Grounded. That’s a word I became very familiar with in high school. No, I don’t mean grounded as in “realistic” – I mean grounded as in punished, sent to my room, cut off from friends or from my computer. I wasn’t a bad kid, really, but there were certain rules I was bad at following. Mostly, it was my chores, and specifically, it was mowing the lawn and taking out the garbage. I can recall at least one time that I was grounded for three months for failing to mow the lawn when I said I would. With the exception of a two-week grounding once for failing to take out the trash, the month was the standard unit of grounding for my father. There were a number of occasions where my punishment persisted so long, my friends would forget that I was grounded. “Wait, still?” they would say.
But for whatever reason, no matter how often I was barred from friends’ houses or told that I couldn’t play video games, my behavior never changed. I can definitely tell you I didn’t want to be grounded and I certainly didn’t enjoy it. So, why couldn’t I just remember the trash or mow the lawn when I said I would?
To this day, I can’t tell you why.
Fast forward to my adulthood, a few years ago. I’m working for Foster and Adoptive Family Services, and the Training department hosts a meeting to talk about the Nurtured Heart Approach® (NHA). By this time, I’m married with a stepson, and parenting techniques have once again become a central feature of my life. Long story short, I’m curious.
I’ll let you read about The 3 Stands® for yourself, but essentially, NHA is a process of positivity exclusively. When one applies the NHA, it means focusing on the positive aspects of every scenario in order to bring about a long-lasting behavioral transformation for the better. And when I say every scenario, I mean every. Single. One. Including, as shown in the video, when a child sits still or starts banging on a glass window. But I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really buying into the idea that constant positivity could really solve anything – surely most kids NEED discipline, right? The NHA talks about consequences, but the Training department staff urged me to understand that discipline is not the word to describe how the NHA approaches behavior problems.
Still, the positivity aspect seemed like something worth hanging on to for my own parenting life, within certain limits. I never praised my stepson for simple everyday things we expected of him, like sitting still or not screaming when it’s late at night, but I did begin commenting positively, even on small things. “Wow, you brushed your teeth on your own. That’s big boy stuff!” Now, truthfully, this isn’t exactly how the NHA works, but I have to admit that with that small shift in attitude, we very quickly got him saying, “Please,” and “Excuse me.” I’d tell him how much of a big boy he was for getting dressed, or for asking to be excused from the table. Still, there were always those moments – “I’ve told you five times already!” or “That’s the problem, you’re just not thinking!”
Gosh. I sound like my parents.
Anyway, fast forward again to today, a few years after that first encounter with The Nurtured Heart Approach®. By now, the NHA has pervaded my office – the Training department believes in it so much, they’ve got a whole wall setup where employees can (and do!) leave notes of positive reinforcement for each other in recognition of jobs well done. It’s a fairly ordinary day when a new assignment comes across my desk – to design an invitation for a Nurtured Heart® training at our headquarters.
My stepson is well into his school career, and as he’s grown the challenges of discipline and positive reinforcement have grown with him. Seeing the design request in my inbox brought me back to my attempts to parent my stepson and the ways in which I’ve been struggling. My stepson is a kind, sweet kid – but he’s seven years old, and when I tell him to put down that Nintendo and come to the table, he still thinks it’s okay to just put the controller right down on the floor at his feet. And me? My wife and I had a baby and are about to celebrate her first birthday – to say that I’ve been a little low on sleep and patience might be an understatement. If I’m being honest, I’m not really applying The Nurtured Heart Approach® – I’m still parenting my way. Time outs and talking-to’s are still a regular part of my parenting toolkit. But honestly, I’m not seeing much in the way of results – and when I wonder why, I think back to being grounded. All the times the grass grew too long or the trash can stayed at the top of our driveway (and all the accompanying punishment) never, ever made a difference to me. I still have days where only the sound of the garbage truck passing by my house reminds me it’s garbage day. My lawn still gets a little too long before I consider taking care of it.
I’m left with one conclusion – whether it’s the lawn or my stepson’s behavior, my way doesn’t cut it.
I’ve finished the design for the Nurtured Heart® training invitation. I’m not sure why, maybe because I don’t have the option to attend the training (resource parents only), but I’m a little disappointed. I have questions – maybe if I went beyond just that positivity and actually brought the whole NHA to my house, I could see some results. Maybe, just maybe, the NHA would’ve helped childhood me view my chores as opportunities for success and reward rather than dreadful, unwanted responsibility. In fact, the more I see it and think about all the corrective measures I see parents taking these days, the more The Nurtured Heart Approach® seems less like a strange new-age idea and more like a solid tool I can use to help my children recognize and focus on the positive things they do and are.
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