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Taking Parenting to Heart

Chana Klein

Could The Nurtured Heart approach — focusing on what is right in each moment — stop the negativity and misbehavior in my home? The answer was yes

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

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Children — especially intense or difficult ones — intuitively know how to get our full attention through negative behaviors. NHA calls for “flipping the script” and using our well-honed parental judgment to discern what is right instead of what is wrong

I t wasn’t like I didn’t try to be a good parent.

I took parenting courses and read up on all the methodologies recommended by chinuch experts. I worked hard on modifying myself to become the “regulated” textbook mom with all the answers.

But this just reinforced my feelings of inadequacy. All I saw was how much was lacking. What I needed to fix. I felt like a failure.

Until I met Yael Walfish. She showed me that what I saw as error in myself was really something to be celebrated.

I’d always viewed my intense personality as something to be tamed. Too often I became a volcano, ready to erupt at my husband, kids, and myself. I then fell into a cycle of self-shame, blame, compulsive overeating, and being too busy to let myself think. In doing so, I was rejecting my life force, my inner fire, Yael explained.

The Nurtured Heart Approach (NHA), Yael told me, had transformed her perspective. She and her husband, Naftoli Walfish, trained all the therapists in their counseling service in NHA, and she shared stories of parents, teachers, and clinicians, all of whom the approach had changed for the better.

How does it work? NHA is built on the simple observation that parents get more of whatever they energize — that is, devote their attention and emotional energy to. Children — especially intense or difficult ones — intuitively know how to get our full attention through negative behaviors. NHA calls for “flipping the script” and using our well-honed parental judgment to discern what is right instead of what is wrong. Mega doses of positivity, clearly defined rules, and a consciously low-key approach to negativity don’t just modify children’s behavior, but transform them into confident, resilient children who bring out their best and the best in others.

When I heard Yael and her husband were offering a six-week course, I was skeptical, but decided that since all four of my kids are intense, I ought to give it a try. Would this parenting class really be different?

December 7, 2016

At the first NHA training, I learned the importance of not responding with an emotional reaction when my children were acting negatively — not “giving them energy,” in NHA-speak. Most of my life, I assumed that highlighting what needed fixing in myself and those around me would inspire change. Fear and shame were the best motivators, I believed. Instead, NHA showed that negativity may get an immediate result, but at a severe long-term cost to self-esteem and relationships.

Recognizing actual strengths and positive actions in your child builds inner wealth (a.k.a. character strength). When kids feel strong, they make better choices

To demonstrate, we performed an exercise called Sarah Experiential. One woman played 12-year-old Sarah, and everyone else received an index card to read aloud to her. We were told that Sarah was bullied at school and, though her parents and teachers loved her, she never felt good about herself. She felt she only received attention when she was doing things wrong.

We role-played Sarah getting ready for school, with the group reading cards that showed the way we normally talk to our children:

“Sarah, the alarm went off ten minutes ago. Never press ‘snooze’ on a school day! Why aren’t you up and dressed? You’ll be late!”

“Sarah, shake a leg! You should be done with breakfast by now, and you’re not even dressed and ready to eat. Stop getting distracted.”

Listening to five more of these cards in a row was debilitating. The woman who played Sarah shriveled in her seat. Yet most mornings I sounded just like those cards. Could my attempts to move my kids along actually crush them?

Next, women read cards that showed a more deliberate use of creativity to overcome our natural way of speaking — that is, the NHA way of highlighting the positive:

“Sarah, I appreciate that you chose to honor your bedtime and wake up on time. I see you’re getting ready to get out of bed. I love how you are trying to get to school on time. It shows me that you care about school and our family.”

“I want to tell you before you go into school that I saw how sweet and encouraging you were to your brother. You’re inspiring him to have a good day and you are showing him such an excellent version of loving-kindness. This is a great quality I see in you.”

We all looked at each other askance. Obviously, this was the preferable way of speaking, but could any of us manage that in the early morning rush? And didn’t the language sound “put on”? (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 559)

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