What is Positive Intent You Ask?

This week we want to bring attention to a wonderful article by Dr. Becky Baily from Conscious Discipline ®

Are you a mind reader? I’m not, yet I find myself walking through the day attributing intent to other people’s actions and words. The waitress is an idiot because she didn’t give me correct change. My husband is being spiteful by leaving his shaving can on the tile after I specifically told him it leaves a rust ring. My child is being selfish by grabbing things out of my purse without asking.

Are stupid, spiteful and selfish the “real” motivations these people have when they open their mouths or take a certain action? There is no way for us to know for certain. We make up their intent in our minds. We can choose to see the best in others or to see the worst. Once we’ve judged the nature of another person’s actions or words, we reap a slew of emotions of our own. When we attribute negative intent, the emotions that we experience are equally nasty. Attributing negative intent to them creates negative feelings within us and throws us into the lower centers of our brain. If we’re making up the intent, why in the world would we want to attribute an intent that results in nasty feelings for us? We can just as easily attribute positive intent to these situations and reap positive emotions.

Negative intent does more than just flood us with nasty feelings, it also inhibits our ability teach others how to treat us and how to treat each other. Particularly when dealing with children, seeing the best in them is the only perceptual frame that will enable us to teach new skills rather than project guilt, hurt and other negative feelings. Children convey their wants and needs through actions such as hitting, grabbing and fussing. When they don’t get what they want, they tend to fuss louder and bigger. To be effective parents, we must shift from viewing “louder and bigger” with negative intent (she’s being selfish), to viewing it with positive intent (she’s missing social skills).

The habit of attributing negative intent is so ingrained in most of us that it is difficult at times to recognize, much less reframe positively. Yet this shift is 100% necessary if we want to raise children with self-esteem, responsibility and self-control. It is also essential for teaching them a new skill and solving problems. Below are common examples of attributing negative intent followed by possible positive intent for the same situation. Remember, we are making it up; it is our choice which way to perceive the situation.

   Casey is just mean.
   Casey wanted the crayon and didn’t know how to ask for it.

   I’ve told her 1,000 times not to come in without knocking!
   She gets excited and forgets to knock.

   Mathieu sure pushes my buttons!
   Mathieu is giving me an opportunity to practice staying calm.

To read the full article see ConsciousDiscipline.com.

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