Assigning Positive Intent
Here goes the first entry…Dun dun dun!
What on earth is “assigning positive intent”? Sounds like psychobabble, right?
Basically, it means trying to see the need behind a child’s behavior. Or, as Dr. Sears vividly put it in an interview, get behind the eyes of your child. What are they trying to tell me? What words do they have to express the complicated emotions they’re feeling? All behavior communicates a need. Sometimes, the communication is immature or inappropriate (ie: tantrums, yelling, exploring in “no touch” items, “sassing”, name calling…), but it’s an attempt to communicate a need, nonetheless.
The problem comes in when we try to assign adult reason and values to a child who is still physically, emotionally and verbally immature. (even for those of us who are “grown up”, how many times a day do we communicate in a sarcastic. passive aggressive, rude, or inappropriate way when we’re tired or hungry or emotionally drained, right? And we have mature morals and vocabularies under our belts!)
Around 20 times a day, I’m having to remind myself to step back and re-evaluate my own perception of my daughter’s behavior.
Scenario 1: Is she melting down over me taking away an ink pen because she’s rebellious and “never listens”? This was my first impulse: to get angry and feel she should realize the frustration she’s caused me, as if she were an adult. Lose the labels, Ashley. And see this through her eyes.*Deep breah.* She wants to draw. Take the pen away, remind her it’s not for her, and help her ask for appropriate drawing utensils.
Scenario 2: I found her in the sink. Again. Either she’s directly defying my orders because of her sinful nature, -OR- she’s intensely curious about the properties of water and in need of texture stimulation. (a very legitimate need for most toddlers!) I decided to view the scene through the latter lens, and told her “no.”, pulled her down, and showed her how to ask for appropriate water play. We went to the tub, nursing baby and all, and had a great time.
Truly? I doubt “I will test mommy and directly defy her to see how angry I can make this much bigger adult” ran through her mind. It was likely more like, “Oh!! Water! I like the way it feels in my hands! I can climb!” Funny thing? Even if she did do it to deliberately test me, she’s still expressing the need for boundaries. So my response would have been the same.
Cool thing? Assigning positive intent works for tired parents, too. Because if we chose to see the legitimate need behind our own negative behavior, we can work on finding a positive way to fill that need so the error isn’t repeated over and again. So when I blow it, I can step back, assess the situation, pinpoint the need, and find a way to meet it instead of just saying, “DOH!! I’m a royal jerk, and a lousy mom!” hehe
Here’s a moment a never want to forget from this week, mostly because it illustrates how my chosing to assign positive intent can seriously effect her entire life. I feel so grateful that I didn’t miss this one. *happy tears*:
During a brain-spasm moment, I agreed to let Esther watch the “non-scary” parts of the Prince of Egypt. Because I recalled it being a beautiful and touching scene, I allowed her to watch the “burning bush” scene.
Fast forward to evening snack time. Essie is slinging food and spilled milk off her tray with great concentration and fervor. In fact, she’s so concentrating on her angry slinging, that she doesn’t notice when I tell her to stop. (which, for us, is a sign that something’s up)
I feel angry. I feel inconvenienced because I now have a mess to clean on top of cooking dinner. My first impulse is to smack her hand and growl, “No!!”
But I remembered to shift my attention (thank God), and noticed how very tense she looked. And angry. And very, very thoughtful. So I asked, “Hey Bee, you look upset. What’s wrong?”
I kid you not, she looked up and said with a sad little voice, “I don’t like God.” After I picked my teeth up off the floor and desperately tried not to freak out and pull out the anointing oil, I asked her why. “Because He pick up Moses. God He picked up Moses and put Him in the air and I don’t like it!” *splash splash*
“Ohhh, I see. And you’re feeling worried that He might pick you up that way, too?” Sad little voice, “yeah. “
*splash* “Well…did you know that God doesn’t ever want us to feel scared or worried? We’re really safe with Him. He wouldn’t do something to scare you, Bean. He loves you, and wants you to feel safe.” Big smile. “OK.”
Then, we talked about the tray, and she helped clean it up. And I thanked God that He urged me to keep my angry mouth shut, and my silly hands still.