Where's Your Focus?

There’s something sports people and musical performers have to learn pretty early on, and that’s how to disregard a mistake and move on, rather than dwelling on it. In fact, they spend a lot of their lives not only practicing the right moves but learning to visualize themselves doing well. It’s about keeping their focus on the right things.

I had the chance recently to demonstrate to a whole room full of people how putting the focus on the positives can make a huge difference to a situation.


We had a grandmother who needed to bring her child along to a workshop I was running. It wasn’t planned that way, it was just a sudden thing. She was worried he was going to be all over the place, running around and making noise. But I said, “He can stay, it’s okay,” because I knew from past experience it would probably turn out pretty well – maybe I could demonstrate some Triple P strategies in action!

So this little boy was sitting in the room for about 10 minutes, just being quiet. His grandmother had given him a little toy to play with. Ten minutes for a six year old – that’s pretty good! But then I could see him getting fidgety and moving out of his seat and he started to wander around. And I could see his grandmother was ready to tell him to sit back down and perhaps even speak a little harshly to him.


I looked at her and asked her the boy’s name and she said – well, let’s call him Danny. And I said “Danny, you know what? You've really been doing a really good job sitting quietly. You've been playing with your game, you've been quiet and sitting down and that's really good. I really like the way you were doing that.”  And “Voilà!” that little kid went and sat back in his seat.

And everybody was kind of surprised because I didn't say anything about him getting out of his seat. I didn’t say “You better sit down” and focus on his misbehavior. I just talked about what he had been doing so well.

What seemed to amaze people most was that by using praise and focussing on the positive, the child changed his behavior – he wanted to cooperate. I didn’t have to talk about what he’d started to do 'wrong'. The process was easy. There wasn’t any drama. He decided he liked the praise, and responded to it; in doing so, he was learning a new skill. The atmosphere in the room changed completely.


It’s a bit like the old 'glass half full or half empty' question. I think for a lot of parents it’s kind of a normal reaction to see the negative: if you see your child behaving in a way you don’t like or isn’t appropriate, you tend to focus on how to stop the behavior you don’t like. But there’s a way to flip that around and focus on the positive by:

  • encouraging more of the behavior you do want to see,
  • preventing misbehavior in the first place, and
  • building the relationship between you and your child.

In fact, that’s when parents discover that 'seeing the glass half full' is a lot easier when you know how. Often you have to put some work and some practice into doing that. There are strategies and skills you can learn to help you, and it can take a little time for both you and the child to get used to this new focus. But it’s really so much more effective – and better for everyone.


So in this situation, ten minutes later the little boy was looking like he might stand up again, so once again I used his name and I said “Danny, you've really done a really good job over there, just sitting quietly while I talk. Thank you.”

And again, he was really wanting to hear that kind of praise and so he stayed seated.


At the end of the session, this little kid walked up and gave me the biggest hug – around my legs – and he was really happy with himself. Grandma was proud of him.

Imagine if she’d reacted in a way that seemed 'logical' to most people in that situation (for example, by sharply telling her grandson to sit down). This may well have had the opposite effect to what she really wanted, and created bad feelings for her grandson, for her, and for everyone else in the room. Instead, things turned out in a way that was really wonderful.

It seems like such a simple little thing. But a change of focus to the positive can make a huge difference to how situations turn out.