I’ve recently had a chance to experience great success with the boys I work with in our Residential Treatment program. As an occupational therapist, I run groups that provide therapeutic shifts in mood and feelings to enhance overall participation in all kinds of life skills. Recently, I’ve been incorporating into the groups principles of the Nurtured Heart Approach, which has yielded positive changes in several young men.
There is a particular youth who experienced real success in having a change of perspective and attitude. He joined me for group to work in our residential garden, and he had a rather negative attitude at the beginning. Unbeknownst to me, he recently had heard that his foster family was no longer welcoming him back to their home.
I laid the ground rules for the group: For every positive interaction that a boy had, he would receive one credit. I would write a tally mark on my notepad for each positive interaction. I, too, would be providing this kind of feedback, and a boy could later spend his credits on a reward.
I reviewed with the group examples of positive interactions that would ultimately “ground” them in the moment and help them notice positives of others rather than mostly the negatives – which our boys often do. In addition, they would receive other tally marks when demonstrating effort, focus, patience and other desirable characteristics.
The encouragement that a boy gave another had to be positive and descriptive. For example, one might say, “You’re doing a good job; you’re showing a lot of effort by pulling a lot of weeds. Or when one boy shared the garden hose with another, the response might be, “Thank you so much. You are showing cooperation by letting me use the water hose to water the garden.” In addition, if a boy observed a positive interaction between two others, he could report it to me and describe what made the interaction positive.
In the garden, the young man with a negative attitude quickly searched for ways to find the positive in others’ behaviors. I coached him in how to provide descriptive feedback to his peers that was not only encouraging but also helpful in shifting the young man’s perspective and attitude.
At the end of group, while returning to his unit, the boy thanked me for conducting the group and said, with a big smile and pointing to his head, “It changed me up here.” I was amazed to hear the insightful response! In his own way, he was able to communicate the positive that transpired within him.
An important observation became clear from this experience: Rather than addressing his negative attitude head on, a motivating opportunity to focus on positives facilitated the change for him.
Yes, this boy was working toward earning credits, but in the midst of that, he was experiencing success by learning how to focus on the positives around him, which in turn changed his attitude and perspective. Ultimately, it was his own choice and effort that made the change for him.
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