Friday, February 25, 2011

Turning Don'ts into Do's

A couple days ago I attended a parenting workshop at P's preschool put on by a parent counselor from the awesome Project Enlightenment (in fact, the very same counselor who saw our family and helped us in ways I can't even begin to describe). The workshop was "Tips on Firmness and Limit Setting." It was only an hour and pretty much a rehash of a lot of what she'd already told me in our counseling sessions, but even so, man did I need to hear it!

A few things really, REALLY stuck with me, such as:
-Misbehavior is typically a sign of a missing skill. A child often misbehaves because they simply do not know how to act in a situation and need to be taught.
-My job is to be a teacher and coach, not a dictator or punisher. I'm a parent, I need to teach them and give them the skills to live life fully and successfully.
-Turn your Don'ts into Do's.

Oh, did that last one get me.

To help get her point across, the counselor spoke about how children are visual thinkers and by saying "don't do ____" you are giving them a distinct visual and they will act on that visual. By saying "do ___" instead and redirecting and/or giving an alternate option, you are painting a different visual and they will often act on that visual.

I accidentally tried this the next day (yesterday) when I was helping parent in P's class. I saw a child scratching at a wall mural and before I could catch myself I had blurted out "B, don't scratch the paint!" Next thing I know not only is he still scratching the paint but two other children (yeah, including mine) joined in. It hadn't occurred to them that they could do that until I painted the visual in their heads. As soon as I said an alternative the boys moved on and forgot the wall. It was... amazing really.

In the workshop, the counselor really wanted to bring home the ineffectiveness of "don't do ___" to all of us. And so, pausing and looking around a group of a dozen or so adult women, she began saying, "don't sit." We all sat there, like "wha? What am I supposed to do? Is she talking to me?" She kept saying it, firmly, "don't sit, don't sit, don't sit." She had to say it 6 times before a woman, who had taken this course before, stood up. Even having done this before the woman forgot what she was supposed to do and the rest of us just sat there confused.

"Why didn't you stop sitting and stand up?" she asked.

We all were taken aback and tried to figure it out. Here we are, totally rational and capable adults, given a clear and simple command, and none of us obeyed... why was that?

"Well... we didn't know what you wanted us to do... I guess you wanted us to stand, but I wasn't sure," said one woman.

"I just kept thinking, 'but I'm already sitting, she wants me to stop?'," said another.

"Yes," said the counselor, "and the child is already running, or already coloring on the walls, or already throwing food. And they have no idea what you want them to do other than what they're already doing."

I think my mind blew up a bit then.

Seriously, for a second it was like I actually saw how tough it must be to be a small child, MY child no less, constantly being told "no this" and "don't do that" and "stop doing that!"

So for the past couple days I've been working my brain really hard, trying to catch myself and come up with alternatives.

Try not to punish. Try to coach. Try not to belittle. Try to teach. Don't assume misbehavior is intentional. Don't assume they already innately have the skills I hope to see. Don't assume they know how to behave. Understand that they are small, that they are learning, and that you are their number one teacher. Understand that your goal is to help them learn these missing skills.

I've been chanting this over in my head somewhat, and already I've noticed some shocking changes.

Not just in the 5 year old, but even in my little 16 month old.

Instead of "no, you can't do that" I tell P "you may get your shoes on now and head to the car." I have to say it a few times, but oddly enough... he does it. Like, without warnings or counting or (rather hollow) threats or raising my voice or any of it. And going to the bathroom. And picking up. And eating. And listening. I'm... shocked.

And the baby! "No hitting... er.... hugging! Yeah, no hit, hug!" Next thing I know he's hugging everyone. "No hitting with stick... drum on the chair!" Wow, in about 24 hours he went from total little terror (okay, utterly adorable if mildly violent young toddler) to listening and trying to please and do as directed. Of course he wouldn't listen to no hit, he had no idea what I wanted him to do instead of hitting!


I'm very much considering seeing this counselor in her private practice. I need to find out fees, insurance, etc. We may need some help whenever #3 joins the family with keeping us on track as a family, and that's what I really love about her: she "treats" the whole family. And not in a psychological sense, but in a gentle, understanding, and common sense approach. She was the person who really brought home the sleep deprivation in our home and helped us to find a schedule that worked for us all, for P to get a full night's sleep and for Nik and I to get the bare minimum required to function until Ambrose got to the point of sleeping through the night.

I have to say, after seeing three different offices regarding P (one focused on behavioral, one on physical, one on psychological) I have to say that the one on behavioral, this counselor and her services, was by far the best and we feel the one that really worked for our family and for P. The difference was stunning!

Sorry, I really just cannot stop singing the praises of Project Enlightenment. I wish everyone throughout the world had access to such a place. Fingers crossed that state funding will allow for all of their previous services to be reinstated.

In the meantime, they have free workshops and if they involve free childcare like Wednesdays, I may just become a workshop junky!

No comments: