In a perfect world, all aspects of life would be enjoyable. You’d not only love your job, but you’d also have a pleasant home life. However, a stressful home life can hinder workplace productivity. Sometimes that stress involves children.
Perhaps you’ve had this happen or have seen it occur with a co-worker. The school calls about a behavior problem with your child. Later, your spouse calls to talk about the school incident. Then the child sends you an email explaining what happened and trying to get out of punishment. More phone calls, emails, and text messages later, it’s obvious that little work was accomplished at the office that day. The child’s behavior problem took up much of your energy at work.
The fact is that even if you love your job, home-life stressors can make you unproductive on the job. That’s why if you want to increase your efficiency at work and have a career you truly enjoy, you have to first focus on creating a positive home life. When your home life is in order—including raising children who act responsibly—your professional success will improve.
Following are some practices that will improve your home life and help your work day as well. In fact, when you start using these practices, you will quickly see how they reduce stress for everyone involved, promote responsible behavior in your children, increase your effectiveness as a parent, and improve your workday productivity.
Practice Positivity. Positivity—thinking and communicating in positive terms—works well in drawing others toward us and having them do what we would like them to do. By contrast, communicating in negative terms pushes people away. By adding a little positivity to your home life, you can work wonders to get everyone working together and reduce stress.
We’ve all read books about the power of being positive, and we’ve probably listened to a few speakers expound on the topic. Why then are many people still so negative, both at home and at work? Perhaps people have been so focused on why they need to be positive rather than on how to do it.
Check your perception. Do you perceive that people in your life are deliberately acting irresponsibly or pushing your buttons, or do you view the behavior as the person’s best attempt to solve a frustration? Your perception directs how you will react. If you think your child, for example, is deliberately causing problems, your natural reaction will be to respond in a negative way that consumes your time and energy. On the other hand, if you think your child is attempting to resolve some dissatisfaction or frustration, then your approach will be to help the youngster, rather than hurt your child by imposing some punishment. Thinking of children as trying to learn how to become adults directs your behavior to help—rather than to harm by yelling, threatening, or using some other form of coercion.
Paint positive pictures. Practicing positivity requires painting positive mental pictures for yourself and for those in your life. The human brain is very susceptible to suggestions. For example, don’t think of a white kitten with a red bow around its neck. What did you visualize? Now, try to visualize “Don’t.” Can you? Neither can children. When a child hears, “Don’t get detention today” or “Don’t misbehave in school,” the picture in the child’s mind is one of detention and misbehaving. If you say, “Make it a great day” or “Act responsibly today,” the child sees images of a good day. Positive messages encourage the youngster to respond to your request, which will help promote positive behaviors.
Use Contingencies Rather Than Consequences. Although consequences can be either positive or negative, when parents refer to “consequences,” they are often in terms of threats or punishments that are imposed. Typically, people perceive an imposed consequence in negative terms because of the inference, “Do this—or else!” It threatens pain or discomfort should the young person fail to comply with the demand.
A more effective approach than imposing consequences is to use contingencies because they paint positive pictures and empower. Contingencies prompt people to feel better, not worse. A contingency sounds like, “Yes, you may do that—as long as you first do this.” “Yes, you may go to your friend’s house after school—as long as your homework is finished.” Contingencies are very effective because they promise with a positive, rather than threaten with a negative the way imposed consequences do.
Suppose you’re on the phone with your daughter and she’s asking to go to the mall with some friends. Which of these responses would result in a short phone call, and which would cause a power struggle to ensue, keeping you on the phone—and away from your work?
• “If you don’t finish your chores, you’re not going to the mall.” (negatively stated consequence that prompts a power struggle)
• “Certainly you may go—as soon as your chores are completed.” (positively stated contingency that prompts positive and responsible behavior)
You can use contingencies with people of any age to encourage cooperation and to build responsibility.
Separate the Behavior from the Person.It is natural to self-defend. If criticized or accused, our instinct is to defend ourselves by justifying our actions. Children are no different. For example, reflect on any job you have had that required your being evaluated. During your conversation with your supervisor, did your self-talk sound something like, “My supervisor is not evaluating me—just my job performance”? Probably not! In reality, however, the supervisor is evaluating your job performance, not you as a person. So if you, as an adult, find it almost impossible to separate yourself from your behavior, how do you expect a young person to do it?
Separating the young person from the behavior prevents the tendency to criticize and label and keeps the interaction positive. If a child is not acting responsibly, acknowledge the act but do not call the child “irresponsible.” Label the behavior, rather than the person. “Do you consider this a responsible thing to do?” is far more effective than “You are irresponsible!”
Go for the Gold. Communicating in positive terms encourages, and encouragement is often the spark that ignites motivation. A phrase such as, “I know you can do this because I have seen how capable you are,” encourages people to believe in their own abilities and leads to self-responsibility.
Sometimes a word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than a whole book of praise after a success. When a child has not been successful, ask, “What can we learn from this experience?” By doing so, you can teach your the child to focus on the positive in every experience because every experience can be a learning one.
Change Your Outlook, Change Your Life. Will being more positive with your family solve all your personal and professional problems? Of course not. But it is the first step for improving your circumstances. Making positivity a practice both in your self-talk and in your communications with others begins with awareness.
Start by becoming aware of the number of times you say something negatively that could be phrased positively. Continually ask yourself before speaking, “How can I say this so it will be perceived in a positive way or at least not negatively?” The more you lead with positivity with your family, the more they will respond in a like manner, and the more successful you will be in your professional pursuits.
Dr. Marvin Marshall, educator, writer, and lecturer, is widely known for his programs on discipline and learning. His approach stemmed from his acquiring knowledge about youth as a parent, a recreation director and camp counselor, a teacher, a counselor, a principal, district director of education, and as a certificate holder from the William Glasser Institute. He is the author of Parenting Without Stress: How to Raise Responsible Kids While Keeping a Life of Your Own, as well as other parenting books and programs. Information is available at MarvinMarshall.com.