|Making the Positive Shift (cont).
One way to help yourself make the shift to a more
positive frame of mind is to pay attention to the words
you use about temperament-related behavior,whether to
yourself or the child. Many parents enjoy doing this exercise:
first think of the trait in a negative way and
write down that term, for example: "hyper". Then think of a
more neutral term, for example:
"overactive". Then think positively: "active".
Then let the positives flow: "energetic, exuberant, zestful,
enthusiastic.....". Get the idea?
Write down those words and try to use them when you are
interacting with the child: "Hey, Sam, you're energetic today.
Time for a run around the yard?"
Many parents have told me that by identifying temperament
this way to their children at an early age they have set the stage
for their children to identify and manage their own temperament-related
behavior at an older age.
It is a wonderful thing to hear a six to ten-year
old come and say: "I need more time to get ready. You know how I
hate changes", or "This is the kind of place I get really restless in.
Can we leave soon?" Even if your child has a high maintenance
profile and is burdened by neurological problems or some other
condition, this method is helpful in giving the child some sense
of control in situations which they find difficult. Quite often,
this sense of control seems to reduce the degree of stress
and promote a higher level of functioning than originally expected.
For example, having stated "Can we leave soon?" and heard an
empathic response a child may in turn say: "I can wait a little
longer". Such is the power of being understood!
A third way to make the positive shift is to put
yourself in your child's shoes. I don't necessarily
recommend trying to imagine having your child's
temperament. That is a very hard thing to do
(although it's wonderful if you can). Think of yourself
and your own traits. Then imagine yourself being
much younger, more helpless and in a situation in
which your traits just did not fit. Chances are you
can remember such a situation from your own
childhood. As the emotion rises, NOW switch and
think: "Oh, this is how my child must feel." Feeling
empathy for your child can help you make the
positive shift because you no longer blame the
child for being the way he or she is.
Another way to help a child see the positives of
temperament is to use positive prophesies. As temperament
traits which are causing a struggle at
an early age can be less problematic as children
mature, you can remind children that they are growing
up and will cope better soon. "I know you
don't like unusual flavors. Lots of kids don't.
Chances are you will like them more when you are older".
Since our taste-buds become less sensitive
with age this is a fairly safe prophesy! Listen to
the words of one Jack, the father of a twelve-year
old with a very feisty temperament and a serious
learning disability. Jack told his son in all
seriousness that he could look forward to being his own
boss one day. "I know you hate being given direction by
adults. One day you will be an adult and can take charge
of your own life. If you have children, you will be
in charge of them, too."
This comment may give the older high maintenance
child something very intriguing to think about. Many of
them will tell you they resolve to be quite strict with
their children. What message do you think they might be
giving us? For those of you who are profoundly challenged
by high maintenance traits and secondary problems in your
child, I don't mean to make light of your problems with
all this emphasis on positives. We have to face the sad
parts of life, too. One parent once challenged me to
find a positive reframe for her daughter who had a severe
disorder that nobody knew how to treat. I suggested she
realize that a research breakthrough might occur any day,
that her daughter was teaching her parents and doctors
some very important lessons and that at least the family
had found some support (unlike many others). She still
insisted: "But that's not about Kara. Tell me something
positive about Kara." I said: "You tell me. She's your
daughter!" This mother burst into tears and then later,
after she dried her eyes, said: "The only thing I can
think of is that she has taught me that life has a tragic
side to it and the bravest thing you can do sometimes
is to face that."
"That is some lesson," I said. "That's the gift of