Parents, have you felt any of these from your child?
I did a few years ago. I felt this way with my teenager and it scared me. I had a sinking feeling that our mother-son connection was slowly becoming distant. This turned into a frustration within me that made me react to him negatively. It was pulling us apart!
Our one-to-one time became less and less due to our schedules. When I did see him, he would be sitting in his usual spot -- on the recliner in our family room with headphones on connected to his iPad. This made it more and more challenging to get his attention. At the dinner table he got into the habit of answering my questions with, "I don't know" or "I don't remember." This concerned me because I didn't know what was going on with him. It became difficult to get him to open up to me.
Crazy Worried Mind
My wild and crazy mind worried that he might turn to drugs or other dangerous habits that we sometime hear about in the news. I did not want this for him. I wanted him to know that I was there for him no matter what. I wanted him to remember how much I loved him and would do anything for him. I remember in my desperation I would ask myself over and over these questions:
"What's the best way to connect with him again?"
"How can I help him open up to me?"
"What can I do to bring us closer again?"
Simple and Powerful
Fortunately at that time, while studying Positive Psychology (the Science of Happiness) under the direction of Dr. Tal Ben Sha-Har, I learned that the practice of gratitude can increase people's level of happiness by 25 percent, enhance communication, strengthen relationships, boosts appreciation, attention, and awareness and so much more. I had to try it. I had to try the practice of gratitude at home. It seemed simple enough and I had nothing to lose. I was desperate! I decided that in order for it to work in my home my whole family had to do it. Gratitude had to become a natural culture in our home. It had to be a common language spoken and a way of thinking that we had to develop. Even though it seemed to be such a simple and unappreciated gesture, I knew the impact that this technique can have on people who apply it in their everyday lives.
What Went Well?
The practice that I decided to implement was a simple technique that I learned called "What went well?" This simple question trains the brain to look for the good in a situation. It is a wonderful and non-threatening way to teach people appreciation and gratitude. It's also the perfect way to teach someone how to become a benefit finder instead of being a fault finder.
Here's how I literally "dished out" this gratitude technique to my family. Every time we sat down for a meal together I would casually ask, "So, I wonder... what went well with everyone today?" Then, I would follow it up by saying, "Let's all go around the table and take a turn at sharing." As you can imagine the very first time I introduced this technique my two older boys (and my husband) looked at me like I had 3 heads. But with persistence and consistency they got used to me asking the questions.
To my surprise after a few weeks of applying this simple gratitude technique, my teenager, eventually started to open up and share more and more around the dinner table. It got to a point that he would interrupt his 8 year old brother, who can go on and on forever about what happened to him in school. He couldn't wait to have his turn to share with us about what went well with his day -- his "goods." It was then that I felt that I got my son back. It was then that I started noticing him share more about his day through the benefit-finding lens of gratitude.
Powerful Parenting Tip
I am happy and proud to say that my relationship with my teenager is better than ever! Now he seeks me out to tell with me stories and jokes. He listens to me intently when I give him guidance. I can't tell you how much this simple practice has changed our relationship. In retrospect, while teaching my family about this principal it also affected me positively. I noticed how my attitude towards him changed and softened because I started seeing him through a gratitude lens.
My son has come so far. From barely mumbling his one or two word replies to me, before doing the gratitude practice at home, he has written me an articulate, hand written, one page letter to expressing his appreciation and love for me. Here's an excerpt from the letter that my teenager gave to me during the Mother and Son Senior dinner before he graduated high school two months ago. It was with his permission I share this with you to further show how beautiful our relationship has become.
...You see me for my whole when I only see me for my parts. For this I love you. Mom, you always saw my fullest potential and urged me on and though I may resist and procrastinate, I value your support especially as I move out to college.
30-Day "What Went Well?" Challenge
Here's a great way to try out this simple "What went well?" gratitude practice.
1. Explain to your family that you want to do a 30-Day Challenge called, "What went well?"
2. Let them know that "What went well?" will be asked during meal times (or anytime that your whole family is together.)
3. Tell them that there is no right or wrong answer to this question.
4. Allow them to share at least 2-3 things.
5. Go around the table to make sure everyone shares.
6. Finish the round by sincerely saying that you can't wait to hear what everyone will share the next time.
7. Be patient. Be persistent. Be consistent.
8. Have fun!
For a summertime or holiday variation, ask your family one by one at the end of each vacation, what went well for them. This is also a great way for everyone to share and remember all the wonderful things that was experienced during the vacation. The more that is shared, the more it becomes special for everyone. The more special it feels, the deeper your appreciation and connection with each member of the family becomes.
This post originally appeared on www.healthandhappinessspecialist.com