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.
Consistently celebrate the child’s successes.
Praise even small successes.
Create opportunities for “renewed patterns of success.”
“Be like the mirror … that makes you look spectacular. The reflection isn’t a lie … it is the truth about you in that moment.”
Set clear limits.
Set clear, predictable rules.
Avoid vague positive language rules like “Be responsible” and “Play nice.”
Avoid giving warnings and threats on the spot such as “If you don’t finish your homework, you can’t have any dessert.”
Always follow through with consistent consequences, which can often be a simple “reset” (more on this in chapter 5).
Don’t reward negative behavior with attention.
Avoid giving the child more animated responses for negative behavior.
Even a one-on-one “lecture” about children’s negative behavior can be an unintentional reward, as they desire attention and intimacy.
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.
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!