High Pressure for 5 minutes + 10 minutes Natural Release.

  9. Turn off the heat. Release the remaining pressure.

  10. Open the lid. Select the Sauté function, on LOW.

  11. In a medium bowl, combine 2 tbsp cornstarch with 1/4 cup water, whisk until all combined with no lumps.

  12. Add the mixture to the pot and gently stir to combine.

  13. Cook on Sauté function on LOW for a few more minutes without the lid, stirring gently, until the sauce thickens.

  14. Serve with cooked rice.