As a parent, I'm sure you've heard "the days are long but the years are short. " I'm pretty sure they were referring to life with toddlers. These tiny little humans are working every minute of every day to figure things out. If you've ever stopped to listen to them, you might be amazed at their logic. I have to remind myself sometimes, actually a lot, that they are figuring out boundaries, reactions and all the "what ifs" of the world they live in.
The other day my 3 year old was in the kitchen with me and asked me a question to clarify something I said WEEKS ago. My first thought was actually of being annoyed I was sidetracked from my task. But then I just stared at him in disbelief wondering how he connected those dots. It was that exact moment as I was looking in his eyes, deep into his brain, that this little persons entire life is being shaped by my actions and responses. Everything he will learn and look back on will come from moments like these. His memories of me will either be positive or negative. Not every specific memory will be stored and recalled later on in life but the overall picture of "my life as a kid" for him is being created right now.
It's a good thing we can't remember all the specific details about the fights you had, the bully that brought you down, or what your parents yelled at you about. I know there was a lot of ups and downs for me as a child, I lacked deep friendships, I was made fun of, I constantly felt uncomfortable and had no confidence. But my dad never let that define me. He was always positive in his responses and reactions to whatever situation I was experiencing.
These good things that we recall and experience can actually over-write negative memories. In the book, The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom, the author explains that we can take positive steps to determine which memories stick with our kids. So how can we respond with positive words, thoughts, and actions with our kids?
Here are 3 ways to ensure positive memories.
1. Teach kids to notice the good things that are all around them.
There is always good in the world. It's just a matter of what we choose to see. We must practice the action of gratitude and be more positive. That stranger that held the door for you, your sister helping you pick you your toys, the budding flowers on our tree. The key, according to Hanson, is to “turn positive facts into positive experiences.”
2. Savor those positive experiences.
Almost every dinner we talk about 1 bad and 1 good thing that happened during our day. My theory was that we could acknowledge and balance out the bad with the good. But I think it's time to change that up. Our new tradition will be 3 good. They will list 3 good things about their day and how that made them FEEL! This evokes what was rewarding about a “good thing,” and helps use our brain chemistry to strengthen connections associated with the memory.
3. Think about your response.
Nobody likes negative Nelly. She's annoying, depressing and drags you down. Like the bible says, "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger". Reinforce doubt with positivity. Respond against hurt with empathy. React to naughty behavior with questions to gain a deeper understanding.
We all only have one life to live and our memories will stick with us for a lifetime, shaping our views, self confidence and thoughts. Make them positive.