Do you want to help your challenging, intense children transform their behavior? Do you want to help them find their spark?
I wanted to. I wanted it very much. My kids were “normal” kids, but they could often be challenging. There were times I was at my wits’ end.
I was becoming increasingly nervous, because some of my children had become teenagers, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle this new stage of parenting. Of course, I believed in good communication, and in positivity, but as they grew older and more independent the responsibilities seemed more overwhelming and unmanageable. I’d spend sleepless nights wondering, how can I get all of my children where they need to go? How do I parent the older ones as I have less and less control over their actions?
I was fortunate to find answers about five years ago, when I began learning a new approach called the Nurtured Heart Approach (NHA). Nurtured Heart has transformed not just my children, but my husband and myself! It touched my soul and helped me see others in ways I never imagined. The whole world looks different through an NHA lens.
Quelling the Inner Skeptic
You might be reading this with an eyebrow raised skeptically. Believe me, I was skeptical too. There are hundreds of parenting techniques out there, dozens of trainings and workshops. You may have attended a few that were not helpful. I’ve been there and done that—more times than I care to admit.
In fact, I was such a skeptic that when my husband signed the two of us up for a full day NHA workshop, I had zero interest in going. The workshop was scheduled for the day after visiting day in summer camp. Our whole family was tired, and attending would mean waking all the kids up early and bringing them to neighbors. “You go by yourself and tell me about it after,” I told my husband Naftoli with a yawn.
Somehow, he convinced me to go, although I did so kicking and screaming. We got in the car, and lo and behold, oops! The gas tank was empty. We switched cars, and oops! Now we had car trouble. I was certain these were signs from above that we were NOT meant to attend this workshop.
As a result of all these hiccups, we arrived late to the workshop, and of course the only seats available were the ones in the very front. As we began listening, I thought of my friend Shira. “NHA would be good for her,” I thought, “even though it’s definitely not for me.” I started taking some pictures of the workshop to show her. Suddenly I overheard the presenter say, “I appreciate that most of you are giving me your focused attention. You’re not on your phones and you’re not taking pictures.”
Embarrassed, I quickly shut off my phone and slid it away. Suddenly it occurred to me: This guy just used his approach on me, to make me change my behavior, and it worked! My curiosity was piqued.
The presenter then said, “The children who inspired you to be here today are not the bad kids. They are actually the best kids, because they have so much to offer!”
Now he had my full attention. I was enraptured.There had been increasing intensity in my home lately. I’d put the kids in the car and almost immediately there’d be fighting. In most of the parenting classes I’d taken, I’d been taught that when a child touches fire or gets punished, he’ll lose the desire to attempt the bad behavior again. But I couldn’t stop thinking:What about the child who still does it again and again? What about the child who doesn’t follow that script?
Even though I’d trained as a social worker, I often felt powerless to help my own children, not to mention the children I saw in practice. So many of the children I encountered in my job had already been through lots of therapy, had even been prescribed lots of medication, yet nothing changed. Sometimes things even got worse. What were we doing wrong?
I became further disillusioned with therapy when I tried it myself. My husband and I once went to speak to a therapist about a problem. Talking about it, and trying to dig up its origins, just made me feel more depressed, and it didn’t resolve the problem! It led me to some serious soul searching: Are we therapists really helping people? How? Are people really changing from these sessions?
Both therapists and parents try their best they can with the tools they have. But sometimes, we need new tools. Through NHA, I learned that everyone has a “portfolio” of sorts, a self-image and repertoire of responses, which develops through the way we interact with others. Challenging children often have a portfolio based on negativity, because eliciting negative feedback from parents and others provides them with the connectedness and relationship they crave. We may never be able to change the old portfolio. But we can create a new one!
How do we accomplish this? NHA teaches that when our children are being respectful and kind, or when they are following the rules, we can “catch” them doing it and build moments of positive connection. As we relentlessly build on those positive moments, we build our children and ourselves. We build our children’s portfolios of themselves.
Getting It Out There
The NHA training was powerful. By the end of the first introduction I was hooked. It all made so much sense! My new goal was to become an NHA therapist or agent of change.
After that first workshop, I immediately tried putting NHA into practice. I would notice not what was wrong with my kids but what was right! When we got into the car the next day, my youngest child wasn’t fighting, although the others were. The youngest usually didn’t get involved, so I made a point of noticing her for it: “Zahava, you’re not fighting, that’s great,” I said. Then I proceeded to notice myself. “Mommy is not energizing negativity,” I stated. All of a sudden, the others followed suit. “I’m not fighting either,” they said, one after the other. Do you see the way things changed in an instant? I saw results immediately!
I continued to see success with my family, and brought NHA to my work as well. But I didn’t know how to take my successes further and help other people benefit too.
At one point during the training, Howard Glasser, the founder of NHA, looked my husband in the eye and said, “I see your wife is taking in every word. She wants to make this happen! She needs your help.”
Naftoli was as inspired as I was. When I told him, “You should start training people in this approach,” he answered, “What about you?”
He knew I didn’t really believe this was an option. You see, my old portfolio of myself was a shy person. I wasn’t a person who taught; who presented! When my husband and I were in social work school together, I never spoke up in class. I didn’t speak up in elementary school, high school or college, and I didn’t ask a single question at the NHA workshop. Instead, I always encouraged my husband.
Yet I had a fire burning inside me to take NHA and share it with the world. I was feeling empowered and seeing results with my own children and clients. I realized we parents have more influence than we think, and we can share our values in ways that our children can hear.
I made a commitment to learn everything I could about NHA and share it with the world—even if it meant fighting my own anxiety about speaking publicly. So here I am now. I’ve started writing and speaking so that I can help others in the way NHA has helped me both personally and professionally. It is always infinitely rewarding to help children find their spark, and families find more happiness.
Yael Walfish, LCSW trains parents, teachers and therapists in using and integrating the Nurtured Heart Approach®. She works individually and with groups, in person and remotely. She has online training as well. For more information see www.CenterForGreatness.com