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The Nurtured Heart Approach
Your Shift Of Emphasis:
Re-orientation Towards Success

by Tina Feigal, M.S., Ed.
Founder, The Minnesota Center for the Difficult Child
(See her bio below)

This is the third in Tina Feigal's series of articles about the Nurtured Heart Approach (NHA) created by Howard Glasser.

Aaron is having great difficulty with getting ready for school in the morning. His parents have tried everything. Having to "prod the child" is a typical parent / teacher complaint regarding the performance of many tasks.

"We try to correct him, but he resists our every effort. We say,

'Now brush your teeth.   Now get your socks on.   Now put your books in your backpack.'

It's just exhausting when he argues about every little thing. We know yelling is not the right thing to do, but we get so frustrated that we just lose it. He goes to school upset, and that sets the tone for his whole day. There has to be a better way."

With the help of a coach, parents can reorient  their communication mode, . . . from energizing the negative behavior to finding the child's positives and, INSTEAD, nurturing them.

So what if the child doesnít have enough positive behavior to reward on a given day? How do we give multiple downloads of success to the very intense child who seems bent on destruction and defiance?
Heartfelt appreciation changes behavior more effectively than punishment

The Nurtured Heart Approach emphasizes granting heartfelt appreciation to the child who has just done something desirable. But it's much more than "catching kids being good" -- with some children those opportunities are too scarce. It involves "creating successes" by noticing behavior at unusual times, such as when rules are not being broken.

We create "Time-In" in the form of recognizing and acknowledging successes where they didnít exist before, by giving our heartfelt appreciation when the rules are not being broken. Here are the steps:

  1. Create a list of rules with the child(ren)ís input. When they have had an opportunity to be involved with the rule-making, their buy-in is increased and defiance is decreased. Use the rules the children give you whenever possible, and be sure they understand that the adults can add rules as necessary, even on the spot, in the event of an unexpected infraction.

  2. Make the rules start with "NoĒ. Children with challenging behaviors need clarity, as they frequently have an associated auditory processing deficit that keeps the message from being interpreted in the brain correctly.

    These children have normal hearing, but the way the sounds are processed... stored, interpreted and retrieved... is often not the same as in typical children. This is why we often find ourselves repeating requests to them over and over. Rules such as "no running away", "no talking back", "no biting", "no hitting", and "no throwing things" are easier for intense children to grasp and obey.

  3. Whenever a rule is not broken, become a ruthless  opportunist  in responding with heartfelt appreciation.

     "I noticed that you came into the classroom so nicely todayÖno running, no swearing, and no pushing. You are the star!" 

    Children with behavior problems often do not know how to interpret their own experiences. Adults need to teach values directly by putting words to the successes.

  4. If you are concerned that the feedback you give to the child will automatically produce the unwanted behavior, which is typical of some preschoolers, you may want to save your one-on-one feedback for a later time, such as during the next transition. It would look like this:

     "Itís time to get our coats on and go outside. I noticed how you came into the classroom so beautifully today, and I canít wait to see you do that again. It just made my dayÖI am so happy to see you so happy." 

    (This last part is the emotional component that adds intensity to your response, creating a "match" in the childís heart-brain.)

  5. Get there first! If you have a troublesome situation in your child care setting or preschool that has evolved repeatedly, stop it before it starts by redirecting the child and showing heartfelt appreciation for good behavior right before the usual infraction has a chance to take place. Just before Sarah, who has had trouble with hitting people in line every day for the past week, is fully in the line, you can lean down to her and say,

     "I notice that you are joining the line so nicely today, Sarah. I canít tell you how wonderful it is to see that. Can you help me with snack when you get back inside?" 

  6. Rewarding behavior with "grown up tasks" goes a long way toward winning the cooperation of the challenging child. In the example above, the teacher adds the anticipation of success and trust in the childís ability to help with snack to the heartfelt appreciation of positive behavior.

  7. When a rule is broken, "Time-Out" is the only consequence.

    "Time-Out":Girl is NOT calm, so 'Time-Out' has not yet started!

Any extra words at this time are "energy" given to unwanted behavior, and are actually rewards. Avoid them at every opportunity.

Remember that your true power is in the positives.  Focus your energy there, and you will see previously unimagined results.
Transforming the Difficult Child

Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach
 by Howard Glasser.

Click to see our review.

Tina Feigal's background
Tina Feigal is a former school psychologist who now trains and coaches parents and professionals in applying the principles of The Nurtured Heart Approach. The approach is a set of highly effective techniques used to help intense children, ages 3-18, to gain control of their behavior and to see themselves as successful. Tina was trained and authorized by Howard Glasser to share ideas with adults on ways to bring out the best in intense children. Tina holds workshops for groups, and phone coaching sessions for couples and individuals, who want to hone their skills in applying the approach. Tina is also a parent, whose second of three sons went through a period of opposition and defiance related to a serious illness. He is now a graduate student in counseling psychology and living a full, productive and successful life.

E-mail Tina Feigal at    Tina Feigal's website is at

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