Friday, December 30, 2011

Developing Strategies for Dealing with Children's Difficult Behaviours

by Beverley Paine

Today I was given some examples of a child’s behaviour that challenged her parent and was specifically asked for ideas about what to do and how to handle each situation.  Another friend gave some great ideas which I’ve tried in the past with my children and which have worked, so instead of adding more ideas I thought the issue from a philosophical or general perspective: what is really needed and being asked of here?
All parents have wisdom to share: we learn from our experiences and our experiences tend to be fairly similar in most things. What I love most about the internet is how it allows this wonderful conversation to develop between people: a rebuilding on the social networks that were destroyed by two world wars,
famine and disease and the embracing of the ‘nuclear age’ in the first half of the 20th century.

My first instinct when asked parenting questions is to consider ages/stages and then transitions. We definitely go through stages of develop at roughly similar ages throughout life and just knowing that can take the 'heat' off some of our concerns. I've found that my expectations that my child will behave in a certain way often have less to do with her development and more to do with what I perceive other people will think. This is my schooling combined with a schooled parenting framework (my personal childhood conditioning) coming into play: my self esteem was hijacked in my early years and subverted to serve this thing society likes to label 'socialisation' but which is actually a mere subset of the actual socialisation process. 

So, first thing for me to be - as a much wiser, older parent who has seen the error of her ways and observed many other families - is to step back and try to work out what is really going on in each situation. I would examine the nature of the child and ask myself:

a) Is this behaviour coming from her centre, or is it reflected behaviour, projected behaviour, is she merely 'trying out' something she has seen? Children, especially very young children, mimic behaviour. They can learn some powerful and lasting habits this way! We all do.

b) If it is coming from her centre and you do not value it, question why you don't. Are your values solid, are they centred? Regardless of the answer: Can you change? Do you want to change? Can you accommodate her personality, needs, abilities, disposition, temperament, likes, dislikes? Our children challenge us to grow and develop. I like to think that is why we bring them into our world, to teach us what we need. It is so easy to ignore the lessons brought to us by strangers, parents, friends, books, movies, nature, life... Hard to ignore the lessons brought to us by our children!

c) Okay, you definitely don't like it, it's not helpful, it's not constructive, you've decided there isn't a lot to be learned from it (open your mind wider - there is so much to be learned on many levels in each moment from every experience): this is the time to develop strategies for either living with, changing, eliminating, or whatever, the offending behaviour or situation. Time to brainstorm with all the people affected (if possible). I love brainstorming because it doesn't get into judgment - it is a visualising, creative, imaginative fest where ideas are allowed to float to the top, get jotted or drawn on a sheet or paper (whatever allows everyone to do the recording too). No idea is good, bad, silly or brilliant. They are merely fodder for the strategy fest that is to come next. I tend to select strategies and solutions that 'build', have somewhere to grow and usually support or solve other problems at the same time. That's my permaculture framework learning coming into play.

d) The hard part, the bit that often isn't fun and no one wants to do or maintain, is working at the strategy. Habits take a while to form and can take even longer to change. Change requires diligence and persistence as well as constantly reminding oneself of the desired outcome (continue the dreaming and visualising), together with celebrating the process of change. We celebrate progress, we celebrate where we are at, we celebrate the journey; we celebrate simply being as well as doing, without judging ourselves on the journey or our progress. We observe and note what is happening and from there decide what to do next. We work on acting rather than reacting and we do this by sharing, by talking, reflecting and dreaming together, developing and trying different strategies together. We can do this with people of any age, from tiny babies to toothless grannies!

To summarise: observe and understand the inherent nature of the child. Understand, from a sympathetic perspective, her needs. Wants respond to and arise from our needs. See the need. Meet the need. Wants often set up oppositional or defensive reactions in ourselves and others: learning to uncover the need driving the want dissolves this tension and allows us to genuinely and sympathetically help people meet their needs.
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