Focus on the good
Have you realized how powerful your narrative is in your child’s life? Have you noticed how, many times, when you ask parents to describe their child they have different versions? Which one is the “real” version? Well, they both are….and neither are.
Your reality is based on your perception.
Each parent’s version is THEIR reality… That is how parents will approach given situations; it’s the filter with which they will assess every circumstance.
For young children, their parent or caregiver’s perception of them; the way you as a parent describe your child, will be how they begin to define themselves. It will be their first identity, the one where they will base all of their first experiences from.
The frame or filter with which you narrate their story will have an enormous impact on their experiences.
Our brains are wired to predict & protect, so we fall into a negative bias, where we pay more attention to negative events than positive ones. We tend to focus more on the negative behavior or character traits of our children because that is where we will encounter most challenges.
Warning! This is NOT an invitation to avoid the issues.
Recognize them, accept them, make a plan, and follow through with it.
In 2014, I first heard Tal Ben-Shajar speak in Bogotá. He gave one simple exercise that changed my mindset in approaching problems….
”Start with what Works”
He spotlighted the fact that when we sit down to try and resolve a problem we begin by focusing precisely on what is wrong. He proposes to identify the problem or challenge and start by recognizing what is working, what the strengths are.
When our children encounter obstacles, the focus tends to be on what is wrong, and the dangers lying ahead. Our role as parents, caregivers, and best advocates for our children, is highlighting their strengths and keeping in sight what the future possibilities are if things go right.
On a personal note….
I first felt the impact that “reframing my narrative” had in my life when I was working through a paralyzing fear of heights, specifically affecting me in airplane travel.
I had created an identity based on something I wanted to overcome… basically, my story was “Hi I’m Vicky and I’m afraid of flying” This, of course, opened the door to bonding with people who understood my situation, forming a sort of “club” sharing our most frightening experiences, almost like a badge of honor. I wasn’t aware then, that this was reinforcing my fears. By nourishing my connections through these experiences, I was unconsciously giving myself more reasons to be afraid.
After one of the many courses, therapy, and hypnosis sessions, I came across the skill of reframing. I would have to change my disempowering behavioral speech habits to ones that would empower me to overcome my fear. I had to create a new script, focusing on what I did enjoy about traveling, and make that my story.
At that time I enjoyed photography and began to approach my airplane travel as an opportunity to take pictures of the different landscapes. I changed the perspective from which I was looking at my flights. My photo book called “ From Above” is my reminder of that mind shift. My all-time favorites are my pictures landing in Cartagena, which is one of my favorite places to be.
I began to focus on the amazing experiences that I would have on my trip, and I would only speak of the things I was excited about. At first, it was tough. I was realizing how many tiny habits were a part of my “routine”; heart palpitations and sweaty palms as I started to pack, tightening of my chest the night before traveling, and stomach pain the morning of travel.
I knew I could not control these reactions, but what I did stop was the chatter about my anxiety. I did not feed it. I would “hack my brain” by overloading it with positive things. It felt like magic. As time passed, the intensity and amount of time I was anxious and nervous were significantly reduced. My new narrative was “ I overcame my fear of flying, now one of my favorite things is to travel”
Fortunately, my children were very young at this time and I was able to apply the same principles to my parenting. When my child was having a full-blown fit instead of saying “what’s wrong” I’d say “I see you are struggling, what is going on?”
Instead of telling my very impulsive son“be careful! you’ll get in trouble if you don’t think before you act” I’d say “I love your persistence, but let’s work on your breaks”
When they would come home saying (usually either crying or screaming) “I have so many problems at school” I’d reframe by saying “let’s identify the challenges you are having in school”
There were very simple changes that created a very different story, ones that changed the point of view enough to lower the stress response and allow for a more workable and optimistic perspective of the situation.
We have the power to choose what to focus on…. to reframe our narrative.
Choosing to focus on the good, will take practice and may be very challenging, especially in moments of crisis, but it can be done!