One of the most important Present Moment Parenting ideas that we talk about is the “Energy Match.” People who are familiar with the Nurtured Heart Approach will have heard about the Energy Match. Here it is in a nutshell:
- We want to match energy to desired behavior.
- We want to starve the undesired behavior of energy.
The Energy Match is rooted in sound brain science. Our brains and our kid’s brains don’t differentiate between positive or negative stimulus when it comes to creating connections. As far as the brain is concerned, if a connections fires, it becomes more reinforced, more hard-wired.
Here’s an example. Sometimes my three-year-old brings his plate into the kitchen after dinner without being asked and continues to help clear the table. I LOVE IT when he does this! So I make sure that I get excited and thank him vigorously. I match energy to the desired behavior. I let him know the concrete reasons that this behavior makes me happy:
- It makes cleaning up supper go faster so we have more time for family.
- It keeps the house clean and neat.
- It shows that he’s part of the team by giving him a meaningful job.
When I do this, I energetically reinforce the brain connection to positive behavior and to the fact that he did a good thing. He succeeded. He belongs in the family and is an active part. He knows how to do something right. I’m proud of him and he made me happy. The more that brain connection fires, the more that identity becomes part of his person. I’ll continue to see an increase in the pro-social behavior. This isn’t the kind of empty “self-esteem” talk that has gotten a bad rap in the past. This is real, concrete accomplishment.
It seems simple, and it is. The challenge for many people comes when it is time to starve undesirable behavior of energy. Most of us were parented with a very strong response to our negative behavior. When we see our kids doing something that we don’t like, or that we have told them not to do, or that we think they should simply know better than to do, it’s automatic for us to speak quickly and in a louder than normal voice. Sometimes we go right into a full blown temper and lecture because we think we’ve taught the child better or we believe they are outright ignoring or disobeying us.
Regardless of the “teaching” we think we might be doing with the quick, loud, sometimes angry response to the negative behavior, one thing is for certain: we’re making their brain energetically reinforce the connection to that behavior and to the fact that they screwed up. That they did a bad thing. That they didn’t get it right and maybe can’t get it right. That they disappoint us. That we aren’t happy with them. The more we fire that connection, the more it becomes a significant part of their person, their identity.
Now I’ve heard people in the past say, “I’m not going to reward my kid for doing stuff that should be normal expectations for them.” I agree with that idea. Giving kids a lot of external rewards for things doesn’t help them have self-control or a realistic view of what the world is like. The energy match is different than that. It reinforces a strong brain pathway to behavior that is responsible, respectful, and otherwise desired.
So if we’re not supposed to yell at them when our kids do something bad, how are we supposed to deal with it when they kick the dog, whack their grandmothers with toy swords, and bite their friends to get the toy that they want (that’s right, Angelface up there in the corner has a few surprises up his sleeve)?
The answer to that will be in another article, or you can get in touch with me anytime: 651-274-0031, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Skype me: fiddlehousecoaching.