What do we most want to give our children? The gifts of love and respect will support their security and self-esteem. Opportunities and activities will stimulate their minds and bodies. However, if we really want to give them an edge in life, there’s a set of skills far more important than computer aptitude or athletic prowess. Children (and parents, too!) who learn to focus on strengths and possibilities and to think in terms of solutions will be the best-equipped to confidently pursue their goals and experience joy.
What we focus on creates our experience. We can encourage our children to fine-tune and redirect their focus by the types of questions we ask. What was the happiest part of your day? What worked for you in making that great soccer pass? Questions such as these ask children to closely look at the aspects of their lives that are working well. Help your children to focus on these highlights, then watch them grow.
We can also teach our children to talk to themselves in supportive, positive ways. “I’m stupid at math” leads to discouragement and anxiety. “I’m really working hard on my times tables” validates the child’s sense of personal control and capacity for growth. Making pictures or movies in our minds are also powerful tools to enhance confidence and performance. Ask your shy child to imagine himself approaching a potential new friend on the playground. What is he saying, how is he standing, how does he feel? Do it with him, coach him a little, but let the ideas flow from him. Encourage him to use all his senses so that he’s really there. Let it be a fun and playful experience, and give him lots of feedback. Mental rehearsal has been shown to be equally as effective as actual behavioral practice.
When our children encounter problems, we’re faced with wonderful opportunities to encourage a solution-focussed attitude. Focussing on problems, we ask: Why did you do that? What’s wrong with you? A solution-focussed model encourages a very different inquiry: What can we learn from this? What will we do next time? What can we work on? One of the key assumptions behind this approach is that our kids are resourceful and creative and already have ideas and skills to solve their problems. Parents still need to be there to teach and guide, but we’re not the experts, we’re resources for learning and support. When kids create their own plans, they’ll be most motivated to follow-through. When we convey to them our trust in their ability to generate solutions, we help them to create a strong, capable self-image. Children will live up to our level of trust in them.
In order to focus on solutions, we need to shift away from the problem and define goals for change. A parent could say, “If I were to wave my magic wand and suddenly this problem were to be solved, what would we be doing differently? Elicit vivid descriptions of how everyone involved would be feeling and acting. This is the positive picture of the future for which we’ll strive. With any problem, let’s take temper outbursts for example, we know there are always exceptions, times when the problem doesn’t occur, or is at least minimized. You might say to your daughter, “Yesterday, even though you were very angry with your brother, you kept your cool. How did you stay so calm? What did you tell yourself?” Focus on what specific things she did, and therefore, can do again! Your child could generate a list of their ideas or create a picture of themselves solving their problem. A beanie baby could hold onto your son’s “sillies” so he would no longer be distracted from listening at school. A special box could hold the anxious feelings that keep your daughter up before an important test. A family that consistently searches for and reinforces creative solutions will enjoy the many benefits of positive optimism.
A very wise person once said that children need roots and wings. Value them to let their roots grow strong. Then, model and encourage a positive, solution-focussed attitude, and watch them soar.
Sharon Carlton is a mother of three, and a Registered Psychologist who specializes in Marriage and Family Therapy, using a Solution-Focussed approach. www.sharoncarlton.ca