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The Nurtured Heart Approach® is a relationship-focused strategy aimed at building a child’s confidence and supporting positive behaviour.


Why a Nurtured Heart Approach® is important

Although children can receive much more attention for their negative behaviours at home or school, this increased attention can actually further fuel the challenging behaviour.

Children require a sense of self worth and confidence to develop successful relationships with others. When a child truly believes they are ‘naughty’, or ‘unsuccessful’, through either direct or indirect consequences or experiences, this becomes their ‘emotional portfolio’ and their behaviours then reflect this self belief.

The Nurtured Heart Approach helps to establish positive relationships with people in a child’s life and supports children to create new ‘emotional portfolios’ of confidence, greatness and success, channelling their behaviours in a positive direction.

What is the Nurtured Heart Approach?

The Nurtured Heart Approach is a positive behaviour strategy, which focuses’ on the following ‘Three stands’:

Stand One: Absolutely No!

I will not energise negative behaviour, or accidentally reward negativity with my energy, connection or relationship.

When children engage in negative behaviour, we can find ourselves wanting to explain what they did wrong and show our frustrations. As a result, we unwillingly give a lot of our energy to the child and framing the relationship around the negative behaviours.

It can be easy to automatically respond to negative behaviour — it can be an innate response. If we can be more aware of when we do react, we can then begin to shift where we project our energy.

However, this should not be mistaken with ignoring the child, and ignoring the child can cause a more heightened response and repetition of the behaviour. It is important to acknowledge when a child is upset, and what caused it.

There are always consequences for negative behaviours (see Stand Three below) . Consequences are to be delivered in a matter of fact and un-energised way every time (e.g. steady voice, neutral facial expression and calm body language).


Stand Two: Absolutely Yes!

I will actively recognise and acknowledge the successes of my child (small and big) and create positive energy around these moments.

Praise including ‘good job’, ‘thank you’, ‘well done’, ‘wow’, ‘way to go’ etc. is delivered to children by adults every day. However, this type of praise is recognised as ‘junk food praise’, as it feels good, but only for a short moment, without any long-lasting or nourishing effects to the child’s confidence.

Nourishing praise (recognition) is delivered in a way that ensures the child feels they have truly been seen for the good choices they’re making. This type of praise provides the child with evidence, through our words, that their positive choices are having positive impacts on our lives, in the present moment.

This type of evidence-based explicit praise builds a child’s awareness of their positive behaviours and characteristics and not only begins to build a positive self image but children are then more inclined to repeat this behaviour in the future.

What is the formula: How do I give a ‘nourishing praise’?

Describe what the child has done (e.g. “Thank you for making the choice to play nicely with your sister”, or “I can see, you are about to pack your bag for school”).

Then provide descriptive words/qualities to fill the child’s ‘emotional portfolio’ (e.g. “this shows me that you are a bucket filler / cooperative / respectful, and you know how to get along with your sister, I really cherish that in you” or “this shows me that you are a great listener, rule-follower and you are organised, I respect these qualities that I see in you, they are great qualities to have”.)

It is important to provide this type of praise for all successes, even the smallest ones.

How to provide nourishing praise throughout the day:

Celebrate rules not broken by the child (e.g. “Thank you for putting your shoes away in your room, this shows that you are responsible / respectful of the rules”).

Actively recognise what you can see them doing (e.g. I can see that even though you are tired, you are trying so hard to complete your homework, this shows me that…).

Hijack negative behaviours by celebrating moments of compliance or requests that are honoured (e.g. If a child leaves the room, however does not slam their door, you could say “I can see that you are feeling frustrated and upset, and the fact you are taking some time to ‘reset’ shows me that you have so much self-control..).

Stand Three: Absolutely Clear!

I will maintain total clarity about rules that maintain fair and consistent boundaries in an un-energised way.

Punishments and consequences for negative behaviours, can sometimes be prolonged and energised, giving them the gift of your relationship for negative behaviour.

If consequences and negative energy continues long after the child has stopped the negative behaviour, the child is then not acknowledged for changing their behaviour and any positive behaviours that are demonstrated during this time are often ignored.

Rather than ignore little changes, try to emphasise the positive ‘wins’ and positive behaviour changes (i.e the child has managed to ‘reset’ and is now talking calmly or engaging in the expected task again).

Using words such as ‘reset’ or ‘break’, are often used as part of the nurtured heart approach. This is to allow the child to have a moment to self regulate, reflect on the situation and have the opportunity to change their response. Remember to use these words in an ‘un-energised’ way.

The child may go somewhere e.g. sensory tent, outside, in their room, or may just take a moment to themselves. During this time, the child does not receive your energy, attention or interactions.

The concept of ‘reset’ helps to also reinforce:

  • That behaviour is a choice, and their good choices have greater rewards and impacts.
  • The rules are clear and what needs to be done to get back on track is clear.

Once the child is ready to come back and demonstrate positive behaviour, the ‘reset’ or ‘break’ is finished. The child should then be praised for this, and the energy and situation can be reset, not to be dwelling on the negative behaviours shown moments before.

How to provide nourishing praise to encourage behaviour change

Here are some examples:

  • “I can see you’re frustrated, thank you for making the choice to not break that rule.”
  • “Thank you for apologising to your sister and coming back, that shows me that you are respectful and caring, I cherish those qualities in you.”
  • “I noticed that you were getting upset about not winning the game. I love that you took time to reset instead of getting really mad. That shows you have great self control! Thanks for playing a really fun game with me!”

In summary, being mindful of the energy we give to children, and the type of praise we provide, can contribute greatly to the behaviours a child demonstrates, and to the relationships we develop with our children.

Providing a child with an opportunity to ‘reset’ supports a child to regulate their emotions and to start again or to approach the situation more positively. When we provide the relationship with positive energy, it can be so powerful that children will continue to seek it and when the child is not receiving this energy from us, it is a consequence in itself.

If your child is experiencing difficulties with behaviour, play or social skills, or you want to know more about how occupational therapy could support your child, contact the team at Empowered Kids and one of our therapists will be happy to have a chat with you.