Creative Child

Child, Do I Have Your Heart?

by Rebecca Eanes

He was sitting in time-out again, tears streaming down his face, his eyes cast downward, and his chin quivering. His body was only feet away from me, but his heart was completely out of reach. I had won the battle, but at what cost?

I wielded my parental authority and he knew I had power over him. He sat in the chair, defeated. I wasn't celebrating my victory, though. I'd come out on top of another power struggle, but our relationship was suffering, and both of us sat there with broken hearts. To be truthful, victory felt terrible. I longed to have the bond that we once had, my sweet baby boy and I. Oh, how I missed the joy.

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And I know he missed it, too.

I had fallen into a trap. Caught in the net of societal expectations, I surrendered my inner voice. Rather than doing what I felt in my heart was right, I did what magazines, family members, and experts told me was right. Yet, it always felt so wrong. After months of daily power struggles and dampening my pillow with tears many nights, I made a decision.

This is not our story.

I looked back on the simple joy I felt when he was first placed in my arms, and I wished it wasn't so hard to reach now. I recalled his eyes, the trust and attachment reflected in them in those early months, and I noticed how his eyes had changed - now dimmed with caution and misunderstanding. My sweet, sensitive boy, have I lost your heart? The answer was yes, to a certain degree I had.

But not forever. There was still hope. There was still time to make things right.

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Is this where you are today? Locked in daily power struggles? Missing the bond you once had with your child? Longing to reconnect and find the joy in parenting again?

I began searching. I knew there had to be a better way for us, and the positive parenting philosophy was the spark of hope I needed. I followed it, researching, practicing, and sharing what I was learning along the way.

The change was remarkable.

My hope is for all parents and children to experience heart-to-heart connection. Here are my top 5 tips to end the power struggles and reconnect.

1. Go into their world and stay a while.

We are always pushing our rushed adult agendas on our children, so let's be mindful to pause for a beat and enter their worlds. This is where connection takes place. For small children, get down on the floor and play. Build forts or blocks. Put on a (pillowcase) cape and grab a paper towel tube sword. Play video games or watch their favorite show with them.

The key is to be undistracted and to let them lead the play. Let them tell you their biggest worries and wildest dreams. Race down the slide and swing side by side. Consider adding "special time" in your nightly routine, where you lie down with each child individually and really listen.

2. Show your unwavering adoration.

Kids make mistakes. Yes, even the most connected child will sometimes make a poor choice, but they need to know that nothing changes the positive view we have of them. Of course, for this to be true, they must first believe we have a positive view of them, and this requires us to be mindful of our language and tone.

As Dr. Gordon Neufeld says, “Children do not experience our intentions, no matter how heartfelt. They experience what we manifest in tone and behavior.”  Even during discipline, we should make it known that our love is steadfast. The message should be "I don't like what you did, but I love you always and I believe in you."

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Even though I felt love for my child when we were in a cycle of constant time-outs, even though my love didn't waver, what he experienced was isolation and withdrawal of attention and warmth, and to a child, that doesn't exactly say "I love you." Yes, let them know when they are out of line. Express disappointment in their choice. Teach them how to do better. Just be aware of what they are experiencing when you're disciplining them.

Other ways to show unwavering adoration:

  • Show delight in them when they enter the room with a warm greeting and a smile, rather than giving an immediate demand or asking a question.
  • Notice the positive things they do and point them out.
  • Be the one who always sees their light and reflects it back to them.
  • Praise effort, not outcome. He/she may have struck out on the field, but he/she showed up and played. Acknowledge the showing up.
  • Give them the gift of undivided attention.

3. Look for the reasons behind the behavior.

There was a time when I was so focused on my child's behavior, judging whether it was something that needed praised or punished, that I wasn't seeing clearly the little person behind the behavior. I missed his experience, his point of view, his feelings, and his heart.

When we focus so intently on behavior modification, we can't see the whole child. Look beyond behavior to the heart of the child.

4. Offer affirming words often.

  • I believe in you.
  • You can do it.
  • I'm so glad you're mine.
  • I'm proud of you.
  • You really put a lot of effort into that.
  • You're doing so well.
  • I noticed how you ____. I appreciate that.
  • You are my sunshine!
  • You're fun to be around. You always make me laugh.
  • That was so responsible of you!
It isn't just about heaping on praise. It's more about helping children establish a positive attitude and belief in themselves and their goodness and capabilities.
Our voices eventually become their inner voices, so do them a favor and make sure it's positive, not critical.
5. Change your aim.
The goal of good parenting isn't to change a child's behavior; it's to reach his heart. Children learn best from those they feel connected to, so to have real lasting influence, the connection must be strong.
When the focus is on the good you already see and on cultivating the positive characteristics you want to grow rather than on weeding out the negative, your home will naturally be a more positive, peaceful place, and parenting will be much more joyful.

I read several parenting books when making my shift to positive parenting, and I noticed that almost all of the books out there are primarily about discipline strategies and leave out the many other important aspects of raising children well.
Many parents on my Facebook page told me they wanted help with getting their partners on board with positive parenting. They wanted to know how to manage their anger triggers and stop yelling. They needed positive communication skills. They longed to end the power struggles and reconnect with their kids. They wanted to change their stories.

They wanted their joy back. 
Originally published on Positive Parents, May 10th 2016.
Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of multiple books including Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother. She is the grateful mom of two boys. 


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