In October I attended the Association of Educational Therapists conference and heard Dr. Tina Bryson’s keynote. She had plenty of great advice, best summed up this way: “When a kid’s not behaving, what if it’s a can’t, not a won’t?”
How many of us have told a child that he’s simply not trying hard enough, or threatened punishments for a kid who doesn’t listen? No doubt, we parents and teachers are often justified in our exasperation. It is our responsibility to teach children to work hard and respect adults. We certainly are correct in assigning appropriate consequences when they don’t listen.
But when it’s a pattern of behavior, it’s time to consider if the approach needs to change.
Realistically, every child wants to succeed and no child wants to be yelled at. When children are constantly getting into trouble, they often don’t know why they are misbehaving. Or they can’t explain it. More often than not, they lack the skills they need to change their behavior on their own. So they respond with defiance, repeating their mistakes (despite often great effort to do better), or ignoring you. And let’s face it, we adults might respond similarly.
If this sounds familiar, perhaps it is time to uncover why kids aren’t doing what we asked, even if we think they are capable. Then, rather than telling them what to do, we help them learn how to do it. Kids can and will change, but adults might need to show them how.
If you accept Dr. Bryson’s premise that your child’s difficulty might be a can’t not a won’t there’s a wonderful book worth reading, The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross Greene. If your child has weaker flexible thinking, you might be noticing behaviors similar to his ‘explosive child’. Even if your child’s behavior is less pronounced, his three step solution is on target for most every recurring problem:
2) define the problem for your child; and
3) collaborate on a solution.
Greene’s approach can help bring an end to a repeating behavioral problem. And if your child’s difficulty has more to do with learning, social or physical limitations, step one can help you begin to unravel it.
So in this holiday season, as the child you love acts not quite so perfectly, take a breath and ask yourself, is it a can’t and not a won’t? It likely will make for a much happier 2016.
If you haven’t yet read our Empowering Parents series, you might find that it helps to better understand your own family’s concerns: Empowering Parents: A Premature Arrival, Empowering Parents: Sibling Surprises, Empowering Parents: Our Founder’s Story
And please consider contributing your story.