Meal times are getting so much better now! When we first moved into our new house, Ali was used to having the attention of 4 adoring adults every meal. It was a big adjustment with just Mommy and Daddy who would occasionally be trying to talk to each other. Her way to get attention was to throw food. And it worked marvelously. She would even seek a scowl face that one of us must have been giving her, because she would throw food on the floor, yell “no” and then scowl at us. I scoured my parenting books for advice and landed on a suggestion from The Connected Child that positive reinforcement of good behavior is really the most effective discipline.
I was skeptical. But willing to try.
It seems obnoxious to say, “Good job, Ali! You’re doing a great job feeding yourself! Wow, look at you! Can you put that banana in your mouth? [As she dangles it over the floor…] Great job putting the banana in your mouth! What a good eater!”
ButOhMyGosh! It worked. If I would forget to do it—to give her positive affirmation for her good eating behavior—food would fly.
Above: Messing but she polished off a whole plate of food at our favorite Mexican restaurant!
My eyes were opened to how much difference it makes to Ali’s ability level when she gets verbal encouragement and affirmation. It’s not just eating. When she’s trying to climb up her slide and grunts because she’s stuck, if we encourage her, “You can do it, Ali! You’re doing a great job. What a good climber!” There she goes. Right up to the top of the slide…and then head first down to the floor (that’s her style).
I’ve also been noticing a physical change in her posture depending on what I say. “Listen and obey” is a script explained in The Connected Child as well. Instead of saying “No” I give Ali verbal instructions and wait for her to comply, pending immediate danger. If she doesn’t do it, my tone gets more serious and I say, “Ali, listen and obey. Shut that cupboard.” When the words listen and obey come rumbling through the airwaves, I see her straighten up her shoulders. She knows I mean business.
Likewise, when I praise her actions I see her body respond. The other day she was putting back the glasses case that she had taken from my nightstand (as instructed) and as soon as she put it down, before she had a chance to pick it back up again (as she often does…) I said, “Thank you, Ali! Great job listening and following instructions!” and I saw her head lift up with pride like an invisible string just pulled her up a little bit. She smiled with confidence.
How humbling it’s been to realize what an affect my words have on my sweet little girl. I have the power to crush her or to lift her up, just with what’s coming out of my mouth. I mess up plenty, and she does too I suppose. Thankfully, she’s always been quick to forgive me and I give her grace, too. We’re learning and stretching a lot these days.