Would you enjoy a sundae made of the finest ingredients money can buy: rich, home-made ice cream, sprinkled with nuts, slathered with dark chocolate? Mmmm, is your mouth watering? Wait! Let's add one more topping: thick, gooey hot sludge.
That's right, SLUDGE. Suddenly this treat loses appeal, right? What went wrong? Only one thing differs. All the other delicious ingredients remained the same. That single change created a major shift.
How does this illuminate our understanding of Intentional Parenting?
Last week we discussed how covering things up or pasting on a happy face does not resolve issues, alleviate pain, or resolve conflicts--especially those stemming from adoption. The corollary of this is also true, as we described in the previous paragraph. It is too easy to spoil something lovely by smearing it with yuck. The most delicious dessert. Relationships. A thoughtful comment.
When we offer a compliment and then tag on a reprimand, dig, or criticism, the value of the compliment disappears. For example, "You did a great job cleaning your room! About time you cleaned that filthy pit."
It turns the interchange upside down. Instead of connection, it creates disconnection, offense and anger. Trying to pass a remark off as sarcasm or humor fools no one. Both parties know deep down that the correction, dig, or snarky word was intentional.
What our child hears is not a loving thought, an affirmation, or words of encouragement. All they hear is the correction, the "but" factor, the silent reprimand. Instead of feeling encouraged, they feel chastised, less than, a failure, a screw up.
In coaching terms, anything spoken after a "but" contradicts the words preceding it. This is what lands in their hearts and minds. That and only that. "But" erases the "good part;" it might as well never have been spoken.
In the case of the filthy room and the child's delayed effort to clean it, intentional language helps us approach the situation better. Focus on intent. In this case that would be acknowledging the clean room. We all know that positive reinforcement works better than nagging. We seek more of this behavior. Thus, it makes sense to notice that the child cleaned the room.
We do this for several reasons. First because we're glad the room got cleaned. Second, because we want to encourage a habit of cleanliness. Third, because we understand everyone likes to have their efforts noticed and appreciated. We want our relationship to reflect this positivity.
As Intentional Parents we consciously separate the encouragement piece from the critique piece. Stack the odds for success by choosing moments when everyone is calm. "This morning, I was so pleased with the effort you put into cleaning your room. That shows me you're taking on more responsibility." No need to mention "It was about time!" or, that you'd like to see it happen more often. They know that already. Repeating that message will most likely only annoy them. And defeat your goal.
Consider this: when you eliminate the "but" factor, how might your relationships with family improve?