Imagine that you are a child, standing on the edge of a cliff. You look up and on the other side of a deep gorge is another cliff. You look over to the side and there is a rickety looking string bridge. You aren’t certain of its ability to carry you safely across to the other side, and so you refuse to move. All your friends are on the other side and it looks like they might be having a lot of fun. But you refuse! You aren’t really sure how everyone got over there, but that bridge looks unsafe and safety wins out over fun, every time. You decide that you are not going ANYWHERE.
People suggest that you come over to the other side. You want to but……….refuse!
They tell you that you have to come over. You really aren’t sure if it’s safe…….so you continue to refuse.
They start to insist that you come over. That isn’t helping, you feel pressured and uncomfortable…
Voices get louder, more commanding and more demanding. You continue to dig your heels in and refuse to comply.
The harder they pull, the harder you pull…..just trying to remain safe.
All of the sudden you realize that people are pulling and forcing you towards the bridge.
You start to thrash and flail.
You do anything to protect yourself from the uncertainty of what’s before you. In a blind panic, and completely incapable of rational and reasonable thought, you bolt. You run. Or conversely, you curl into a ball and cram yourself into the smallest corner available, so that no one will be able to force you into, what you are sure is, an unsafe situation.
How many times have we asked a child to do something and then been frustrated when the situation devolves into anger, defiance, rage or physicality? You don’t really understand because what you’re requesting is not something weird or terrifying. It seems a pretty simple request and yet……..the child is labelled oppositional, non compliant or defiant.
I hate those three words. Very rarely are those accurate adjectives to apply to a child.
I believe that we need to approach children from the viewpoint that they WANT to please and they WANT to succeed. If behaviours arise that appear contrary to them pleasing and succeeding, WE NEED TO PAUSE.
We, as the adults, need to question “What is at the root of the negative behaviours?”
Why this this child feeling anxious?
Why is this child feeling insecure?
Why is this child feeling less than capable?
What is feeling overwhelming to them?
What is feeling uncertain?
What is unclear?
What information are they missing or unsure of?
How can I help?
Going back to our picture at the top of the post…. Here is a different view of that situation.
You are, a child, standing alone on one side of the cliff. You are aware that you are missing out on what seems like fun on the other side. You feel alone, anxious and unsure. You are desperate to feel accepted and safe; and while you wish you could go over, safety wins over fun, every time. You realize that someone is calling your name. They crouch down beside you and ask if you’d like to join the rest of the class on the other side. You aren’t sure how to answer because you are scared. They start to explain what the rest of the kids are doing and it sounds SO fun. It’s too bad that the bridge is the only way over. They explain how the bridge was made and how many pounds it can carry; and that makes you feel a bit better but you’re still not sure you can believe them. They call another kid over, who crosses that scary bridge, and together they show you how two people can cross the bridge. You are still unsure. They tell you that it’s okay and that they will stay with you on this side. That makes you feel a bit better. They share a time when they felt scared and uncertain. You want to join your classmates but you really aren’t sure. You realize that the person isn’t going to force you but will stay with you and that makes you feel a little bit safer and a little bit stronger. You eventually agree to try to cross the bridge even though you still feel scared. It might take you longer, but with acceptance and relationship you can accomplish amazing things.
Instead of calling for the child to take action and then labeling them as non-compliant, what if we made the effort to understand and accept?
What if we stopped pulling on the children, which is only increasing their anxiety?
What if we didn’t “pick up the rope” in the first place?
What if we joined them, and validated their feelings and emotions without having to fix or change them?
What if we made sure they knew and understood the facts and information?
What if we found out what they were fearful of?
What if we explained how the bridge was made and why it is, in fact, safe to cross?
What if we explained exactly what was happening on the other side?
What if we told the child that we would cross with them?
What if we gave them the power to make the decision and until they did, we sat with them and gave them the opportunity to feel safe and accepted?
What if we built relationship instead of building conflict, opposition and disconnection?
What if we allowed the time and space for a child to feel safe?
I believe that this scenario plays out, at some point, with all children but that it’s especially true for children with anxiety, special/high needs and neuro-diversities.
It’s important to recognize that the majority of opposition and non-compliance stems from anxiety and insecurity.; and that we have the ability to make a difference in the way we view and approach children. We need to look beyond the bravado and indignancies of anxiety and insecurities; and see the cries for help.
We need to build trust and relationship instead of building conflict and disconnection. We need to join with them, where they are at; and when we have built a solid relationship founded on trust, we will go so much further than we, or they, could dream or imagine.
Don’t pick up the rope!