Our brains are like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones. We notice, remember and focus on the negative far more effectively than the positive.
There are two important things about this biological fact for parents:
- You are more likely to notice your child’s misbehavior than positive behavior. And since you notice it, you will be more likely to give your child attention for her negative behavior. Since children long for attention – especially from you – you are likely to be rewarding misbehavior with plenty of attention and overlooking lots of positive behavior that your brain just doesn’t notice on its own.
- Your children will grow up with this same focus on the negative unless you help them train their brains otherwise.
Some of us are born with a “glass half-full” temperament so this tendency on the part of our brains may be minimized somewhat in those cases. However, this neurological inclination to notice and remember the negative is true for everyone, especially under stress. So what can you do?
Your brain can be trained in the same way you train your body at the gym. Practice, repeat, practice, repeat and you get stronger. One simple training you can provide yourself and your child are practices of gratitude. Not only do these train your brain to focus on the positive, but they also change the atmosphere of your family and influence your children’s behavior toward more cooperation.
In our family we held hands before dinner every evening and each person said one thing he or she appreciated about the day. It helped settle everyone down for the meal, made it more of an “occasion,” and helped us hear a little about each other’s day and view of the world. Perhaps most importantly, it taught our brains to scan each day for the positive. And with practice, your brain gets better and better with that underlying search for the positive. We continued to say our mealtime “appreciations” through adolescence and to this day even though they are all adults. Now our kids are doing it with their kids. It is a legacy I am proud to pass along.
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