(This post is the second in a series on The Seven Powers for Self-Control, from the book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, by Becky A. Bailey, PhD.)
Where is the instruction manual for raising kids?
We’ve recently been presented with some… errr… growth opportunities in my household, as our son began kindergarten this year.
All of us in the family are growing and changing, my son Henry is no exception. His body and brain are developing all the time, and he’s being exposed to new experiences, people and places, which are each having their effect on that process.
And while my husband and I know in our heads that change is part of life, there have been some stresses. Particularly with Henry’s behavior.
Recently I’ve heard myself saying “kids don’t come with an instruction manual” which is technically true. At the same time, there ARE a lot of books and other resources out there, upon which we can draw, when necessary.
One such book is Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, by Becky Bailey.
Self-control is modeled by US (the parents)
In Dr. Bailey’s book, she begins by reminding us that parents set the tone for a child’s attitudes and behaviors. If we desire for our child to develop self-control, we must first look inward to see how we can best model that ourselves.
Dr. Bailey lays out seven powers of self-control, the first of which was the Power of Attention, discussed here.
The second power for self-control is the Power of Love.
The motto for this power is: see the best in one another.
This power caught my attention (much like the first one) because I have heard it before, in different words. Specifically: assume positive intent.
Let’s imagine that someone does or says a thing, and you feel an emotion. That emotion comes from YOU, not the other person. And yet so often we connect our emotion to the words or action of the other person, and assume that they were purposefully attempting to evoke it.
For example, I attended a class the other day, and I was late. I had alerted both the instructor and my team-mates to the fact that I would be late. And yet when I arrived, the room was packed with 150 people, and my specific table had no extra chairs. It was jammed in, with other teams’ tables crowded around it. Not only was there not a chair at my table, but in fact there wasn’t room even to add one. I ended up taking an extra chair from the outer edge of the ballroom and sitting away from my group, more or less on the periphery of the room.
Initially, I felt hurt.
I asked myself: Did nobody think to grab a chair for me? They knew I was coming. Do they not like me, or are they totally thoughtless?
This is line of thinking is not an example of seeing the best in others. This is both assuming negative intent AND making others responsible for my feelings.
To exercise the power of love, I would tell myself: They all have a lot going on. These are very busy people, and who knows what’s going on with them? Also, maybe they attempted to save a chair and it got taken by another table. What do I know of how things happened in the morning when the tables were being seated? I know that all of my table-mates are kind and well-meaning people.
Our thinking comes from our programming
What gets in the way of seeing the best in others?
It’s our programming. It’s what we’ve witnessed and experienced and had reinforced over the course of our lives.
And this is why it is critically important that we model these powers of self-control for our children. If my kid doesn’t see me assuming the good in others, how on earth would he learn to do so himself?
We can also model this power in our direct interactions with our children. For example, if my son is fussing over something, I have a choice in what I think about that.
I can choose to think that he’s a spoiled and disrespectful little brat.
(And in the interest of complete transparency, I will tell you that I have had that thought.)
On the other hand, I can choose to think that he has a need that he’s not yet learned how to express. Something is troubling him and he needs my help in learning a skill for addressing his need. I can approach him with empathy, help him identify and validate his need, and then teach him how to use his behavior in a different way to meet that need.
It all begins with our thoughts
What’s the difference between assuming positive intent with my kid and seeking to teach a skill, versus simply telling him to stop whining and do as I say?
The difference is that -if I want positive results AND a kid with healthy self-esteem- I choose to begin with MY thoughts. Because my thoughts inform my interaction and delivery.
If I’m upset with my kid, calling him a brat inside my head, I’m judging him. And that’s going to come across (even if I don’t say the words out loud) in my interaction with him.
When we approach a situation with love, we are seeing the best in the other person. We are understanding that their behavior is the result of a feeling or a need (or both) and we are empathetic. This does not mean that we let them get away with murder.
It means that we act with compassion, that is built on the assumption that we are dealing with a fundamentally good person who simply doesn’t yet have the skill to express themselves in an effective way.
There are many things that I desire for my son in his life. Growth, love, happiness, and so much more.
For him to truly have those things, he must learn how to navigate both his thoughts and his emotions. And the better skilled I can become at navigating my own, the more equipped I am to teach him.
Do you have a favorite “textbook” for parenting? I’d love to hear about it! Connect with me on social media to share your thoughts and tips! We’re all in this together. ❤