Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Time Travel Tuesday: Assume Positive Intent

I mentioned this post yesterday, and since Assume Positive Intent is on my mind, I thought I'd feature it for my TTT post.

Back to these kids and their misbehaviors. Or maybe we should reframe that word, look it as a contraction of sorts: mis(taken)behaviors, instead of mis-- as in "wrong?" Anyway.
  • So, shrieking in my ear? You want my attention, and are attempting to get it in a mistaken way.
  • Grabbing toys from your baby brother? You believe it to be in your self-interest to have a turn with that toy, and are going about fulfilling it in a non-rights-respecting way. 
  • Want to eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch, dinner, elevensies, second breakfast, etc.? Not in your rational self-interest over the long-term. 
  • Think the only way to resolve a conflict with another is to resort to your fists, or run and hide and pretend there is no conflict, or always give in to the other person's demands? None of those strategies are rational (using brute force, evasion, or subverting your self-interests to another's). 

In each of those instances of mistaken goals, or pursuing self-interest irrationally, a parent may (but perhaps not always) need to step in and guide, communicate, restrict, provide teaching or a tool, or set a limit in a dozen ways. This assumption of positive intent, the realization that the child is attempting to satisfy his self-interest in a mistaken or irrational manner, really helps shape MY attitude in dealing with the mis(taken)behavior. (I like that!)

Check out the rest of the post here.

Note: assuming positive intent does not mean that you ignore the fact that sometimes little Johnny behaves a certain way simply to make you (or his siblings crazy). Sometimes, they behave the way they do in order to make people--especially YOU--crazy. As I recall from personal experience, this phenomenon is especially prevalent in the teenage years.

Even when it's clear that your son is ah, positively intending to make his sister scream, Assume Positive Intent is a reminder to recognize that there might be other kinds of intentions underlying the behavior as well. Maybe he wants some attention from you or someone else. Maybe he's bored. Maybe he needs to blow off steam. Or maybe not--maybe the sound of his sister screaming is music to his ears (I'd bet money on that, actually).

Even if it turns out that what the child positively intends to do is make people crazy, API reminds me not to begin my parenting interaction with that assumption. I am reminded to consider alternatives. To look for clues as to what else might be going on. To give the benefit of the doubt. To offer a chance for him to provide more information. To see him beautiful.

API is a starting point only. But it's a great starting point, a benevolent universe premise kind of starting point. Because otherwise it's really easy to fall into the habit of assuming that a child behaves in a certain way due to one and only one reason, and usually the worst negative reason I can imagine. Giving the benefit of the doubt, assuming positive intent, helps me act on the benevolent universe premise as well as helps me keep our communication a little less defensive and combative. WIN-WIN.

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