Sometimes we are our own worst enemy… even when it comes to innate abilities that protect us. For instance, we tend to pay attention to and learn from negative or threatening stimuli more than we do from positive or lovely stimuli. Psychologists call this our “negative bias” and note how it protects us. For instance, it’s more important to attend to the rattlesnake in the flower garden than your lovely daisies when you’re pulling weeds. The car speeding toward the crosswalk where you stand with your child elicits a more immediate and stronger reaction than the cute elderly couple walking their dog on the sidewalk.
In such instances, the “negative bias” is natural and protective. But it can destroy effective parenting when it dominates our parental radar. A parent’s “out-of-control negative bias” can lead to excessive criticism, overprotectiveness, and undue correction in our attempt to protect our children from every danger and mistake out there. In response, our children become discouraged and defeated by the constant negative focus.
Effective parents learn to tame the “beast of negative bias” by focusing on strengths as well as dangers. They focus on their children’s positive character, acknowledging and nurturing it every chance they get. “I appreciate the kindness you showed when….” “You showed a lot of patience when you….” “It was very courageous of you to….” When we notice and label specific actions and responses that flow out of our children’s strengths, we begin to develop our own trust in their ability (as well as their positive self-concept). This trust can help tame our “negative bias,” which leads to the next way of taming “negative bias.”
Effective parents also tame the “beast of negative bias” by learning to trust their children. We learn to trust our children’s abilities to take care of themselves by carefully observing them rather than constantly warning them. We learn to trust our children by allowing them to manage the consequences of their mistakes and so learn from those consequences rather than jumping in to save them. We learn to trust our children by allowing them to take risks and observing how they manage those risks, remaining present to help them if they request our help. (Read Do You Rob Your Teen of Victory for more.) Ironically, most parents are often amazed at how well their children manage a risk independently and the amazing way they learn from those consequences. Sometimes it’s hard to not intervene but doing nothing can prove the best course of action at times.
Effective parents tame the “beast of negative bias” by nurturing their children’s talents, providing them opportunities to gain experience. Whether their talent lies in athletics, music, acting, writing, landscaping, mechanics, or…well, the list goes on. Whatever their talent, providing them opportunities to grow in their knowledge and skills related to that talent helps us, as parents, see them in new light. It helps us see them mature and realize their growing competence and independence.
Effective parents tame the “beast of negative bias” and enjoy practicing a positive bias as they watch their children grow and mature. You and your child will be glad you took the time to tame the “beast of negative bias.”