Below is an article about the Nurtured Heart Approach
Nurtured Heart Approach sessions set for April 15
By Julia Marnin – March 1, 2020
Peter Tierney’s relationship with his son, Koga, became strained
in the fall of 2018, after Koga started attending Timberlane
Tierney and his wife, Naoko, would track Koga’s academic
performance with Oncourse, the web portal by which parents can
review all of a child’s school assignments in the Hopewell Valley
Regional School District. Koga was routinely failing to turn in his
homework. “We’d be tracking this catastrophe daily,” Tierney
When they would approach their
son about the missed
assignments, he would angrily
deny any wrongdoing. They
fought with Koga, now 12, over his
lying to cover up missed
homework assignments. Although
Koga’s test scores were high, the
missed assignments were bringing
his grades down.
Tierney says Koga has been
diagnosed with inattentive ADHD,
or attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder, and that ADHD was a
reason behind his behavior. Still, knowing that did not mean the
parents did not struggle to understand and address his actions.
They worked with their son to help him get organized. When that
did not work, they took away games, they took away Koga’s
access to YouTube, they took away desserts. Nothing they tried
“It just led to more ghting and less and less work getting done,”
Koga’s failures to complete assignments would earn him rebukes
at school, and the misbehavior fed itself.
“He’d feel like an idiot for forgetting (to do his homework) and
became even less motivated to do any work. He felt depressed,
and we’d be back up at the top of the cycle, but worse,” Tierney
Things changed for the Tierney family after they were introduced
to a parenting technique that would help them make progress
with Koga and quell the hostility in their home. The technique is
called the Nurtured Heart Approach.
The Tierneys and many other parents within the Hopewell School
District have been trained in this approach in recent years by
Christine Abrahams, the supervisor of K-12 counseling services
at the Hopewell Valley School District. Abrahams is holding more
training sessions in April.
As supervisor for K-12 counseling services, Abrahams works with
counselors and principals at all of the schools in the district. She
doesn’t work with children directly, but she does work with
counselors on their cases and also comes up with ideas for
districtwide programming, including the Nurtured Heart
“As I started training more parents I saw how it was magical with
them, they got so much out of it, relationships with their
children really blossomed,” Abrahams says.
Adjusting a parent’s approach
The Nurtured Heart Approach was created by Howard Glasser. Its
main ideas are founded in three principles, or “stands”: ignore
the negative, energize the positive, and have clear rules. It seeks
to revise how parents approach issues with their children.
Using the approach has put Peter Tierney and his family on a
path towards peace. But before that could happen, Tierney had to
realize that he needed to adjust his own approach to parenting
for his son’s behavior to positively change.
Symptoms of inattentive ADHD include a short attention span,
distractibility, forgetfulness and procrastination. So in Koga’s
case, scolding had no positive eects, but it did have negative
ones. Tierney saw that Koga had begun to lose condence.
When tensions within the Tierney home were at their worst, a
friend suggested that Tierney and his wife attend the six-week
training for the Nurtured Heart Approach that Abrahams gives.
Abrahams says that when she first heard about the NHA, 10 years
ago, she wasn’t convinced that it made sense. It wasn’t until she
took the six-week training program herself a few years later that
she knew it was something she wanted to bring to the district.
The district sent her to become a certified trainer in June 2019. As
soon as she returned from training she partnered with the
Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance to offer training sessions to
parents during the year.
“I [thought], ‘This will solve a lot of relationship issues parents
are having with kids, a lot of anxiety issues that kids are having,’
she says. “As I started training more parents, I saw how it was
like magical with them. They got so much out of it. Relationships
with their children really blossomed.”
Abrahams says a key to the Nurtured Heart Approach is helping
parents of challenging children and a way to focus on the
positive instead of the negative. The result of this approach is
often an increase of confidence and self esteem.
“Kids who are very challenging are used to being denigrated or
put down or lectured or yelled at, and that’s what they see about
themselves. They don’t see anything good,” Abrahams says.
“[NHA] gives them an alternative view of themselves — that
they are doing most things right most of the time.”
Tierney admits that implementing the NHA did not go so
smoothly during the six-week training period. However, he did
see improvements. “As soon as we changed our behavior, his
behavior changed immediately too,” Tierney says.
The Tierneys looked to focus on Koga’s positive behavior. They
praised him when he turned in his homework, instead of
castigating him when he failed to do so.
Tierney says after the change in approach, Koga started
completing and handing in homework assignments by himself.
“When we stop focusing on the negative and focused on the
positive, we didn’t have any more fights with Koga,” he says.
“He was doing little things, like taking dishes from the table to
the sink, which he’d never done before. It’s a little thing, but we
were praising him for the small things.”
The Tierneys stopped checking OnCourse as frequently as they
had before. And Tierney says he does not become too frustrated
when Koga misses an assignment, because he knows it will be
addressed by his teacher.
“We gave up that kind of control,” Tierney says. “Now, he is in
control. I think that gave him some of the confidence that he
Tierney cautions that it can be difficult to always adhere to the
method. “It’s easy to slip up and revert to bad habits,” Tierney
says. “But what remains is awareness. Even if we do behave in
our old ways, we can recognize it, speak to it, and try to avoid it
in the future. So when we fail, at least we are failing forward.”
‘It’s about energy’
Abrahams characterizes NHA as a mindfulness practice. “Not a
behavioral analysis plan for your child; it’s about energy,” she
Deepa Salvi’s daughter Rina is a 7-year-old Stony Brook
Elementary School student. One day recently, teacher Basheer
Khan told Salvi that her daughter was exhibiting negative
behavior in class. She suggested that Salvi get trained in the
Nurtured Heart approach.
What Salvi did not realize before attending the December
training sessions offered by Abrahams was that it was going to
impact her even more than it would affect her daughter.
Salvi attended the training sessions, then began to incorporate
the NHA method into daily use in her home. Like the Tierneys,
she focused on recognizing and praising her children’s positive
“We implemented it not just for one particular behavior but a lot
of behaviors,” Salvi says. “We saw a difference everyday. The
more we would focus on what she is doing right, which is kind of
contrary to how we were parenting, Rina’s behavior totally
Salvi even potty trained her two-year-old son Rohan in four days
while using the approach. “If he had an accident, we didn’t make
a big deal about it.” Salvi says. “In four days, he was in
Salvi says in the past, she would have pointed out and put more
energy toward her children’s negative behaviors.
“When we would energize the negative behaviors, those would be
the times we’d be the most connected,” she says. So sometimes
Rina would do things just for the attention, even if it was a
negative behavior,” Salvi says.
Salvi acknowledges simple actions such as when Rina and Rohan
are playing nicely together, when they clear their plates on their
own or empty their school bags. “I have to be present to notice.
Even the basic things we energize,” she says.
Praising her problem-solving successes helped Rina build
condence. Now, Salvi says, whenever Rina encounters a
problem, she will call herself a good problem solver and attempt
to tackle the issue at hand.
Salvi believes it would be a great thing if all teachers became
trained in the NHA. “I think it’s a great way to run a classroom,”
Abrahams agrees. In September, with the blessing of Tollgate
Grammar School principal Jane-Ellen Lennon and district
director of curriculum Rosetta Treece, she trained all sta at the
school. “I realized if teachers started doing it … the same
message would be getting to the child (from both), that they have
inherent greatness,” she says.
Angela Jacobs has always been a proactive parent. She has sought
out dierent parenting techniques and classes over the years as
her children, Leo and Emma, have gone through each stage of
That commitment to lifelong learning has not stopped now that
Leo and Emma are in high school. Jacobs attended Abrahams’
training in winter 2018 after hearing about it through an email
from the school district.
Leo is 18 years old and has a general diagnosed mood disorder.
He suffers with anxiety and is in a learning-disabled class.
“I think that with intellectually disabled people who often have
mood disorders, there’s so many challenges that they face—the
world can be very scary. Leo tells me that,” Jacobs says.
Jacobs is familiar with parenting approaches she refers to as
“less positive,” such as the star chart method. She would give her
children stars for completing responsibilities, and gaining stars
would lead to rewards. It worked for Emma when she was
younger, but did not for Leo.
“Once he didn’t get a star, the whole day was ruined for him. Or,
he would say he didn’t want the reward,” Jacobs says.
She has also tried the technique of counting from 1, 2, and 3
before issuing a time out if her children were engaging in
When counting did lead to a time out, the result was often not
what she was hoping for. “I found that my children would
escalate in their little quarantine. It never worked,” Jacobs says.
She tried out another parenting approach based on shaming. “A
kid is doing something wrong and you bring in an outside adult
to become a part of the situation. The theory is that the kid
misbehaving is now visible to someone that he does not want to
be visible to. The kid feels horrible,” she says.
A lot of these approaches felt uncomfortable for Jacobs,
especially the shaming technique. When she started using the
NHA and recognizing her children’s positive actions, Jacobs says
they immediately noticed.
“If my kids forgot 4 or 5 things they were supposed to do in the
morning, but I point out one things that they did well…they love
that,” she says. “They both light up when I tell them something
that they’re doing really well. Leo’s made a lot of progress
because he feels good.”
Now, Jacobs says Leo pull himself out of bad moods within
seconds, rather than them taking over his entire day.
“You don’t have to have a war with your kids,” she says. “Normal
things like not putting their dishes away, doing their laundry,
they’re not fatal…things don’t have to be so serious.”
The NHA is the first approach that has worked and had a positive
effect on both of her children.
“Being a teenager is incredibly hard and both needed some
confidence boosting. My son has had behavioral challenges since
he was younger, and that’s also one of the reasons why I do look
at different techniques [parenting],” she says.
Connecting with your kids
Managing four children’s tight schedules and different activities
was becoming diffcult for Kenyon Petura. He wanted to and the
right parenting approach that would work for all of his children,
one of which has special needs.
The Nurtured Heart Approach was his solution.
Petura attended Abrahams’ training last spring. His son Cavan,
who is 8 years old and attends Stony Brook, has epilepsy and is
developmentally delayed. Petura noticed how Cavan was
frustrated with how his wife and him were communicating with
“We were searching for a better way to get to know our children
as they are getting older, and looking for the best way to connect
with them,” Petura says.
Once he started energizing his children’s positive behavior, he
noticed how they started cooperating with him more.
Now, Petura says connecting with his children is a lot easier.
“The challenges we have with Cavan are no dierent, but now we
work as a team together, and it is a much more positive result,”
Sticking with the NHA has been the most challenging part of
implementing it for Petura and he compares it to sticking to a
diet after the third week.
He believes the NHA’s principles and training is something that
needs to be revisited, and he would attend another training
offered by Abrahams.
“As parents, the stresses of the day and other aspects of life make
keeping to the NHA principles challenging. We have come back to
many of its elements as a core approach. With consistency the
change in you and your children is very noticeable,” Petura says.
At its heart, Abrahams says, the Nurtured Heart Approach is a
lifestyle change. “You can use it with your spouse, your pets,
children,” she says.
Salvi says she has found herself implementing the ideals of the
approach in all aspects of her life.
“Initially we were doing it to be better parents. But not only has it
changed our relationship with our kids, I think it’s (also) seeped
into my relationship with my husband, my relationship with my
coworkers, and my relationship with myself,” she says. “That
was a very unexpected gift, to have this transformation not only
with the intention of transforming others or my children but also
to transform myself.”
One of the first things Abrahams tells parents in training is that
they’re not there to “fix” their children. Through the Nurtured
Heart Approach, “Parents have to look within and work on their
(own) stuff, because their buttons are being pushed,” she says.
When parents yell and punish their kids, Abrahams says, the kids
become conditioned to get an emotional charge from the
negative attention. “Versus if they’re doing something right,
they’re not noticed and that’s kind of boring,” she says. “Or at
best, a parent will say ‘Good job,’ and that doesn’t rock their
boat. When you start ramping up (the positive attention) as a
parent or a teacher, that’s what rocks their boat, and they love