Responses to “What you focus on you get more of”


Reaching out to kids

Recently I published a blog post about the importance of focusing on what we want kids to do and not on what we don’t want them to do. In the article I state, “I focus on how I want the kids to act and how they should behave. I set the expectations and standards early on, like the minute they walk into our room.” I used the DC4K, DivorceCare for Kids, group at my own church as an example.

I got two responses very quickly. One response on Twitter said, “LOVED this and shared with some of my group leaders who serve with our outreach kids. Thanks!”

I think this KidMin person is wise to use some of the information with their outreach kids.

  • Outreach kids are not church kids.
  • They act out because they don’t know how they are supposed to act in church.
  • They might not be familiar with expectations or what the leaders want from them.
  • When leaders constantly give attention to the negative behaviors, then the kids act out even more simply because that is what gets them the attention they so desperately need.

The second response came via a private message on Facebook. This is a colleague who ministers to stepfamily situations. Her response was, “I know from experience that children act out differently in a group setting such as DC4K vs home. A person of authority and setting firm boundaries is also key in a group setting. But what would you suggest to a stepfamily …” She goes on to give details about a specific situation where things got out of control.

My answer to her

The premise is still the same whether in a home setting or a group setting. The adult is going to have to speak from a sense of what they want more of. It is spoken with a “this is how it is” voice or a matter-of-fact voice.

I know from personal experience this to be true because at one point I took legal guardianship of my 15-year-old great nephew. He was in so much trouble—facing juvie, using, and by January had skipped 40 days of school. He was a mess. When he came into my home, I used that kind of voice, the, “This is how things are in my home” voice. Gave him a lot of choices. Told him what I expected from him even if he had never acted like that before. I concentrated on what I wanted him to do. (I’ll be talking about this situation in more detail on another blog post.)

Single-parent and stepfamily situations

A lot of times behaviors get out of control in single-parent homes and in stepfamilies. It is easy for the adults to start issuing orders and commands expecting the children to just do it. However, what many adults don’t realize during the moment they are issuing these commands is these kids usually have two or more sets of home rules to follow and they are stressed-out kids. Also the adults are sometimes operating from heartbreak, fear, and under tremendous stress.

Put all of these conditions together and one is going to experience an explosion of sorts. If the adults concentrate on

  • Why don’t you ever …
  • How come you never…
  • How many times do I have to tell you …
  • What did you think you were doing? (Said in a sarcastic or angry voice)
  • A child’s screaming tantrum/meltdown
  • A child running away
  • A child throwing things or punching things

Then the adult is going to get more of these kinds of behaviors. In my experience of ministering to these families, it is guaranteed!

If you are ministering to a family that already has these issues, here are a couple of major things the adults can do: change their conversation and tone of voice.

Suggested conversation starters

  1. Son, what upset you so much?
  2. What did you want from us (me)?
  3. Sweetie, what was the reason you started screaming?
  4. What do you want to say now about what happened?
  5. I don’t have a consequence or punishment for you. I’m more concerned about your welfare right now. I want you to feel like you are part of this family, and as a family we have to work together.
  6. (For stepparents) “Son, how do you think I should have handled things with your sister? Keep in mind I want what is best for her.”
  7. After the child tells the parent, then the parent can say something like, “I’ll keep all that you have said in mind. Thanks for sharing with me.”

If the adult gets upset in a situation and starts throwing out consequences with an angry voice right away, then I can tell you there will be more screaming, more meltdowns, more shouting, more misbehaviors, and more running away.

Please understand I’m not saying there should never be consequences for a child’s actions or for breaking the rules. For children in hurting single-parent homes and newly formed stepfamilies, the adults need to focus on what they want more of and not what they don’t want. Consequences can come later when relationships have been cemented in the stepfamily and emotionally healthy single-parent homes have been established.


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on November 12, 2014.

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