Humans have a negative search bias. Our brain defaults to scan for “what’s wrong” instead of “what’s right”. Some of us have a stronger negative search bias than others, and I’ve found when my anxiety is high, so is my ability to identify “what’s wrong”. This psychological phenomenon makes sense to me: in order to survive in the wild, we have to constantly scan the environment for “what’s wrong”. A tree branch breaking could be that bear coming to eat me.
But our kids aren’t bears (most of the time ). Hopefully, most of us don’t need to constantly scan the environment for what’s wrong in order to survive. But, our brains still do.
Those knee jerk reactive phrases caregivers spout off daily are like an autopilot setting:
Knock it off!
Quit snatching that from your brother.
Don’t do that again!
That means, we must consciously override the “what’s wrong” filter.
We have to find “what’s right”:
“What do I want in this situation?”
“What are they doing “right” that we can build upon?”
Then, we can tell our children what would be helpful. I’ve found this to be very tricky, especially when I’m tired or overwhelmed. Me. With a fully developed brain has trouble switching gears from what I don’t want to what I do want. If this is difficult for an adult, how do we expect our children to switch gears to a helpful action if we have difficulty even naming the action?
This takes practice and conscious effort:
If I don’t want him to hit his brother, what do I want him to do instead?
Ask for a turn. Then wait.
When he struggles to do one of those actions due to immature impulse control, how can I help him follow that safety boundary?
Be there to physically facilitate.
Bring him in the room with me to wait.
Redirect him to another activity.