Ask "What's Working?" through Appreciative Inquiry

Ask “What’s Working?” through Appreciative Inquiry

It’s approaching the end of October. (In some places) the air is cooler, the leaves have changed colors and are falling off the trees. Notebooks have lost their fresh clean smell, pencils are beginning to dull and students’ report cards and progress reports are coming home. By now, most parents have met with their children’s teachers, attended back to school night, and after school routines are fully in swing. Once Halloween comes, the frantic rhythm of the holiday season doesn’t slow down until after the new year.

Before we are completely swept up by the accelerating race to the end of the year, it’s time to pause for a moment and take stock. Let’s stop and ask ourselves some fundamental questions in the name of preserving our sanity and well being:

What’s going well?
What’s been working?
What approaches, tools or practices have you tried that are helping your family flourish?
Which practices can you make habits?

Be honest – were you surprised by these questions? Did you expect me to ask “What’s been going wrong?” You probably did.

A friend of mine who’s a developmental pediatrician shared with me that he sees a spike in his behavioral consultation appointments in October, as negative feedback from school mounts and parents feel more helpless about how to help their children stay on track and succeed academically and behaviorally in school and at home. I know from my own experience, no matter how my child was motivated to do well in school, stay organized, and maintain the “I’ve got this” attitude, by this time of the year we often felt discouraged, overwhelmed, and less than optimistic.

Thankfully, I had friends and professionals in my life who helped me shift my attention from desperately trying to fix what was going wrong to celebrating what was going right. From focusing on what my child’s weaknesses and deficits were to helping me identify his strengths and develop a plan to build on them and realize his potential. To emphasize his character qualities — his enthusiasm, curiosity, compassion, leadership, courage, and creativity — and to continue to foster his resilience and optimism. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were teaching me how to use a positive psychology tool called “Appreciative Inquiry.”

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What is “Appreciative Inquiry”? It’s exactly what it sounds like from its definition:

Ap-pre’ci-ate, v., 1. valuing; the act of recognizing the best in people or the world around us; affirming past and present strengths, successes, and potentials; to perceive those things that give life (health, vitality, excellence) to living systems 2. to increase in value, e.g. the economy has appreciated in value. Synonyms: VALUING, PRIZING, ESTEEMING, and HONORING.

In-quire’ (kwir), v., 1. the act of exploration and discovery. 2. To ask questions; to be open to seeing new potentials and possibilities. Synonyms: DISCOVERY, SEARCH, and SYSTEMATIC EXPLORATION, STUDY.

Scientific research in Appreciative Inquiry shows that focusing on what’s going right, as well as addressing how to improve deficits or problems areas, leads to our becoming more successful, makes us happier and supports our overall well being. And as renowned positive psychologist Tal Ben Shahar likes to say “when you appreciate the good, the good appreciates.” Not only do we recognize the best in people and the world around us, but by appreciating we increase the value of the good we are recognizing.

So, as a parent in “October overload,” I’m inviting you to ask “what’s going right?” and to share your stories about what’s been working in your family. Together we can build a supportive community of parents with perspective.

Yours in parenting,

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