This is the third in a Nurtured Heart Approach 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. 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. Some other Nurtured Heart Approach books we love include Transforming the Difficult Child, There is Always Something Going Right, and Greatness Kids Initiative.
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’s perfectly aligned with our values and mission: it emphasizes love, kindness, compassion, and positivity.
The Inner Wealth Initiative: Chapter 3
“Good job!” you say enthusiastically to your son as he finishes his drawing and puts away his crayons. He’s happy, but he’s not sure what exactly he did to earn the praise. Was it that he was putting his crayons away? That he was so focused on his drawing? That he used so many colors? That his drawings of animals are improving? That he kept trying despite being frustrated? Without the additional information, we are missing an opportunity to encourage him to repeat a desired behavior.
Effectively praising positive behavior is one of the three “table legs” of the Nurtured Heart Approach. This chapter dives deeper into the topic of praise, which it also refers to as “appreciations,” “recognitions,” and “acknowledgements.” We praise children to encourage them to repeat a good behavior. As the authors explain, though, it’s not just the praise that makes this work. “It is the fact that you are taking your time and energy to look deep into the student’s heart and spirit; that you find him valuable … that you treat him as greater than his problems” (p. 39).
Some praise is more effective than others. Below we summarize the four types of praise discussed in this chapter and include some tips and examples.
What the authors call a “verbal snapshot,” this is just an observation, without any judgment.
“I noticed you’re using lots of different colors in your new drawing.”
“I can tell that you’re feeling frustrated.”
If your children aren’t used to this type of recognition, they’ll often resist or test boundaries. Keep it up!
Do not use this when a child is doing something wrong, like “I see that you are hitting your sister.” This adds energy and attention to the behavior.
Be specific. Parents tend to use phrases like “Good job” and “Thank you!” regularly without specifying what was good. Include details about what they were doing to show them that they are “seen, acknowledged, and appreciated” (p. 42).
Here parents add to the observation to include what positive traits the child is demonstrating.
“I noticed that you’re playing well together by sharing the crayons.”
“I can see that you’re upset at your friend but that you used your words and walked away instead of hitting him.”
Children need to be taught what it means to “play nicely” or “be respectful.” If you include these phrases, add specifically how they’re doing it.
“Create a positive picture for the child of an event that is either presently unfolding or that has happened recently.” (p. 46)
This step is about finding a time when the child could be breaking a rule but is choosing not to.
“‘I want you to know how much I appreciate you being so gentle with … [your] pet. You are showing that you can really be trusted with the feelings of others.” (p. 52)
“I see that you could be throwing your toys, but you’re putting them back neatly instead. This shows how helpful and responsible you are.”
“I like that you’re not teasing the other children … That’s a great way to be a friend.” (p. 52)
For this to work, the rules must be specific and clear. For example, try “No name calling” instead of “Be kind.”
As the caregivers, we should know the rules perfectly, but it’s fine for the children to learn as they go.
There’s no such thing as too much praise!
This type of recognition, which builds on the other three, is especially for children who are more intense and disruptive. The goal is to “engineer successes that would otherwise not happen.” (p. 53)
“I need you to sit down,” followed by, “I see that you’re sitting down like I asked. That shows how cooperative and helpful you’re being.”
“Put your clothes away.” Then, as the child walks toward the closet, even if he or she may not intend to put the clothes away, “I see that you’re starting to walk to the closet to put your clothes away. I appreciate that you’re starting to do as I asked. Very helpful!”
Avoid framing the instructions as an ask and avoid “please.” They should be direct.
Focus on the moment. Even if the children don’t follow the instructions for the rest of the day, celebrate when they do, and don’t mention the past.
Praise is an essential part of the Nurtured Heart Approach. It may take some time to get used to, but parents find that it can drastically change their children’s behavior. Most importantly, though, we “reflect their goodness, wholeness, and worthiness with celebration in this moment” (p. 39). This leads not just to improved behavior but building the “inner wealth,” which improves their views of themselves, and as the authors explain, helps them to “use good judgment, make good choices, … think of the future, cope with adversity, take risks, and find courage and love” (p. 18).