Some people assume that their words have magical powers; like when a father tells his son to concentrate and worker harder. How many times does he have to say this? Does his son’s brain automatically change gears and get right to it? Test the idea and watch what happens. Just stand there and say “work harder and concentrate”. Write down the number of times you can say this in a day and mark down the amount of progress noted. If you have to say it, there isn’t much of a chance, until you do some work.
In order to see new results, we sometimes have to mix in new types of activities and boost our vocabulary. Our brains and bodies have a hard time running on empty when we’re expected to pick up on a different way of doing things. To expect otherwise is like waiting for some magic potion or fairy dust sprinkled, or the wave of a magic wand.
This is why I carry around a kitchen timer and other tools in my therapy bag when visiting the schools. It helps a person to know where the limits are, so we can establish a direction (and get out the timer). If concentration fails after thirty seconds, then we obviously need to work towards a minute. Of course there has to be some personal motivation behind it. Maybe the kid wants to get something done right the first time and not spend hours on homework in detention or after school. But then, maybe he likes this kind of punishment. There maybe some gain in attention from adults in this respect and he likes it.
Nevertheless, this persons brain may not know how to just get with it at will. And so we educate. Knowledge is power right! Yeah, the reader can fight me on this, but he or she may want to know how I help the client with an awareness of their own type of thinking. And this is where the drawing pad comes in handy. Over the course of many sessions, I have observed the results in black, white and color how different people (kids) respond to the directive “make a picture”. The subject of a drawing could be an emotional situation or a simple description of the family. If markings are made all over the paper in an erratic fashion and the picture is not being completed, I will take back the pad and draw an outline of something; number the parts and have him color it in by the numbers: 1-10.
If the child or preteen responds well to competing for stickers, I say “Each part has to be colored in order. If you start with any number but one, you don’t get a sticker”. The task sounds elementary. To some artistically inclined people, the exercise of coloring in parts by correct order probably goes against the virtue of creativity, but let me explain. There is my observation of how relaxed and methodical a person becomes when doing such an activity. The brain, hand and use of coordination has to work in a step-by-step manner. The task gets done and it actually makes sense! And here, we have a prescribed way of doing things many times over. Repetition is the mother of skill.
First, I will ask the reader to look at the difference between “argue” and “debate.” Quite a few of us in American culture can run into some confusion, because of our pioneering spirit. We cherish our independence. A lot of early training in the families of this country, reflects the value in standing up for what we believe. Otherwise, there would not be much protest against government agencies trying to dictate how to raise the kids and run the household. We don’t like being told what to do, period. I for one, hope that this healthy attitude continues. Human beings are not sheep.
When a person is in debate of an issue, he does best when ready with a convincing set of facts. His platform for debate may not guarantee a win of the most votes, but he can at least pavé the road to a later credible battle. Unlike argument, which is a behavior based on emotional defense, the act of debating serves a purpose. The opponent is invited to share information and the goal here is to clarify the gravity of the issue. A solution is eventually reached. In arguments, there is nothing but an angry push from each person to see who is the strongest. And when emotion is ruling the behavior on each side, the information (if any) is only distorted and both parties are further from a solution. So another day goes by without anything productive happening. It’s just a cycle of futility. To argue needlessly is akin to climbing a mountain made of butter with cellophane shoes.
My way of helping to curb the impulse to argue or be led into an argument is simple and easy. Of course, this works best when there is a personal acknowledgement of the costs about such behavior. The method has to do with using physical cues to help monitor the rate of impulsive acts. Your job is to cut down on the number of times per day, that a disagreement or behavior triggers an emotional reaction. For example, if six-year-old Johnny says the “No T.V. after 7:00 at night rule” is stupid and you are starting in with “No it’s not” then go ahead and put a colored chip labeled “I argued again” in the designated can. I’ve been known to label the cans for this kind of process, with words that remind the client of what we talked about in the session. Bringing a souvenir home from vacation has the same effect.
Ever done the “pocket of rocks” exercise? It entails filling your pockets with rocks and only taking one out to drop it on the ground when you let go of a usual behavior. We’re talking about self-defeating behaviors such as avoiding the person who you have a problem with. In order to get rid of a rock, talk to the person and bring up the issue. There’s no guarantee of you and the person straightening things out right away, but the avoidance is over. The pain-in-the-ass action of hiding your feelings and thoughts is past, at least in this respect. To talk is a way to add dimension to the issue and offer yourself and other people with a choice of what to do on the matter.
Many of us assume that because our thoughts and feelings exist, the other people in our lives will automatically know how we stand on everything. Because of this, we expect these people to behave a certain way. But we end up being surprised and hurt on a daily basis. And it turns out that none of us have acquired the ability to read minds. People young and old, whether you think it’s right or not, are going to go about their business towards needs and wants of the moment. No amount of protest is going to make any lasting difference. An occasional demonstration of anger is much like hearing a car backfire while walking down the street. Some people might feel startled and look in that direction, but are soon continuing to walk on. So a noise was made. Big deal.
Most of us do pay attention to established rules. Rules are based on the costs and benefits of certain behaviors. The cost of my son yelling and screaming while I’m on the phone, is that I’m only hearing part of what the other person says. I’m missing out on information and have to ask the caller to repeat himself. Now I have to spend a longer time on the phone. More time on the phone, means less time doing something else which is important to me and my son. This means we lose all around. New household rule: Quiet when someone is on the phone. The consequence to disobeying this rule is…
The rule is made aware by discussing the costs and benefits with all household occupants and then posting it in a central place. Now it’s out of your head and on paper or poster board. Everyone can see it and you don’t have to rely on the fantasy of mind-reading.