178. Don’t water the weeds (intentional parenting for proactive connection)

Giving your child extra attention might seem like a great idea, but if it’s the wrong type of attention it could do more harm than good. Let’s learn what it means to parent intentionally and make proactive connections with your family. 

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In this episode I discuss: 

  • Why we get stuck in the negative
  • Our negativity bias as parents
  • Your experience of motherhood
  • The Nurtured Heart approach
  • How to use this approach on ‘difficult’ kids


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toddler walking up stairs with text overlay "don't water the weeds: intentional parenting for proactive connection"


Full transcript (unedited)

So friends around here, I like to talk about all the ways that we can turn off the autopilot living, just living reactively by default for me, it looked like a lot of complacency and step into doing things on purpose with intention, getting clear and focused on where we want to go and taking steps to get there. Today we’re going to talk about intentional parenting, just parenting in general, but doing it with intention. And the topic of focus can come up in parenting, when we start thinking, what are we focusing on? What gets the most attention, what gets our most attention in a single day, what gets our attention as a parent. And I don’t know if you’re like me, but it can go to demands and the urgency who needs to be aware what needs to happen, what needs to be cooked, who’s eating one of the eating, where the eating, and it’s like, we’re just directors of all of this. And of course, as our kids get older, we can start to give them ownership of this and they can start self directing. But our attention in a given day, it can really be given mostly to the problems at hand, stop shouting Sydney, clean up your mess, put that away. And I know that there are seasons of my own motherhood, where I don’t even want to talk anymore, because I’m just sick of hearing myself talk. And then I start to think, man, my kids aren’t really listening to me, I don’t really want to listen to me either.

They don’t have such a bad idea about this, after all. Anyways, this is a really common place that we can find ourselves in as parents, a season of no a season of constant correction, a season of constant discipline. And then instead of motherhood, feeling like this enjoyable experience, it feels like a perpetual power struggle. And there’s this urgency and every day is just full of problems that we feel we cannot solve. So if you are here, welcome. Yeah, we are all here. Sometimes, some of us get stuck here. And we get stuck here for a few good reasons. Actually, we get stuck here, we start to live in this story. And this becomes the emotional habit we operate from. And I’ll tell you why it kind of makes sense. We get stuck here because on one hand, the more we’re thinking this the stories, the more we’re feeling these emotions, we get some very strong neural connections that are being formed. But the more we do it, the more we do it, this becomes our new default. And this is what they mean when they say neuroplasticity, we’re rewiring the brain, from the state we’re operating from consistently. So if we are in this state all day long of seeing problems and coming at our day from frustration, that’s going to become a very strong neural connection in our brain, it’s going to become our new emotional habit. And the other reason why this kind of makes sense that we get stuck here is our brain has a negativity bias. It is biased, our brain is biased, in lots of ways, like just look up brain bias. And you’re gonna see lots of different brain biases that we have their filters, their filters we put on things. And the negativity bias means that we pay more intention, more attention to what could go wrong and negative experiences because that is filed under important things in our brains. That just harkens back crickets back.

It’s like we’re singing Christmas carols that goes back to our primal need of needing to stay safe. So if we are, you know, generations ago, we were focused on the dangers ahead of us and what could go wrong. And learning from those dangers and paying attention to those dangers, we’re more likely going to stay alive. And over the generations this has kept us safe. This negativity bias has kept us safe in the world. But now we live in a world that is full of perceived threats instead of real ones. And that negativity bias sister like No, everything’s important. We need to pay attention to what could go wrong and the negative things. So all this to say it makes sense when we get stuck here.

And we get stuck here. Sometimes motherhood feels like all we are doing is shuffling people places and making food and folding laundry and reprimanding and disciplining.

And to me, this becomes a problem for me, because it starts to ruin my experience of motherhood.

Your experience of motherhood matters, the memories you’re making the emotions you’re feeling the stories that you have about your own motherhood that matters. I’ll make sure to link some episodes about this where I’ve talked in the past on these kinds of concepts. So one of them being when I stopped enjoying my kids, which is the most searched for post on my site. By the way. I want to talk about all this today because I stumbled across something that’s been helping me a lot and I want to share it with you if you also feel a little bit stuck in this type of season of motherhood. So I was listening to a therapy podcast and a therapist was sharing something called the nurtured heart approach.

which led me to their website, which led me to their book. And the book is called Transforming the difficult child. And I have, by definition of the bucket, a difficult child. So I was like, Yeah, I think I really need this, this whole approach, I need this book. The nurtured heart approach is something that they teach not just to parents, but to anybody who who’s working with kids. So maybe you work with kids, and it’s like a youth leader, maybe you’re a school counselor, maybe you’re a teacher, maybe you’re a coach. And this book can be really helpful. They’ve shared lots of examples on their website about how it’s helped in these kinds of communal kids settings. But it’s also really helpful for parents of kids with a DD and ADHD. And the general sense of the approach is to give more attention to the positive and less attention to the negative. I titled this episode, don’t water the weeds, and that’s the concept that the book offers, don’t wander the weeds.

However, we find ourselves naturally in this stages parenting, right? This can be a natural stance for us to water, the weeds.

Pay more attention to the negative and less attention to the positive. Right? That’s what we’re doing. Because addressing the negative feels really important to our brains, to our survival to our peace. Are we giving a lot of attention to the positive? What do we do when our kids are being good?

I think my gut reaction is to go and take a break for myself. Because I have just spent so much emotional energy correcting and threatening and prompting, well, I don’t really use threats anymore. But I do feel like there’s a lot of emotional exhaustion that gets expended on just focusing on those negative things. And so now, if my kids are doing something that I would view as positive, they’re like, maybe being nice together, and change, I think, finally, I’m gonna go do something that makes me feel nice, which I mean, that’s a whole other discussion we can have, right? Like what we’re doing to give ourselves a break. So think about where your energy is going. As a parent, where’s your focus going as a parent, I think a lot of us give a lot of energy to the negative. And the nurtured heart approach explains that our kids, especially those who are considered intense kids, they crave our connection, they crave our attention. And that connection is felt in the energy we expend towards them. So the more energy, the more connection and it would go to follow that if our kids want our attention in our connection, we are kind of teaching them that the best way to get our energy and our attention is to be doing something negative. They kind of learned that it’s not that they’re being outright manipulative, it’s that they genuinely want our attention and connection. And they’ve learned Now the easiest way to get it, the most intense energy comes from that negative reaction, the warnings, the lectures, the reprimands a watching them like a hawk, when we tell them not to do something just to see if they’ll do it. The bigger the power struggle, the higher the energy, we are watering weeds all day. And then what’s happening, what happens to our kids, when they have this experience. They’re acting in ways to get that reaction from us. And as that dance continues of them doing something that generates negative attention, they’re also hearing from us the feedback about ways that they are constantly failing, they’re doing it wrong, they’re thinking about it wrong. They’re not thinking about it at all. They’re exhausting us or upsetting us. And they’re developing a negative self reference. They’re not viewing themselves as good when all they hear is how wrong they are. And generally, this is the label that we have given our kids inadvertently. And both of us are going to now work together to perpetuate that label. And I talked about this on the episode of Do you typecast your kids, it’s something that we are both going to have eyes for now. And they are going to grow into that. So the nurtured heart approach is about changing where you give your energy, stop watering the weeds and start watering those flowers. I really like this metaphor, because I think our life and our experience is a lot like a garden. In one thing to just acknowledge right off the bat is weeds are inevitable, we should address them. But we should also be nourishing what we want to grow, stop looking at your neighbor’s garden, the grass is not greener over there, the grass is greener where you water it. So in this book, transforming the difficult child, there’s some really great information on how it can look to water the flowers, because it’s not as simple as saying Good job or noticing the best things like the great goal or the good marks it’s about the daily little things. I have been reading this book and I finished it the past month and I decided this is going to be my parenting approach this year especially with a kid that I would consider difficult because I think I found myself in in a season with this particular kid where we are constantly in the negative into

reactions. And it saddens me to know that I’m not enjoying motherhood or nurturing this child in those positive ways that I crave to. So I’m starting to look for ways to water the flowers and stop watering the weeds. So about a month ago, I started this approach, and I noticed resistance from my kid, I would say positive things, and they would tell me to stop because in their words, they aren’t good. So I know we have some healing to do here. And I think that really means starting small, being genuine and being consistent. And on my end, it also means paying a lot of attention, attention, like, proactively putting the energy in to notice the good things in the moment to mark it, to stop and acknowledge it. I think this has so much power in it just right here, because it lets them know I’m paying attention, they have my attention, they don’t have to act out for it. It lets them know I see them. I see their goodness, I see their effort I see them. It lets them know that it can also feel rewarding to follow the rules or act in ways that support the rest of our whole family. And I want to tell you what I’ve noticed, I’ve noticed that it’s not a night and day change. But change is happening. I’ve noticed that they’re trying to get my attention in new ways in different ways. Of course, they still struggle with the weeds that are there with the tantrums and negativity, the huge emotions. But I noticed they’re also trying to be more playful with me and make more conversation with me being kinder to their siblings. And I see them kind of settling in to the family, finding their place within the family, instead of feeling like it’s always me versus the world. I know we’re in the early stages, but this feels in line with how I want to be as a mom. And what I really like is it feels like a shift for me and how I spend my energy. Because if I’m spending energy in my day regardless, I would rather use it proactively on purpose in empowering ways that nurture my relationships, rather than in exhausting ways like power struggles and overwhelm.

And this is why I wanted to share this approach with you. Because I think if there’s any kids in your life, if you have kids, if you work with kids, that this approach can really help rewrite a new story of connection, and potential. Imagine if someone saw you through these eyes through your childhood, of nurturing, watering those flowers, and not really getting crazy upset about the weeds. Spending more time acknowledging the good seeing the good and less on the negative. I’ll link to an article that the nurtured heart approach has shared on these kinds of concepts. And I also recommend that book if you’re interested in digging deeper into it. The book outlines more detail on how to give less attention to the negative, which I think is an important concept to consider how do you approach your negative situations currently, because it can be done in a way that is less inflamed, and heavy. We often think discipline has to be heavy, and it has to be fueled by righteous anger, and it has to hurt to be effective. But I have found it really doesn’t. And I actually don’t like it. When it does, I actually find it more relieving and more useful. When I can just be a bit more neutral about discipline. When it doesn’t have to come from anger, maybe it can even come from compassion. But it sure doesn’t have to be so heavy.

The book also goes in more detail on how to be proactive with how you give your attention different types of recognition and handling consequences.

This is my encouragement to you don’t water the weeds. And not just in parenting but in your life. Maybe there’s other areas of your life too, that you can see. You’re watering the weeds more than the flowers. Maybe it’s in your marriage. Maybe it’s in your job, maybe it’s in how you talk to yourself. Don’t wander the weeds.

Okay, friends, I want to wrap up with a simple pleasure. I haven’t done this in so long. I used to take this on the ends of my episodes a lot last year in the year before and I just forgot about it. But I’m going to tell you one simple pleasure that we have in the nightly cuddles we have with our kids. And we call them cuddles. Our 11 year old recently asked us, can we stop calling them cuddles and instead can we call them night meats.

Because we meet together at nighttime.

I think that’s really adorable. We hang out with each kid at night about I know like 10 or 15 minutes a kid and we play Uno or we read or we do a wordle or hurdle. I’ll link some of those sites that we use. But I want to tell you about one website that we have really enjoyed together and that’s a spot the difference website. And they’re Spot the Difference games that you can play together and there’s different types and there’s different levels. And it’s just nice, easy way to end the night. It’s something fun. The kids just love the novelty of us passing around the iPad. We have one iPad for our whole family. So we’re passing it around

from room to room, and we’re playing these different games. And sometimes people are peeking over and giving their input on where the difference is. It’s just an easy way to have fun. And that nightly, cuddled at night meet. It’s something that I really highly value as a parent. And it’s something that I also try to never take away from them as a punishment. Because I want that consistency for us. I want that nightly ritual to say, even if it wasn’t a great day, and things were not great, I still show up for this. That’s important to me. So simple pleasure, fun, simple game to play. They also make it in book form. I’ve we’ve had Spot the Difference books before. I’ll link a couple of those that we’ve used in the past in the shownotes. Go check out the show notes. I tried to put as many relevant links as I can in there so that you can kind of take this episode and explore it in many different ways and dive a little bit deeper. If you can’t find the show notes in your podcast player, head on over to simple on purpose.ca. Click Listen, all of the episodes are there. There’s always also a full transcript at the bottom of each post if you want to check that out as well. All right, friends, have a great

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