Friday, August 18, 2017
When young children don’t do what we want, we call it misbehaving. We often get upset, and then we attempt to change their behavior with various kinds of punishment from scolding to time-outs and beyond. What if we could reframe these situations in our own thinking and thereby maintain our calm, AND enact an effective method to change the child’s behavior? It is possible, and I’ll tell you how.
First of all it is important to realize that a young child is a creature of habit, even more than we are. If a child has the habit of whining, or a habit of taking toys that another child is already using, we must understand that the habit started as a strategy to get what the child wants or needs. A strategy that works is used again, and again, and again, and becomes a habit.
Adults tend to think, “Oh, that behavior is bad, or wrong, or not appropriate, or....” But actually, the strategy is effective and successful. Actually, the strategy is good. The unfortunate part is the other person in the interaction did not like what happened.
So we adults have to start thinking, “How can I offer a different strategy for the child?”
And one way to change behavior with young children is to offer them something you would be happy if they imitated. Instead of scolding, how about if you say what you hope the child (eventually) begins to imitate?
Young children learn by imitation, and we have to learn how to work with that principle.
When a child runs into the house and leaves the door open, you can gently close the door while saying, “I like the door to be closed.”
When a child takes a toy from another, you can hold out your hand, palm up, and say, “It is his turn now.” And hand the toy back to the one who previously had it. And add, “You can have a turn next.”
You might have to do this 10 times, or 100 times, or ???? Eventually one of the children will start to say what you have been saying. As the child comes over to take the toy again, the one with the toy may say, “It’s my turn. You can have it next.”
Or the child comes over to the one with the toy and says. “Can I have a turn next?”
It really is this simple. And it works.
It is based on you, the adult, and your calmness and understanding. This is a strategy. I can offer a new strategy. And I can use imitation as the method of teaching that new strategy.
(Here is the group of teachers and parents I worked with in Xi'an, China, earlier this month.)
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
I often say ‘It is not about the child, it’s about the parent, or teacher.’
The reason is neurology.
When we are young, we develop strategies for getting our needs met. These strategies offer us some amount of feelings of safety, satisfaction or connection, and we fall back on these strategies because they work (to some degree). Strategies that we use over and over again become our habits, our reaction patterns. When stress rises up for us, when people don’t do what we want, we react. These reactions have become conditioned, patterned responses in our behavior and our neurology. From my previous posts, you can understand when I say that these habits, these reaction patterns, live in an interaction between our Reptilian Brain and our Limbic System.
Now what if it is a young child that isn’t doing what we want? First of all our reaction pattern kicks in, usually to ‘attack’ the child in some way. When we use shame as a weapon, when we blame the child or the like, we are attacking. That is what it feels like. When we punish the child in any and various ways, it is attacking.
Additionally we are using our power over the child to get what we want. We have more physical size and strength, as well as more connection to our own ‘self.’ We become a ‘bully’ toward our child. And in doing so, we are damaging the connection between us and our child.
The child reacts to this danger from the depths of his brain stem, the Reptile Brain, to alleviate the threat. Guess what? Learning is a function of the Limbic System. We want the child to ‘learn’ not to do something, but we create an impossible to learn-from situation. All he can do is protect himself, usually by retreating or freezing. The part of the brain that does learning is not active.
Our child loves us, and love is based on trust; trust in safety and connection. When we use attack reactions to get what we want, the child experiences a lack of safety and a lack of connection. When you do your reaction habit, you are not home. Your habit is in charge. Your prefrontal cortex is not in play - just your Reptile and Limbic systems.
So the child feels the love, and also feels the potential for danger, for non-safety. The love has become conditional on behavior. So the child withdraws a little each time in the face of the danger you present.
Of course we want our children to learn. Unfortunately what they are learning is our reaction techniques. They imitate us.
What sort of example do you want to be?
Do you want to create an environment of unconditional love for your child?
It is up to you.
You have a prefrontal cortex. Use it, and make yourself worthy of imitation.
Overcome your reaction patterns and be present to creating solutions in the moment.
Saturday, January 28, 2017
This is a story for everyone. And especially for my children, my grandchildren and all the young children of our world.
Once there was a small pussy cat. She had white and grey stripes, and her ears were pink. Every day she walked down the path, looking at the flowers, playing with the butterflies and going about her business.
Most days nothing troubled her, but sometimes she met an old, Grouchy Dog. He seemed like a cross between a jackal and a hyena. He didn’t like anyone, and especially anyone walking on his path, as he called it. When little Pussy walked by, he growled at her and sometimes would chase her and try and grab her and bite her. She was quick though, and always stayed out of his reach.
One day little Pussy was talking to Raccoon and she told him about Grouchy Dog.
“That dog is so grouchy. No one likes being growled at,” said Raccoon.
“And I don’t like being chased by that scary old Dog,” said Pussy.
Rabbit said, “We have to do something. Today he is trying to grab little Pussy. Tomorrow it could be our children.”
“Yes,”said Squirrel. “It could be our children, or even us.”
The animals had a forest meeting. Many animals spoke in agreement. Some were scared. Some seemed too busy to be bothered. And some just wanted to ignore it all.
They met for a long time. Finally Fox said, “This is about all of us. It is our forest, our world. If we don’t do something, no one will. We are the ones. This is about the safety of all of us.”
“What then will we do?” said wise old Mr. Owl.
There was silence as they all thought.
Finally, Rabbit spoke up. “What if we all wear pink pussy ears to show we care about Pussy and to show Grouchy Dog we won’t stand for this any more.”
There was silence again, but only for a moment.
Then Mr. Owl said, “That just might work.”
Now it so happened that Raccoon was a knitter and a very good one at that. He soon had knitted pink pussy ear hats for them all.
The next time Pussy walked down her regular path, Grouchy Dog growled at her. As soon as he started to run at her to grab her, Pussy held up her little paw and said, “Stop!”
“Why should I?” said Dog.
“Because I don’t like it.”
Raccoon stepped out from behind a tree with his pussy hat. Rabbit hopped up from behind Dog. Squirrel scampered down the tree with her pussy hat. Fox sauntered along with his pussy hat.
Even Mama Dog and her three puppies came out , all with their pussy hats.
Grouchy Dog was surprised.
Raccoon said, “We don’t like what you are doing to our friend, Pussy.”
Fox said, “We won’t let you bother her.”
Rabbit said, “We want you to leave her alone.”
“We all want to feel safe,” said Squirrel.
And Mama Dog said, “We will always be here to protect Pussy. You can’t bother her anymore.”
Old Dog stood there and growled at them all. All the animals got closer together until they were standing shoulder to shoulder, wearing their pink pussy hats. Grouchy Dog realized they were all in it together to protect Pussy and each other, and he could not overcome them all.
Then Rabbit said, “You can be our friend if only you will stop growling at us, and stop trying to bite us.”
Grouchy Dog thought for a minute and said, “No, I don’t think so.”
And Grouchy Dog turned around and went back to his home which was a sort of a hole in the ground. And he never bothered Pussy, or any of the other animals again.