Raising A Spirited, Intense Child
Parenting is truly a tough gig. Not one mom or dad feels like they have it all together all the time! No matter what your individual child is like, some days are just going to be hard as a parent.
To add to the challenges, many kids struggle with issues like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder, and other disorders that make “handling” them all the more difficult for parents.
It’s not that these kids are “bad” kids! They are funny, smart, interesting people. We parents just don’t always know the best way to encourage the fantastic traits they have, and instead get bogged down in trying to manage their behavior.
So some parents are at their wits’ end trying to manage a difficult child. Whether it’s a kid who struggles with ADHD, or a child who refuses to listen, not knowing how to handle situations with a child can make you feel like the worst parent in the world.
What is the Nurtured Heart Approach?
To help parents and caregivers of children who don’t quite fit the mold we usually think of as “good” behavior, in the 1990s, Howard Glasser developed the Nurtured Heart Approach. This program teaches parents to respond in effective and positive ways to challenging behaviors of our kids.
Rather than responding with anger when a child defies you, maybe there’s a way to demonstrate empathy. Of course, you don’t want to allow inappropriate behavior to continue unchecked. But there are effective methods for teaching kids how to behave that don’t involve relentless punishment or shaming.
Who Can Benefit From the Nurtured Heart Approach?
For the parent who has tried everything to reach their child and improve their behavior, the Nurtured Heart Approach is one strategy that can help you. Parents who learn and implement the approach often report lower stress levels and more positive relationships with their children.
Even if only one parent in a couple is able to attend sessions to learn the details of the Nurtured Heart Approach, the family typically experiences great benefits from the program. The parent who gets the full training can often go home and report what they’ve learned to the other parent!
Other caregivers who are not the parents of the “difficult” child can certainly benefit from this framework. If someone is working closely with a child deemed challenging, they will likely learn useful strategies for communication, discipline, and building relationships.
If you’re an educator or work with children in some capacity, it’s certainly possible to gain some benefits from learning the Nurtured Heart Approach. Managing difficult students can be easier through the strategies involved. Counselors, social workers, and psychologists can consider the NHA in their study and treatment of children.
What Are The Key Benefits Of the Nurtured Heart Approach?
- Improved Relationships
In the Nurtured Heart Approach, parents can finally learn to embrace their child’s unique abilities. They learn how to better understand their child so that they no longer see their behaviors as “acting up” or “misbehaving”, but as symptoms of other issues.
This approach has helped many families to build better relationships. Parents and children learn to connect in authentic ways, gaining mutual trust for each other.
One of the hardest things about parenting is knowing when and how to punish. But unfortunately, punishments aren’t actually that effective in causing discipline to occur.
Instead of helping children to learn appropriate behaviors, typical punishments such as grounding tend to make kids more likely to misbehave again in the future. But through the Nurtured Heart Approach, parents can begin to manage those “bad” behaviors in ways that teach the child a better way.
- Improved Sense of Success for the Child
Children can gain a higher level of comfort with who they are through this approach. They gain a recognition of how their intensity can actually be a good thing! They learn to channel that intensity in beneficial ways.
Imagine your so-called “challenging” child becoming more confident in their abilities. More satisfied with their natural personality and how they relate to the world. Wouldn’t it be great if your child could find higher self-esteem and truly believe in their potential to succeed?
- Improved School Performance
When families utilize the Nurtured Heart Approach, many children end up finding greater success in school and other organizations. They can take the positive relationships they gain from their parents and apply some of the same coping strategies in the classroom.
According to many who stand by the Nurtured Heart Approach, the “energy” of joy and success can become the new norm. Rather than expecting failure, children can learn to expect success because their parents and caregivers are equipped to relate to them more effectively.
- Fewer Prescriptions for the Child
One great benefit of the Nurtured Heart Approach is that children are prescribed fewer medications to control their behavior. With so many questions surrounding medication of children, any parent would likely much rather resolve issues with their children’s behavior through natural, relational methods.
- Less Expensive Than Other Forms of Treatment
Rather than dealing with lengthy therapy sessions, expensive prescriptions, and other forms of treatment for behavior, the Nurtured Heart Approach enables a more affordable option for parents looking to improve their children’s behavior.
Since the course is rather appropriate for group sessions (multiple families learning at once), the costs can be much less than something like individual counseling sessions. Public or private mental health care programs both tend to cost much more than the Nurtured Heart Approach to learn and implement!
What Are the “3 Stands”?(™)
The Nurtured Heart Approach stands on three major pillars. These are core beliefs that trainers teach parents and caregivers to focus on for maximum success.
- Stand One
This tenet of the NHA is that the adult will not react to bad behavior in ways that cause their child to continue to act out. This means to avoid adding to stress and escalating bad situations with their children. Many parents will become angry, shout, punish in ineffective ways, all of which do not help the child behave properly.
- Stand Two
In this second emphasis, the parent must focus on positive rather than negative when it comes to their children. Parents of difficult children strive to recognize the ways their children’s temperaments and personalities can work in their favor. Focusing on the negative does not lead to positive outcomes.
- Stand Three
This one indicates that the parent aims for clarity in rules and boundaries. Rules will also be fair to everyone affected, not unjustly punish behaviors. The idea is that when parents set clear expectations of the rules and boundaries, children will respect that. They will then be more likely to stay in line with those rules!
As parents, we all realize that consistency is key. So when we determine that we’ll stick to a few core beliefs no matter what, our kids can sense that. They thrive on consistent boundaries and often respond with greater respect when they get them.
What Resources Are Available?
If you’re curious and want to learn more about the Nurtured Heart Approach, there are plenty of free resources you can start with!
Just go online and Google the Nurtured Heart Approach, and you’ll find a plethora of research and information. Find articles written about both anecdotal results (that of individual families) as well as scientific research, which is more data-based.
There are also courses and seminars you can enroll in, if you wish to pursue this approach further. You can find free courses online that will tell you more about what to expect from the Nurtured Heart Approach, as well as programs that involve a relatively reasonable fee.
The full training typically involves 8-12 hours spread out over a four-week period. You may be able to attend along with other families, giving you a chance to connect with parents going through similar challenges. This will often provide increased motivation and encouragement to really give the approach a chance.
What Are The Disadvantages of the Nurtured Heart Approach?
One obvious disadvantage of this approach: for many parents, it’s a departure from their usual child-rearing strategies. So often, we tend to raise our kids the way we ourselves were raised, and it can be tough to let those habits go.
The time required to pursue the full training might be discouraging to some parents. Parents today are scheduled to the max, and taking time out for parenting classes, no matter how vital they may be to your family’s health, is not always feasible.
Considering the Nurtured Heart Approach
Are you a parent who is constantly reacting in anger to your child’s intense behavior? Are you a parent who just doesn’t know how to build a positive relationship with your child? Are you a parent who loves your child deeply, but yearns for a stronger connection?
If you answered “yes” to any of these, perhaps the Nurtured Heart Approach can help you find some answers. There is hope!
Overview of the Nurtured Heart Approach
In the 1990s, Howard Glasser was working as a family therapist, spending a lot of time treating difficult children and their parents. He realized the standard practices used for children with behavioral disorders were not effective. He watched families struggle and realized traditional parenting methods often fuel the fire of bad behavior in challenging children. He noticed that typically when a child engages in a bad behavior, their parents connect with them in order to try and change the behavior. But when a child is behaving positively, they typically receive no attention or connection.
He realized challenging children were engaging in poor behavior in order to receive the connection, energy, and attention they otherwise did not get. He began to try new approaches with his patients and when the approaches worked, he began sharing his methods. As the program developed, he wrote his first book, “Transforming the Difficult Child,” officially launching the Nurtured Heart Approach.
What is the Nurtured Heart Approach?
The Nurtured Heart Approach is the idea that the same intensity that can cause children to misbehave can also be what makes a child great. So a child with an abundance of energy who can’t sit still in class may be the child that is excellent at soccer.
Typically, if a child is doing something wrong, we might say, “Do not bite. Why would you do that? We need to be nice to our friends. I can’t take you anywhere if you are going to bite like that.”
Whereas, if a child shares his or her toy, we might say, “That was nice.”
By changing where we focus our energy, children can understand which behaviors are desirable while also building a positive connection with their parent. In addition, it builds a positive inner voice within the child. If children constantly hear they are “difficult” or “bad”, they are likely to believe this about themselves and act accordingly. If children are celebrated for their successes, however small, they are more likely to believe positive things about themselves.
The goal of the Nurtured Heart Approach is to build up a child’s “inner wealth”, which includes self-esteem and self-confidence. The idea is that a child who believes in his or her self will be more likely to desire to make good choices and interact in positive ways with others.
The approach is based on “The 3 Stands ™.” These are basically the steps to take to implement the Nurtured Heart Approach.
- Stand One: Absolutely No!
Do not energize negative behavior.
- Stand Two: Absolutely Yes!
Energize positive behavior.
- Stand Three: Absolutely Clear!
Maintain clear rules and consistent boundaries.
Stand One: Absolutely No!
The first principle of this three-pronged approach is to refuse to energize negative behavior. Glasser says that children who act out in order to seek attention will not move forward with good behavior until they are no longer given energy or attention for bad behavior.
For example, if a child in a classroom is acting out, instead of calling that child out for misbehaving, the teacher should ignore the behavior completely and disengage from the student. The next step (explained more in Stand Two) would be to find a good behavior the child is exhibiting (however small), and bring attention to the good instead. So if a child was screaming, a parent would ignore the behavior, but as soon as the child takes a breath or stops for a moment, bring attention and excitement to even a hint of the poor behavior being turned around.
Stand Two: Absolutely Yes!
Pour all your attention and energy into acknowledging the child’s positive and neutral behaviors. Basically, tell the child “yes, I like that behavior! I want to see more of that.” When a difficult or attention-driven child receives praise and attention for good behavior, they are less likely to continue behaviors you have said “no” to. Intense children need attention more than they are afraid of consequences.
A quote that summarizes this stand is, “The grass is always greener where you water it.”
There are several types of recognition that can be given to children which go beyond simple praise into something constructive which will build better behavior. Vague praise like “good job” should be avoided, as it doesn’t actually provide energy or motivation. In the Nurtured Heart Approach, they are known as active, experiential, proactive, and creative recognition.
Describe exactly what you see in front of you. Don’t provide an opinion about what is taking place, just present the facts.
Start with, “I see you…” “I notice you…” “I hear you…” “I observed that you…”
“I see you got yourself dressed in a comfortable outfit.”
“I notice you stopped and looked before you crossed the road.”
“I heard you say please when you asked for dessert.”
Take recognition a step further by stating the facts and saying what it says about the child, rewriting their internal script about who they are as a person.
Statement of fact + a statement about character quality.
“I see you got yourself dressed without me asking, which shows you are organized and proactive.”
“I noticed you stopped and looked before you crossed the road. Way to show your responsibility!”
“You just showed me how respectful and polite you are by saying please when you asked for dessert.”
Identify success and positive choices when rules are NOT broken.
“I noticed you did not scream and run away when it was time to get dressed. You were patient and showed me how much self-control you have.”
“I noticed you did not run across the street for your ball. You might have forgotten to look both ways but you showed me how responsible you could be.”
“I see how nicely you are sitting in your seat and coloring at the restaurant. You aren’t yelling or running away, it is such a joy to spend time with you.”
“I know you didn’t like my answer when I said we couldn’t go to the park right now. It takes maturity to not roll your eyes or argue with me.”
Celebrate any steps towards success, even if they are not intentional or aren’t a large step. For difficult children in particular, sometimes lowering your expectations and creating small successes will launch them into the desired path.
“I need you to tie your shoes.” (pause for action) “I see you are already sitting, which is already a step in the right direction! Thank you for helping me get to work on time.”
“I was going to ask you to get dressed, and you already did it! That shows you are proactive and responsible.”
“I was going to ask you to choose a chair at the table and sit nicely, but I see you already did it! You are setting such a good example for your brother.”
Energize Positive Behavior Through “Emotionally Nutritious Words”
It is easy to think of a list of words which we feel are emotionally harmful. They may be the same words you remember being jabbed at you at the playground, but often they are heard from people we love the most- our spouses and parents.
Instead of the damaging phrases parents often say, “How could you do something so stupid?” “You are a bad kid,” “Why can’t you be more like your sister?”, the Nurtured Heart Approach encourages the use of “Emotionally Nutritious Words” when a child is behaving well.
When you see your child doing something good, ask yourself, “What is so great about what I am seeing?” and then TELL your child.
For example, “I see you are (insert emotionally nutritious word) because (describe their actions)”
“I see you are attentive to detail because you are rechecking your homework.”
“I notice you are helpful because you picked up garbage.”
“I see you are polite because you thanked the waiter.”
Stand Three: Absolutely Clear
Children need clear rules and consequences. Contrary to other positive discipline approaches, the Nurtured Heart Approach encourages parents to simply and clearly state the rules using “No.”
Clear rules ensure the child does not try and test the line between following a rule and breaking a rule. It makes the rules clear, so children are better able to navigate their decisions. In this approach, exceptions, lectures, reminders, and warnings are not used. The rules are considered to always be the rules and are always enforced with a consequence. Giving warnings or reminders shows a child that the rules are unclear. In the Nurtured Heart Approach, a true consequence is always given, without the parent or teacher looking the other way or making an exception.
Resets in the Nurtured Heart Approach
One of the most distinguishable traits of the Nurtured Heart Approach is what is known as a “reset”. Using this method, a teacher or parent says the child’s name and the word “reset” as a verbal cue that they need to return to their “greatness”, or their status quo behavior. Basically, a reset is a very short (a minute or two) time out for when a child forgets how great they are.
Parents and teachers can teach a child that in order to reset they can take a deep breath, put their head down on a table, or close their eyes until they have regained self-control and refocus. As soon as the child complies, the reset, or time-out, is over and the child is welcomed back with forgiveness. No energy, focus, attention or joy is given to the child until they voluntarily reset.
In the case of a tantrum, a parent would say, “Anna, reset.” As soon as the child complies and stops screaming, the parent would say, “Welcome back! I knew you could do it. I am so impressed with the struggle you went through.”
Howard Glasser explains the idea behind the need for a reset in a way most children understand- video games. When a child breaks a “rule” in a video game, they are given a brief time out from the game where they can no longer play until their character restarts the level or is given another consequence. This motivates children to follow the rules sot heir character doesn’t die or lose. Another illustration would be a penalty in hockey, when a player is removed from playing for a few minutes. The idea is to get the child back in the “game” of behavior quickly.
Benefits of the Nurtured Heart Approach
- The Nurtured Heart Approach is designed to use a child’s intensity and uniqueness in constructive and successful ways.
- Focusing on the positives makes a child feel more successful and adds to the child’s self-worth.
- The approach teaches internal self-regulation, instead of focusing on external rewards or punishments.
- The approach promotes a better, clearer relationship between the child and caregiver.
- The approach is finely tuned to sensitive children or those with difficult behaviors or pasts.
- No more yelling!
Check out the handy resources online, try a course or seminar, and learn whether the Nurtured Heart Approach can benefit your child, bringing your whole family closer together.