What Happened When I Looked For The Positive

posted by Andrea | 06/10/2015
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When it comes to parenting (and life in general), I’m essentially a self-taught, trial-and-error, learn-as-I-go type of “student”. I suspect many other people can relate!

It’s not that I don’t care enough about my kids to read those parenting books with “all the answers”… it’s just that those parenting books with “all the answers” have never had all the answers for me. Plus, I know that the way I personally learn best is through hands-on, trial-and-error methods where I can work through an issue and then take an alternate route to hopefully avoid that issue the next time.

This learning style served me very well in school, and it has honestly been quite helpful in many areas of my life so far — especially since I tend to be a ‘go-getter’ so I will tirelessly work at something until I figure it out. I rarely give up before I’ve found my solution!

As you can imagine, parenting (especially parenting miss Nora) has given me many MANY opportunities for trial-and-error… and error, and error, and error, and error.

In some ways, I feel so frustrated that after 3.5 years of trying to do something so well, I still have SO far to go. But on the other hand, I know that parenting is a life-long journey, and as much as I’d love to have everything figured out after only a few years, that’s just not possible.

I make many stupid parenting mistakes EVERY SINGLE DAY… and the crazy thing is, I often make the same mistakes over and over again (which is just so aggravating for me!) However, over the past 3.5 years, I’ve also learned an enormous amount about myself, about my children, about how to best relate to my children, and much more.

So far, Simon is much more straightforward, easygoing, and “by the books” than Nora ever was (or will be).

Nora has stretched and challenged me more than I ever thought possible — to the point that we often end up in tears at some point during the day because we are BOTH just SO frustrated (and I promise you, I’m not a crying type of person… that’s just how frustrated I get with her sometimes).

Out of sheer desperation, I have actually read a handful of parenting books about dealing with strong-willed children, and they have offered some helpful advice. However, the one tip that I’ve found to be most effective over the past couple of years is simply pointing out the positive as often as I can. 

And no, this is not always easy!

Nora’s extreme stubbornness and strong will pushes me to my limits — often on an hourly basis. Some days, I feel like I am constantly reprimanding her, telling her “no”, asking her to stop, putting her in time out, or taking some sort of privilege away from her.

It is exhausting, to say the least.

Probably the most frustrating thing for me is when she starts her day by being naughty (which is A LOT). Often she’ll wake up, come down stairs, and immediately throw a huge temper tantrum about something as simple as going to the bathroom, being hungry, or not having enough water. I just want to send her back up to her room… HOWEVER, I’ve noticed that if I can start the day by simply ignoring these ridiculous tantrums and instead, point out something positive, the day gets off to a MUCH better start.

I know this might sound overly-simplistic to many of you, but it takes a lot of willpower for me to ignore and overlook her crazy morning antics and search for something (anything) positive I can mention instead.

Sometimes, the most positive thing I can come up with is: “Did you know that you only woke up once last night, and you went right back to bed without crying when I brought you back upstairs? That was great!”

Then, all throughout the day, I will search for almost anything positive I can point out to her.

  • wow, you ate your breakfast so quickly — you are getting to be such a good eater
  • good job washing your own hands, it was helpful for me that you could do it by yourself
  • that was so nice of you to get Simon’s toy for him
  • you are such a good colorer, I love coloring with you

Without fail, no matter how upset she is about something or how stubborn she is being on a certain issue, a positive comment or compliment immediately softens her a bit.

It certainly doesn’t always stop the tantrums or make everything right in her world, but it DOES almost always buy me a little more time before a complete meltdown ensues.

As I was thinking about this more the other day, I realized that this mentality would probably work pretty well with almost everyone (not just stubborn 3 year olds)!

Just think how often we could calm an argument, or resolve an issue, or even prevent an issue from arising if we simply tried to focus on something positive instead of immediately reacting to something negative or always assuming the worst.

No, it’s NOT always easy — in fact, it’s usually really REALLY difficult to do.

I mean seriously, if I have trouble focusing on the positive with an adorable 3 year old whom I love to pieces, think how much more difficult this would be with a stranger, a nosy neighbor, an annoying relative, or a bossy coworker!

Obviously, I have PLENTY of experience “learning the hard way” and “fueling the fire” by only focusing on the negative side of things. However, more and more, I’m starting to hold my tongue for just a few seconds, slow my reaction time, and think about anything positive I could possibly say to smooth things over or improve the situation.

I’m amazed at the difference it has made in my own life, in my family, and in my interactions with other.

And like I said above, this might sound overly-simplistic to some of you… but sometimes those simple messages are worth repeating a few times so they can really sink in!

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31 comments

  1. Rebecca G

    07/06/2015

    A little off-topic: I LOVE the crocheted headbands you and Nora are wearing in the main photo. If this is an available pattern, please post it! 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks — my sister made them for us a couple years ago, so I don’t have any patterns. Sorry 🙁

    [Reply]

  2. Tracey

    06/11/2015

    Andrea, this post is so wonderful, so helpful, and so very important!!!

    Mine are now 14 and 12.5, and I wish I’d focused more on the positive when they were much younger. Often, I’d be caught up in the frustrating moments with two so close in age, and harp on what they were doing “wrong”, even though I knew (as a former teacher) the wisdom of “catch them being good!”

    Luckily, before it was too late, I remembered the power of positive, and have consciously tried to focus on that with my kids as much as I can. It really does work, and it helps kids (and big people!) focus on the good stuff instead and strive for more of that good attention.

    You’re a wise mama, and an inspiration!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    It’s never too late — and we are always much harder on ourselves than anyone else, so I’m sure you did a great job when your kids were younger. They probably don’t remember anyway 🙂

    And yes, positivity (is that a word??) really DOES work on pretty much everyone!

    [Reply]

  3. Paulette

    06/11/2015

    Oh Andrea, what a profound post! It’s definitely a good one for me. Instead of being quick to anger myself, a pause makes all the difference. And so many scriptures emphasize not reacting, but being slow to respond! My children were (and still are) my greatest teachers. You’re the best…wish I had your wisdom when I was your age!

    [Reply]

  4. Pascale

    06/10/2015

    Hi Andrea,
    As I was reading your post, I thought of the BEST resource you can use and it is called The Child Whisperer.

    http://thechildwhisperer.com/child-behavior/

    Of all the resources available out there and they are numerous, this is truly the best. I majored in psychology and have seen many resources and none compare to this one.

    I’m not paid to say this, but it eliminated the need for me to look elsewhere and it had produced the same result for countless other parents.

    I do hope you will take a look and be enriched by the variety of insights and topics,

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much for the resource link! I’ll have to check it out!

    [Reply]

    Pascale Reply:

    You’re welcome Andrea.
    Enjoy!

    [Reply]

  5. Liz

    06/10/2015

    It has taken me years to be become more positive, I am a lot like Norah in the sense that I am stubborn and a pain to deal with in the morning. Focusing instead on how difficult the situation is I focus on how to get past the situation, which includes being positive about being able to get past the situation. Thanks for posting stuff 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh boy… it has taken me MANY years just to be somewhat positive. I still have a long way to go and probably lots of years of practicing to do 🙂 We all have our moments — you’re definitely not the only one!

    [Reply]

  6. Linda

    06/10/2015

    This is the third time in the last month I have heard someone say the same thing as this post. I am trying to do this as I have a 9 year old son who is type A and we butt heads quite frequently. He doesn’t have as many meltdowns as Nora but he does not like to be told no. As a mom it seems I am always saying pick up, put away, do this, do that, don’t say things like that blah, blah, blah all day long. So yes, they need to hear positive things. So I appreciate this reminder to not slack in this area. Thank you for this great post!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    You know what they say… “third time’s the charm!”

    [Reply]

  7. Chris

    06/10/2015

    Such a great post! Reading it brought several things to my mind. First, I am working in customer service and you wouldn’t believe how helpful it is in this job to tell a frustrated/angry/yelling/aggressive something positive and to stay calm – so yes, this works in many areas 🙂

    Also, where I come from (Germany) it is seen as a normal period of development for toddlers to have a lot of tantrums between the age of 2 and 4 and the best way to handle it is similar to your advice, Andrea. You are a great mother and Nora is so lucky to have you as her mom!

    [Reply]

    Chris Reply:

    Andrea, I just wanted to add that I totally get that cute Nora isn’t a “by the books” child. I am an HSP (like my mother and sister) and I notice a lot that my default mode seems to be seeing mostly negative aspects in situations or things (I work on that one) . Also, I am the first to say “This is too loud/ Could you please close the window/ Could you turn on more light in this room/Could you please turn down the radio (or TV)” I get cranky and exhausted very quickly in crowded places or places with lots of noise and if I get too hungry I can be quite an unpleasant person. So bottom line: I can soo really relate to your daughter :-))

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Chris — believe it or not, I’m actually A LOT like Nora too. I just didn’t display it as boldly when I was younger (I was actually very shy and quiet for a long time, but super sensitive in so many of the same ways she is).

    And yes, as an adult, I’m constantly asking people to turn down the volume and I very rarely go to crowded places because I just can’t take it for more than a few minutes!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    YES! I can’t even tell you how much I hate dealing with cranky, rude customer service people. and yes, I’m pretty sure American toddlers have those same tantrums between 2 and 4 🙂

    [Reply]

    Chis Reply:

    Andrea, it is so great that you can understand why your sweet daughter is the way she is, it will help her a lot managing her life as a teen or young adult. As I said before: She is so lucky to have you as her mom!

    [Reply]

  8. Edie

    06/10/2015

    Goodness, I sure needed this message at this moment! I’ve been battling my 5 year old daughter all morning. She’s been going to a half day cheerleading camp this week, and after two days of being excited and happy to go, today was the exact opposite. Tears and tantrums. I even took her over for a while to sit with her and hope she would warm up to it when she saw her little school friends having a good time. Not happening!! I know I’m being silly for being so irritated and disappointed about it, and have greatly overreacted making her feel worse. I think she’s just not ready for things like this. The positive? She wants to be home with me. Even when I’m grumpy and having a bad attitude, she still wants to be with me.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — yes I can relate to a little girl who ALWAYS wants to be with her mommy 🙂 Hang in there, I promise, she won’t always want to be with you so much (at least that’s what I’m told!)

    [Reply]

  9. Christine

    06/10/2015

    I homeschooled my son most of his life. My cousin teaches public school and invited him (and me) to come to her classroom when he was in 2nd grade for half the day. I noticed how hard a job it was but I also noticed when all the students were talking but it was time to be quiet and she told them to be quiet, sometimes there were still a few students talking. Instead of pointing them out, she pointed out the ones who had obeyed and would say something like, “Emily has her mouth closed” and point out something positive about her. I thought it was great to point out the good behavior and not the ones still talking.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Wow — I love this so much Christine! Thanks for sharing!

    When I started reading the comment, I thought it was going to be something horrible that the teacher did that you would never do in your own homeschooling, but I was relieved when I got to the end of the comment and realized how awesome of a teacher that woman must be!

    [Reply]

  10. Kim in ID

    06/10/2015

    I just want to encourage you that you’re doing a great job! My kids are 23, 20, and almost 18 and looking for the positive is such a good way to handle things. I had a very difficult child. I think these difficult kids need even more positivity than the easy ones. I failed many times too, but I kept looking for ways to affirm him, spend time with him, and let him know (with my actions) that I loved him. He was actually a pretty easy teenager. 🙂 I found that humor is an incredibly effective parenting tool in the tween and teen years. You’re doing a great job, mama!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Kim! And yes, humor is an effective parenting tool. Just today, Nora peed ALL over the floor right in front of the toilet because she was too stubborn to use her step stool (she thinks she’s big enough not to use it now) and she couldn’t get up on the toilet herself.

    Needless-to-say, I walked in the bathroom to a big mess and I was SO made because I’ve told her a hundred times that she still needs to use the step stool. I’m not sure why, but totally out of the blue, I just started laughing as I was wiping her up and wiping the floor up. Before I knew it, she was laughing and we were both joking about her peeing all over the place. I wasn’t nearly as mad anymore, and she stopped crying. It was much better than me just yelling at her.

    [Reply]

  11. Siobhan

    06/10/2015

    Needed this reminder today..thank you 🙂

    [Reply]

  12. Julie Spady

    06/10/2015

    awesome post! My daughter who is now 26 was a very strong willed one! I remember it always helped being “a few steps ahead of” her. As she got older that became more difficult, but still better if I could figure out how to do it! Nora is a gem, but I totally understand your day to day (hour to hour) struggles and frustrations. It helped me also to ignore more than I really wanted to and find the positive. Which is more tiring than that sounds!! Luv you!

    [Reply]

  13. Patty

    06/10/2015

    Andrea- Great post. I agree with you 100% ….sometimes it is so hard to look for a positive, especially when a negative is often the first thing that comes to mind (at least for me it is!) Kindness goes a long way….thanks for sharing this so eloquently! Have a wonderful day!

    [Reply]

  14. lydia @ frugaldebtfreelife

    06/10/2015

    Three year olds respond so well to positive reinforcement. And I think it teaches them a valuable lesson when they see mom choosing to be happy in a moment that could otherwise be stressful.

    [Reply]

  15. Melissa French, The More With Less Mom

    06/10/2015

    This! She will soak up that positivity like a little sponge!

    [Reply]

  16. Melissa D.

    06/10/2015

    This is a wonderful reminder that does indeed span all ages! All three of my kids 17-10 respond so much better when I aim to focus on the positive. And, in all honestly, I like myself better when I feel more positive! 🙂

    [Reply]

  17. Ann

    06/10/2015

    You are a great mama and I (as a grandma) still learn from you!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Ann 🙂

    [Reply]