“Behavior” versus “the condition.” ~ Doc Meek

lesson bad behavior comes with consequences children parents and ...

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Friday, March 24, 2011. Today I am grateful for the distinction between “behavior” and “the condition.” This has proven to be controversial so all the more worthy of presentation here.

When a child has some kind of “condition” such that his/her behavior is problematic or unpredictable, there is a tendency to not be able to make the distinction between “the behavior” and “the condition.”

For example, the emotionally unstable child (or the autistic child) may have an “emotional outburst” or a “temper tantrum” and scatter their basket of crayons/coloring books (whatever) all over the floor by throwing them off the table or desk.

There is a tendency for responsible adults (parents, teachers, teacher aides, caregivers) to “excuse” the behavior because they feel the behavior is is “caused” by “the condition” from which the child is suffering. And it well may be.

And love, care and concern for the child in relation to his/her condition often causes hesitation as to the appropriate response.

Regardless of what the “cause” is though, the child needs some realistic feedback, usually immediately. (Some advocate waiting until the child “cools off” a little and is not so “emotional” and their is merit in this in some cases.) To “excuse” the behavior out of love, care or concern is not usually helpful to the child long-term. Immediate feedback is usually the most helpful to the child long-term.

Almost always, the need is for the child to receive immediate feedback about his/her behavior, irrespective of his/her “condition.”

So in the case of the emotional scattering of crayons, books, toys, whatever, the adult should say to the child authoritatively, “Pick them up and put them back.” If the child is too young and or emotional to respond promptly, the adult takes the child’s hands in his/her own hands, and helps the child pick up the scattered items, much like the operator of a crane might make the machinery “do the right thing” by direct handling of the controls. Or perhaps it is more like a puppet show operator moving the puppets by direct action.

This is the way that the child moves most rapidly and appropriately towards more “responsible behavior” even if the child is not at the moment capable of responding appropriately on his/her own.

Here’s the catch though. The adult has to be calm. No angry yelling and grabbing of the child in anger will do the job. (This is because, obviously, the adult is now out of control and not behaving appropriately and the negative example is no help at all to the child, regardless of how the adult feels about the situation emotionally.)

If the adult calmly and dispassionately takes the child’s hands in his/her own and moves the child’s hands in such a way that the child’s hands grasp the scattered objects one by one, however awkwardly, and restores them to their place, the adult has “won the day,” regardless of how upset the child is.

It is easier (and far quicker) for adult and child to “behave” their way to a new set of behaviors, than it is for them to “discuss” or “believe” or “theorize” their way to a new set of behaviors.

What do you think?

Doc Meek, Fri, Mar 25, 2011, Sherwood Park, Alberta, CANADA

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