Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Toxic Free Zone: Rewriting the Script, Part Three

A couple of years ago, I read the very smart and funny book, "Why Men Marry Bitches."  The author maintains that men think that women are too emotional.  Consequently, they tend to shut them out during arguments or negotiations. A woman sounds less than rational to a man when she starts talking about her feelings when trying to reach consensus.  She suggests that a better way to get what you want when negotiating with a man is to jettison the feeling words, and use terms like strategy, analyze, sensible, logical, and objective instead.

"How would you feel if someone did that to you?"

I used to just dread hearing that when I was a kid.  If I even thought a grownup was going to head in that direction, I would leave my body so quickly you could see the skid marks.

So when I started working with children and heard that exact same phrase coming out of my mouth, I knew I needed to call for a rewrite, stat.

Do grown men know how they really feel?  In my experience, often they don't.  Do I know how I really feel? Much of the time, not until I have had the chance to mull it over.  Preferably in private.

So how can we expect four year old boys to be able to pinpoint just how they would really feel, especially when we are being hypothetical?   How many emotions can you name off the top of your head?  Mad, bad, sad, glad. That's about it.  I was once at a school observation where a kindergarten teacher was trying to get twenty restless children to sit still and think of some examples of how people feel.  "Hungry?" one boy asked, uncertainly.  The other kids knew this wasn't right, but couldn't come up with much else.  I had to restrain myself from suggesting that she give it up as a bad job and let the poor kids go to recess, which they were obviously dying to do.

I have come to realize, however, that a large part of my responsibility to the children I treat is to help to socialize them.  It's unfortunately true that most children do not come into this world with a fully developed sense of empathy and must be taught to think of others.  I have to do my part, along with the rest of the adults in the child's orbit.

In order to not have to utter the dreaded phrase, I have taken to substituting, "I wonder what you would think of me if I...?"  By asking the child what he would think of me, the onus is off the child, and is now on me for my bad behavior, which the child thinks is hilarious.  It's a more teachable moment when the child is not feeling attacked, shamed, or intruded on.

Here is my old script:  

I am working with a child at home, sitting at a table in his bedroom.  I pull out a bag of therapy supplies.  Child grabs it out of my hand and starts rummaging through it, exclaiming, "What's in here?"

Me: {Outraged, judgmental voice} How would you feel if I did that to you?

Child:  Shrugs and pouts.  

Connection between us is broken.  Now I have to work extra hard to  reestablish our rapport and get him interested in the project I was about to introduce.

New script:

Me: Now, I wonder what you would think of me if I started going through the drawers in your dresser?  You would probably think to yourself, "Wow, that lady is really nosy!  She should learn how to keep her hands to herself!  Who does she think she is, coming in my room in my house and going through my things?  What's in my dresser is none of her business."

Child:  Giggles and hands back the bag.  We hunker down and get to work.  Later in the session, he starts to grab something out of my hand, then stops himself.

Another young boy that I see has problems with body awareness and pragmatic social skills, like turn taking.  When I first met him, he barreled through doors ahead of others who were in front of him, often pushing others aside to get through the door before them, and he did not understand the concept of turn taking during games or sports activities.  Along with the usual sensory integration techniques for improving his body scheme, I  asked him what he would think of me if I shoved him aside every time we walked through a door together so I could go ahead of him.  "You're not nice!" he said promptly.  "Right!"  I said.  "What else?"

  "I was there first!"

"What else would you think of me?"

"Don't push me, I don't like it!"

The beauty of this is that he immediately understood what I was driving at and never did it again.  He did better at turn taking, too, after I asked him what he would think of me if I grabbed all of the cards out of his hand and knocked his hand away from the game board.

If you try these techniques, let me know how it turns out.


Gillian in Wales said...

I love this idea. Thank you so much for giving me some alternative words to use - ones I can see how helpful they could be.

Now to just programme them in to my brain...

Gillian in Wales said...

To my almost three year old who kept poking at me, "What would you think of me if I kept tickling you, even if you told me to stop? If I didn't listen to you and kept doing it?"

"It'd be mean."

(Mentally, "Wow, it worked! He got the idea.!")

"So if you keep poking me when I've asked you to stop, I guess that'd be mean, too."

No reply, but he did stop poking me... :-)