I spent my K-12 life at VSD #37. Today I’m back, doing a “Tough Kids” and suicide prevention workshop at Skyview H.S. Should be fun. Here are the handouts.
Henry James once wrote that you should never begin a letter with an apology. Oh well. Rules are made to be broken.
That’s not really true. Rules aren’t made to be broken. Yes, they get broken. But rules are made to be followed. Whoever said they’re made to be broken was clearly wanting to break the rules and engaging in some clever rationalizing to justify breaking them.
Which leads me to my apology.
I want to express my sincere apologies to the 200+ participants in my “Strategies for Dealing with Challenging Parents and Students” day-long workshop at the Montana Behavioral Initiative (MBI) in Bozeman. After you all left, I was in the SUB Ballroom A at MSU, packing up my computer, when suddenly I was hit with the realization that I’d gone 15 minutes overtime. Very embarrassing.
Even though I knew (all day) that the workshop ended at 4:15pm, I just kept on talking until 4:30, when, in that particular moment, I thought I was ending right on time.
I’m still embarrassed. Mostly I’m embarrassed because I hate it when presenters go overtime and so I try very hard to end on time or a few minutes early.
My best explanation, which may be a convenient after-the-fact rationalization, is that I was having such a nice time with you all that my unconscious just decided (on its own and without consultation with my conscious brain), that we should spend a little more time together.
Or . . . maybe rules are just made to be broken.
At the bottom, I’ve inserted links to the ppt slides from the workshop and a link to the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast.
As I said in closing yesterday. You are all fantastic and I am immensely grateful for the work you do with Montana students.
https://www.facebook.com/PracticallyPerfectParenting/ [Please like the podcast on Facebook]
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2 [Please rate on iTunes]
Alfred Adler believed that all human behavior is purposeful. People don’t act randomly, they engage in behaviors designed to help them accomplish specific goals. Adler believed that although individuals may not be perfectly aware of the link between their behaviors and their goals, the link is there nonetheless.
In this excerpt from our Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories text, we describe the four goals of children’s misbehavior. Rudolph Dreikurs, one of Adler’s protégés, developed this theory of children’s misbehavior. Over the years, Dreikurs’s ideas have been extremely useful to many parents and parenting educators. It’s also useful to consider these ideas when trying to understand adult behaviors.
Here’s the excerpt:
Why Children Misbehave
Adler’s followers applied his principles to everyday situations. Rudolph Dreikurs posited that children are motivated to grow and develop. They’re naturally oriented toward feeling useful and a sense of belonging. However, when children don’t feel useful and don’t feel they belong—less positive goals take over. In his book The Challenge of Parenthood, Dreikurs (1948) identified the four main psychological goals of children’s misbehavior:
- To get attention.
- To get power or control.
- To get revenge.
- To display inadequacy.
Children’s behavior isn’t random. Children want what they want. When we discuss this concept in parenting classes, parents respond with nods of insight. Suddenly they understand that their children have goals toward which they’re striving. When children misbehave in pursuit of psychological goals, parents and caregivers often have emotional reactions.
The boy who’s “bouncing off the walls” is truly experiencing, from his perspective, an attention deficit. Perhaps by running around the house at full speed he’ll get the attention he craves. At least, doing so has worked in the past. His caregiver feels annoyed and gives him attention for misbehavior.
The girl who refuses to get out of bed for school in the morning may be striving for power. She feels bossed around or like she doesn’t belong; her best alternative is to grab power whenever she can. In response, her parents might feel angry and activated—as if they’re in a power struggle with someone who’s not pulling punches.
The boy who slaps his little sister may be seeking revenge. Everybody talks about how cute his sister is, and he’s sick of being ignored, so he takes matters into his own hands. His parents feel scared and threatened; they don’t know if their baby girl is safe.
There’s also the child who has given up. Maybe she wanted attention before, or revenge, or power, but no longer. Now she’s displaying her inadequacy. This isn’t because she IS inadequate, but because she doesn’t feel able to face the Adlerian tasks of life (discussed later). This child is acting out learned helplessness (Seligman, 1975). Her parent or caregiver probably feels anxiety and despair as well. Or, as is often the case, they may pamper her, reinforcing her behavior patterns and self-image of inadequacy and dependence.
Dreikurs’s goals of misbehavior are psychological. Children who misbehave may also be acting on biological needs. Therefore, the first thing for parents to check is whether their child is hungry, tired, sick, or in physical discomfort. After checking these essentials, parents should move on to evaluating the psychological purpose of their child’s behavior.
For more information on this, see Tip Sheet #4 on johnsommersflanagan.com: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/tip-sheets/
Last week I had the honor and privilege to spend a day with a group of about 340 mostly school psychologists in Columbus, Ohio. Talk about amazing. Were they nicer than last month’s group in Rock Hill, South Carolina? I don’t know. Both groups were awesome. I’ll keep the details secret just so everyone will wonder why gatherings in Rock Hill and Columbus are or will be inevitably fantastic.
I received a few emails in follow-up to the so-called “Tough Kids, Cool Counseling” workshop in Columbus. I’ll be framing one of the emails for my wall, but there was another one that asked for my feedback on a particularly challenging therapeutic conundrum. That email reminded me of a technique that Rita and I first wrote about in 1995, but hasn’t been posted here. So I dug up an excerpt of it from the second edition of our “Tough Kids, Cool Counseling” book and am inserting it below. Here’s a link to that book on Amazon, but you can get it other places too: https://www.amazon.com/Tough-Kids-Cool-Counseling-User-Friendly/dp/1556202741/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1494088480&sr=1-1&keywords=tough+kids+cool+counseling
The excerpt follows . . . and it’s followed by a link to an “Extra SCASP Handout” with more detailed info about the SCASP and Columbus Workshop techniques.
Passing Personal Notes
A simple method for re-engaging an angry or “checked out” child/adolescent in counseling is the note-passing technique (J. Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 1995). This technique is used when a young client suddenly appears sullen, angry, or quiet and nonresponsive. In some cases, counselors may have clues as to why the client has become quiet. However, in other cases the young client’s silence may be a complete mystery. Whatever the case, note passing is used to communicate to clients through an alternative format, to reduce pressure on young clients to be verbally productive, to express empathy for an emotional state, and to surprise the client (and thereby modify affect) by being supportive and affectionate rather than critical in response to the client’s silence. When counselors have a positive response to client silence it can be conceptualized as a corrective emotional experience (Alexander & French, 1946).
Children, teenagers, and even some college students are notorious for passing notes in class. Most often the notes are brief and focus on gossip or on whatever is bothering the note writer at the moment. Generally speaking, among teenagers, passing notes is cool.
To utilize this technique all you need is a notebook and pencil or pen. When your client is quiet and perhaps angry or sullen and efforts to interact verbally result in continued withdrawal and silence, simply pick up the notebook and begin writing. This activity may attract the youth’s attention. Your client may assume you’re writing something negative about them. One 12-year-old boy immediately questioned: “Are you writing a note to the group home?” as he expected he would be reprimanded for becoming silent in therapy. I (John) responded: “Nope, I’m just writing a note to you.”
When using this technique, hold the notebook so your client cannot see the content of your note; part of the effect of this technique rests on your client’s surprise at receiving a personal note and on surprise at the content of the note. Of course, the note should be individualized and personal (see Box 4.1 for a sample note).
What’s up? Seems like you might be kind of upset today, but I might be wrong. I hope I didn’t do something to bug you or make you mad. If I did, be sure to let me know when you feel like it, okay? I know that counseling can be kind of dumb or seem like a waste of time or even make people mad sometimes. I hope we can find ways to make this be a good thing for you. Thanks for coming—even when you might not feel like it. So, how are you feeling, anyway? Do you think it is a little too warm in this office? That’s a cool sweater you’re wearing.
Your Very Own Counselor,
P.S. Write back if you want to.
[End of Box 4.1]
We recommend writing the personal note with a person-centered flavor (Rogers, 1961). Additionally, it’s useful to include a humorous or light closing and an interest in hearing back from your client. Finally, write only what your clients will feel comfortable taking home (e.g., critical comments about teachers or family members, even if such comments are in the service of empathy and emotional validation, may have negative repercussions).
Most of our young clients respond positively to this procedure. Often they act surprised when told: “I wrote you a note.” One client asked to take it into the bathroom to read. Other clients have asked: “Can I keep it?” Our response to these requests is usually something like, “Of course. I wrote it to you.” Another client refused the note during the session, but accepted it later from her mother (i.e., it was sealed and given to the mother to deliver at home). Sometimes young clients have initiated a note-writing exchange after receiving a note from one of us. On the other hand, we’ve had some young clients rip the note to shreds or toss it in the trash which is perfectly acceptable from our perspective because we view these more aggressive responses as a non-violent and perhaps useful anger expression.
Personal notes can reopen communication, possibly because the activity moves young people out of a negative mood state; it’s hard for clients to maintain a negative mood state when they’re also experiencing surprise or pleasure (Mosak, 1985). Research suggests that it’s common for young people who behave aggressively to anticipate hostility or overt coercion from others during times of stress or threat (Dodge, Lochman, Harnish, Bates, & Pettit, 1997; Dodge & Somberg, 1987). This anticipatory tendency has been labeled the misattribution of hostility. For youth who anticipate hostility, a nonjudgmental, funny, or caring note can be quite a surprise. Also, many young people we see in therapy have never received a personal handwritten note from an adult (especially from an adult male). Overall, a sincere and nonthreatening effort by a counselor to enhance emotional intimacy and establish a personal connection usually does not go unnoticed.
This past Thursday I had the honor of offering a full-day workshop on “Tough Kids, Cool Counseling” to the South Carolina Association of School Psychologists. For anyone who has misplaced their handout or who wants additional content, I’m including two handouts in this post.
The first handout includes all the powerpoint slides (except the cartoons and empowered storytelling).
The second handout includes additional content corresponding (mostly) to the content in the powerpoint slides.
For more information, you can check out our Tough Kids, Cool Counseling book, published by the American Counseling Association, https://www.amazon.com/Tough-Kids-Cool-Counseling-User-Friendly/dp/1556202741/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1491153299&sr=1-10&keywords=sommers-flanagan:
Or you can check out our book on working effectively with parents: https://www.amazon.com/How-Listen-Parents-Will-Talk/dp/1118012968/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1491153770&sr=1-4&keywords=sommers-flanagan
Some days . . . the news is discouraging. Some days . . . evidence piles up suggesting that nearly everyone on the planet is far too greedy and selfish. On those days, I can’t help but wonder how our local, national, and worldwide communities survive. It feels like we’re a hopeless species heading for a cataclysmic end.
But then I have a day like yesterday. A day where I had the honor and privilege to spend time hanging out with people who are professional, smart, compassionate, and dedicated to helping children learn, thrive, and get closer to reaching their potentials. I’m sure you know what I mean. If you turn off the media and peek under the surface, you’ll find tons of people “out there” who wake up every day and work tremendously hard to make the world just a little bit better, for everyone.
For me, yesterday’s group was the South Carolina Association of School Psychologists. They were amazing. They were kind. About 110 of them listened to me drone on about doing counseling with students who, due, in part, to the quirky nature of universe, just happen to be living lives in challenging life and school situations. The school psychologists barely blinked. They rarely checked their social media. They asked great questions and made illuminating comments. They were committed to learning, to counseling, to helping the next generation become a better generation.
All day yesterday and into the night I had an interesting question periodically popping up in the back of my mind. Maybe it was because while on my flight to South Carolina, I sat next to a Dean of Students from a small public and rural high school in Wisconsin. Maybe it was because of the SCASP’s members unwavering focus and commitment to education. The question kept nipping at my psyche. It emerged at my lunch with the Chair of the Psychology Department at Winthrop University. It came up again after my dinner with four exceptionally cool women.
The question: “How did we end up with so many people in government who are anti-education?”
Yesterday, I couldn’t focus in on the answer. I told someone that–even though I’m a psychologist–I don’t understand why people do the things they do. But that was silly. This morning the answer came flowing into my brain like fresh spring Mountain run-off. Of course, of course, of course . . . the answer is the same as it always has been.
The question is about motivation. Lots of people before me figured this out. I even had it figured out before, but, silly me, I forgot. Why do people oppose education when, as John Adams (our second President) said, “Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially for the lower classes of people, are so extremely wise and useful that to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”
The answer is all about money and power and control and greed and revenge and ignorance. Without these motivations, nearly everyone has a “humane and generous mind” and believes deeply in funding public education.
Thanks to all the members of the South Carolina Association of School Psychologists, for giving me hope that more people can be like you, moving past greed and ignorance and toward a more educated and better world.
Good night, South Carolina. It’s been a good day.
A big thanks to Rick McLeod for inventing this title for a class he taught many years ago at Families First in Missoula.
For tips on how parents can handle it when teens talk back, listen to the latest episode of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast. You can catch it on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2
Here’s the blurb for When Teens Talk Back:
In this episode, Dr. Sara decides to consult with Dr. John about her hypothetical “friend’s” teenage and pre-teen boys, who coincidently, happen to be the same ages as Sara’s own children. Other than being a disastrously bad consultant, John ends up complaining about how disrespectful our culture is toward teens. This leads Sara and John to affirm that, instead of lowering the expectation bar for teens, we should re-focus on what’s great about teenage brains. Overall, this turns out to be a celebration of all the great things about teenagers . . . along with a set of guidelines to help parents be positive and firm. Specific techniques discussed include limit-setting, do-overs, methods for helping teenagers calm down, role modeling, and natural, but small consequences.
If you want more info on this topic, check out the re-post below, originally posted on psychotherapy.net
A Short Piece on Disrespecting Teenagers
We have an American cultural norm to disrespect teenagers. For example, it’s probably common knowledge that teens are:
• Naturally difficult
• Not willing to listen to good common sense from adults
• Emotionally unstable
• Impulsively acting without thinking through consequences
Wait. Most of these are good descriptors of Bill O’Reilly. Isn’t he an adult?
Seriously, most television shows, movies, and adult rhetoric dismiss and disrespect teens. It’s not unusual for people to express sympathy to parents of teens. “It’s a hard time . . . I know . . . I hope you’re coping okay.” Stephen Colbert once quipped, “Nobody likes teenagers.” Even Mark Twain had his funny and famous disrespectful quotable quote on teens. Remember:
“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
This is a clever way of suggesting that teens don’t recognize their parents’ wisdom. Although this is partly true, I’m guessing most teens don’t find it especially hilarious. Especially if their parents are treating them in ways that most of us would rather not be treated.
And now the neuroscientists have piled on with their fancy brain images. We have scientific evidence to prove, beyond any doubt, that the brains of teens aren’t fully developed. Those poor pathetic teens; their brains aren’t even fully wired up. How can we expect them to engage in mature and rational behavior? Maybe we should just keep them in cages to prevent them from getting themselves in trouble until their brain wiring matures.
This might be a good idea, but then how do we explain the occasionally immature and irrational behavior and thinking of adults? I mean, I know we’re supposed to be superior and all that, but I have to say that I’ve sometimes seen teens acting mature and adults acting otherwise. How could this be possible when we know—based on fancy brain images—that the adult brain is neurologically all-wired-up and the teen brain is under construction? Personally (and professionally), I think the neuroscience focus on underdeveloped “teen brains” is mostly (but not completely) a form of highly scientifically refined excrement from a male bovine designed to help adults and parents feel better about themselves.
And therein lies my point: I propose that we start treating teens with the respect that we traditionally reserve for ourselves and each other . . . because if we continue to disrespect teenagers and lower our expectations for their mature behavior . . . the more our expectations for teenagers are likely to come true.
John and his sister, Peggy, acting immature even though their brains are completely wired up.