I know this sounds a bit harsh, so we can also say, ‘what you focus on the most you will cultivate and grow – until it becomes reality’. The same thing, just sounds nicer.

Do you have a challenging child? Then I know it’s tempting to talk about them to friends, family members (partner, siblings, own parents), colleagues, teachers etc. ‘Sam is so difficult today, he is refusing to go to school again’. ‘Jenny screams all the time and it’s driving me nuts’. ‘Tom keeps irritating his sister – I have had enough of him’. ‘Sarah is so difficult to be close to, she is very harsh’. ‘I have had enough of Ben; he never does anything around the house when asked to help’. And so on.

Maybe we tell our partner as soon as they walk in the door how difficult the child has been. Or you call your friends or your parents to ‘get it out of your system’. It might be that you talk to yourself a lot about a child’s challenging, irritating attitude and behaviour.

Even though the child might not hear the words, they will sense it and it will have an effect on them indirectly. What happens here is that we manipulate other people’s thoughts and opinions about the child. So next time they see them they will start looking for these challenging behaviours – expecting them to come. And a child will live up to people’s expectations, both negative and positive. They will do what we expect from them.

It will have an effect on the relationships the child has with other people i.e., siblings, your partner, grandparents, their teachers etc.

If you talk to the ‘easy’ child about their ‘difficult’ sibling, we not only take sides, but it will affect the dynamic between the two. They might fight more, have a less friendly and loving relationship. The same with the other parent – if they are fed with negativity about the child, they will get irritated at the child since they get in between the couple or simply just get tired of hearing about all the ‘bad stuff’ they do. Grandparents love their own children and if they are stressed by the grandchild they might ‘like’ them less since they disturb the family harmony. You get the point here.

So try the opposite:

  • Start by being the child’s ‘positive spy’. Be on the lookout for ALL the good things the child does. Even the small ones i.e., looking at you when you are talking, one out of five times doing what you ask, if they eat the carrots but not all the other things on the plate focus on the fact that the child ate the carrots etc.
  • Tell people about it. Make sure your child hears you. Call your parents. Tell your partner (even if it is your ex) about it. I would hold back with the siblings so we don’t want to provoke jealousy, but you can do the same with all your kids: ‘Sam was so good today when I asked him to get ready for school’. ‘I had a really nice time with Jenny today, she was super fun and smiley to be around’. ‘It was so calm this morning when Tom was ready on time, I so enjoyed it’
  • You can also ‘show’ them with your actions: hug the child when they are doing what you like. Give them a smile and a thumbs up. If the morning has been nice and calm you can let the child have a special treat i.e., sit in the front of the car, listen to a favourite radio programme. Or if they go nicely to bed, you can read an extra story etc. This way you SHOW them that you appreciate what they did. I would not encourage gifts and sweets or food as rewards – just your time.
  • Praise: you can also say it directly to the child. Make it real praise; ‘Tom, I really enjoyed this morning when we were all ready on time’. ‘Wow you were super-fast getting to bed’. Try not to take it away again with a BUT i.e. ‘I really liked how you got ready so fast and on your own this morning – but why can’t you do that every morning?’ Make your praise short, simple and personal. Notice all the things your child is NOT doing wrong and acknowledge that you have notice it and liked it…

This way they will do more of what they hear (and is expected from them) from the people around them. At the end of the day our children DO want to be good and make us happy and proud. But most of all they want our full attention and if they have ‘learned’ to get it the negative way they keep doing just that. But once they feel that they get no attention (are ignored) from their unwanted behaviour and more from wanted behaviour we will start seeing it shift.

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