For humans, language is a powerful tool. It can evoke positive, neutral and negative emotions. We also can direct these emotions in others by the words we say and the syntax of those few words.
As a Headteacher/Principal for more than 10 years, there is a similar conversation I have with parents and teachers repeatedly.
Usually, the scenario of the child moaning and complaining about something that has happened as soon as the child walks out the school doors that leads to upset in the family for the evening. This conversation repeats day after day, upsetting the parent and feeding a negative loop of emotions to the point of a child telling their parents nothing good about the school day. When the parents tell the teacher, he/she is baffled as the child has not complained and, in fact, has had an extremely positive days filled with lots of success and praise.
So, what is going on here?
According to Professor Nass, co-authored, “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships” (Penguin 2010),
“The brain handles positive and negative information in different hemispheres,” Generally, negative emotions involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones, he said. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events — and use stronger words to describe them — than happy ones.
Roy F. Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University, highlights in an article he co-authored in 2001, “Bad Is Stronger Than Good,” which appeared in The Review of General Psychology, “Bad emotions, bad parents and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.”
Basically, at a very young age, we realise that when we tell our parents the more negative experiences that have happened in our day, no matter how small, our parents give us more emotional feedback than when we tell them our positive experiences.
So, how can we as both teachers and parents use mindfulness to change how we see the day that will lead to mentally healthier experiences and reactions and to a more peaceful school and home environment?
End each day with a positive thought– Have each child tell the class what is one thing they have learned that day or what was the best part of their day in school before they leave for the day. As a class, celebrate the successes; clap, cheer, smile and congratulate the positives. These positive thoughts and emotions follow the children out the door and home.
This gives you, as a teacher, a sense of accomplishment and positive mindful reflection on the day. It allows you to enjoy the success of the day instead of only considering the things that didn’t go well. It gives the day balance.
For children, it begins to refocus the day and allows children to bask in the glow of positivity. It helps them to give the day balance.
When you see your child at the end of the school day be specific in your questions:
– What was the BEST thing about today?
– What is the BEST thing you saw today?
– What is the KINDEST thing you did or said today?
The key is to focus on the positive and explore and discuss this positive. Allow the conversation to grow about this positive experience. Ask for details (Who was with you when this happened?) , explore the emotions (How did you feel? Did you smile?) and encourage gratitude (Did you say thank you? How do you think they felt?).
If your child tries to divert to a negative, let them know you will listen to them about it but first you are going to enjoy the positives and discuss the positives.
Before bedtime, bring up these positives again. Allow the child to repeat and allow the positive emotions to be the last emotions they have as they go to sleep. One falls asleep and has a better sleep when they have positive thoughts to drift off to.
This gives both of you time to enjoy each other’s company and reinforce a mindful sense of gratitude that can lead to a more harmonious family life.
Does this mean a child should never tell a parent what did not go well? Not at all! What we are wanting to do is to help children to find a mindful balance in life and find happiness in being happy.
Just asking your child, “How was your day?” Is a neutral statement and doesn’t drive a positive mindset. Emphasis needs to be positive language.
Eventually, as the habit of positivity develops, even a neutral question will have a child first reflecting on the positive. However, this does take time.
Find more mindfulness strategies for children and adults here: www.educationsvoice.wordpress.com or for more ideas for teachers, 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Mindfulness In The Classroom published by Bloomsbury. More information can be found here.