Schools have already reopened in my community which reminds me of the need for intentionality in how we guide our children through the school year. Parents and students all hope for a good year, one that filled with learning--both academic and relational--and grows their ability to be in the driver's seat of their lives. (After all, the point of parenting is to put ourselves out of a job: to raise kids that can succeed on their own.) So, how do we accomplish this vital goal? Operating purely on intuition is not enough; we need a plan--a map--that shows the route we intend to take.
To design any functional map, we must know two facts: the departure point and the destination. The shortest route would simply draw a straight line from point A to point B. But life is never that linear, that free from unexpected obstacles and delays. We must plan for contingencies, pack supplies for "emergencies", and draw out alternate routes "just in case." What landmarks (benchmarks) do we want our kids to achieve? Keep in mind that our actions make a broader impact than our words. "Do as I say, not as I do," never works. Our actions must reflect and embody our words and expectations. Make a list of possible goals.
We must exemplify whatever is on our “wish” list. This provides the model and the proof of our commitment to it. What behaviors do we wish to see? How do we encourage/reinforce these behaviors when our children demonstrate them? How are we modeling the same behaviors? How do we extinguish undesirable behaviors? Remember the distinction between discipline and consequences. The first aims to teach; the second aims to punish.
What skills do our children want to develop?
It’s important that they participate in goal defining and setting. This is an important mindset and is a skill that benefits from practice. Clarity helps to focus their choices and it strengthens their commitment and desire. We must validate and understand their goals, dreams and motivations, then discern how we can help them define, refine, and accomplish them.
What skills do we want them to develop?
Getting self up in the morning
Putting forth full effort
Learning from mistakes
Playing a sport
Being physically active
Managing tech time
Expanding their circle of friends
Showing respect for teachers
Create a work/life balance
Identifying their personal strengths as well as growth points
Seeing school as a tool that helps them accomplish their life goals
What values do we want them to embrace?
Confidence, competence, courage, resilience,
persistence, compassion, service, open-mindedness,
curiosity, conviction, self-discipline, delayed gratification,
emotional balance, joy, conscience, morality, humor,
awareness, creativity, forgiveness of others and self,
respect for self and others, truth telling and truth seeking
What habits do we want them to internalize?
Make time for self-reflection
When we demonstrate intentionality about our personal and family goals we show our children not only that planning is essential for success but also we prove it is a priority for us, it's part of our approach to goal accomplishment. It also reduces the chaos of living with a seat-of-the-pants, handling brush fires as they come. Having a life blueprint alerts us to digressions that lure us off track; we can then decide if it is a welcome diversion or a distraction we choose to avoid. It's important to note that our expectations may get “in the way” if they are not developmentally ready to achieve at the level we would like them to be. Staying “attuned” and in communication with our kids at all times is our ultimate goal. We must nurture the child before us and not expect him to be the embodiment of a "fantasy child." that exists only in our imagination.
In last week's blog, we shared an interview with adoption expert and author, Heather Forbes, LCSW. We are pleased to review her latest book, Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approach to Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom. This excellent book continues to advocate for children by focusing on relationship first. In each of her books for adoptive parents, Heather Forbes has written knowledgeably with an emphasis on compassion and understanding. In Help for Billy, her approach is again steeped in respect, empathy, and love for the child. He’s not scapegoated as the problem; he’s viewed as a child with problems. Billy is not a bad kid; he’s a kid that life has thrown into the white water and he is struggling mightily to stay afloat.
Yes, it is challenging to be the parent or teacher of a child like Billy. His behavior is problematic. It is both a symptom and evidence of Billy’s need for help.
Several points in the book resonated with me. First Forbes encourages educators and parents to reformulate the questions they ask themselves as they try to determine how to help Billy. Instead of querying, How can Billy change his behavior? She recommends asking, How can we assist Billy in feeling safe, supported and calm?
Until this second question is asked and the answer is found, changing Billy’s behavior with consequences, threats, and constraints is impossible. Even worse, it is damaging to the family relationships as well as the teacher-child relationship.
Relationship influences everything. It is the channel through which a child is influenced, healed, and motivated. In the absence of relationships that feel safe and calm, Billy will be unable to function because he will be entirely focused on surviving and/or escaping his fears. Learning and “behaving” take a backseat to survival in the moment of fear.
Another salient point of the book—alter the desired outcome—is phrased this way: “Your ability to give love and stay mindful is the new outcome.” This statement may seem contrary to the premise of the book—Help for Billy. How can focusing on emotions help Billy academically and socially? By removing his perception that he is in danger and creating a feeling of safety and acceptance, Billy’s brain has energy and space to spend on intellectual activity. As long as Billy is in survival mode, everything else is perceived as frivolous.
Soothing his fears is a huge step towards accepting Billy as he is right now, along with his trauma history and unpleasant coping behaviors. He needs love and acceptance in the present moment. Withholding support, love, and acceptance until he meets certain standards may sentence him to a permanent state of being judged and found short of the mark.
Billy’s path may never smooth out as parents and teachers would hope. The greatest gift they can offer is to scaffold him with the necessary support systems—emotional as well as academic—that allow Billy to begin the lifetime journey of healing his trauma.
Help for Billy offers practical tips for parents and teachers. In many cases, they flip the traditional paradigm 180 degrees. While the approach may seem “out of the box,” it is definitely doable. It may be exactly what the Billys in our families and schools need.
As parents and educators, we must not lose sight that our goal is not to raise scholars but to raise productive human beings. We must nurture Billy’s spirit as our highest priority, then we can hope to address his academic achievement.
As an adoptive parent and an adoption coach, I know the value of Heather's loving, relationship-focused approach. Many times, I have reminded myself to pause and determine if my child's behaviors result from “I won't" or "I can't." Our relationships have benefited from this solution approach. By choosing to be less adversarial and more curious about what drives behavior, better strategies have evolved. More importantly, better relationships have grown. --Gayle H. Swift, author, "ABC, Adoption & Me: A Multicultural Picture Book"
Sally: 612-203-6530 | Susan: 541-788-8001 | Joann: 312-576-5755 | Gayle: 772-285-9607