Updated: Feb 11, 2020
Raising a family is hard work, and it can become even more complicated when the children in your family are coping with loss, grief, and trauma. While I was working as a family therapist for children in the foster care system, I learned a tool that helped me connect with my own daughter more deeply throughout her life. She is three, and we are in the throes of challenging behavior each day. I learned her personality requires me to fill her attention bucket daily. If she is running on empty, it usually shows up in negative behavior. I use the 10-minute "Do Nothing" rule to help fill her bucket, and this helps to increase positive interactions between us, and who doesn't want more of that? I know other parents could benefit from this tool, and it's easy to do. I believe our ultimate goal is creating healthy attachment so that our children can confidently go out into the world. Give the "Do Nothing" rule a try and let me know how it turns out in the comments. The fantastic thing about this tool is you only need ten minutes. Having tools in your toolbox to use when you need it can only make you a better parent.
The 10-Minute "Do Nothing" Rule
HOW IT WORKS:
1. Choose a 10-minute window within each day that you can commit to providing uninterrupted, positive attention to the child. This means no screen/texts/or internet use. I know this sounds like torture, but stay with me on this.
2. During this time, refrain from instructing, teaching or disciplining the child (unless there is a safety issue).
3. Spend time observing the child without intervening in their play, unless directly asked. Sit on the floor with them if possible. Smile, laugh and have fun. This will typically be a time of peace between you and the child, but if it's not that is ok too! See the next two points...
4. Accept all behavior during this time with unconditional love. Even if the child acts out, yells, breaks, or throws things. Remain calm and present. Take deep breaths if you need to, or give yourself a break. This won't be easy, but it will be worth it. Use this as an opportunity to be the example of how to stay calm under stress. Children learn through watching others.
5. Remind yourself it's only for ten minutes, and accept them for who they are at this moment. Allow the child to express negative feelings without letting it trigger your emotions. Children are always doing the best they can in the moment. When they are unregulated, they need you to be regulated. This is a way to increase positive interactions, even if it doesn't seem like it in the moment. Use an empathetic response if they are having big emotions such as "I can see you are having a hard time. I am here for you when you are ready." Again, this sounds like a form of parental torture, I hear you, but you can do anything you put your mind to for 10 minutes. I believe in you!
TIPS FOR SUCCESS:
Most people find the "Do Nothing" rule easiest to implement at the beginning of the day, or the end of the day.
Morning advantages: You are fresh and hopefully rested from a good night's sleep (said no parent ever). But for the sake of this topic, let's pretend you had at least 8 hours of alone time even if you aren't sleeping. The morning is a great time to connect and have your "Do Nothing" time because you have the energy, focus, and clarity of mind to truly connect with the child. Translation: You are not burnt out (yet) from whining, fighting, and screaming. Take advantage of your patience in the morning when your tank is full of resiliency.
Nighttime advantages: Bedtime routines are a built-in period where you can provide uninterrupted "Do Nothing" time in a quiet, calm environment. There is also something about the night time that makes children open up and share thoughts and feelings easily. I often suggest to clients that right before bed can be the most natural time of day to get kids to open up. Perhaps there are hormonal changes that affect this, or maybe they are too tired to keep their walls up. Either way, give it a try. You may be surprised by how much your child shares about their inner world with you at night, before bed.
This rule works with kids of any age. If they are two months old, you can sit and observe them on their play mat, or as they look around the room. If they are five you can observe them while they paint or play pretend. If they are 12, you can sit down next to them as they are playing video games or watching TV. Just be there. You are observing them. Try to let them come to you and be the first one to engage, but if this isn't working, ask a non-threatening question about their game/or show. Being interested in what they are interested in can be a healthy way to build a bridge to their hearts.
I encourage you to give this rule a try today. Tell Siri to set a timer for 10 minutes, and "Do Nothing" with your child. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish when you slow down and BE with your child without expectations. Good luck parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, foster and adoptive parents, you got this!
Tell me about your experience in the comments. Visit https://www.bethtyson.com for more parenting tips for families who have experienced loss and trauma.
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