I’ve Said It A Million Times!

by Rebecca Gray

Icrazyn my work as a school social worker, I’m always telling people that we are all doing the best that we can, because if we knew how to do better, we would obviously chose that option over the agony of failure.

This seems a pretty solid philosophy when you are dealing with a child who is in a situation that they’ve never been in before, and they don’t have the skills or knowledge to handle it.  But here’s the tricky part… What about the kid who has made the same mistake over and over again and you’ve told them a million times what to do, and they still don’t do it?

Or think about yourself… don’t you know that you should exercise more, or eat better, or quit smoking?  And yet, you don’t do it.  So, how can it be true that if we knew a better way, we would chose that?

This is where we tend to start labeling behavior.  It’s because that kid is oppositional.  It’s because I’m just lazy.

But every behavior exists for a purpose.  It’s easy to simply label someone as bad, and say they are making poor choices.   It’s harder to dig for the real purpose behind seemingly bad choices, and find the need that is being met by that choice.

That kid who skips school may be at home caring for their preschool sister because mom never came home last night.

The child who talks back to the teacher may be trying to gain status with his peers because he feels he is not as smart as the rest of the kids.

I may not stick to my diet because it’s Christmas time and it’s more important to me to share food and drink with the people I love than worry about the number on the scale.

The answer is not in labeling people as bad, it’s in helping them find a way to meet all their competing needs.  Is there a way for the kid to know their preschool sister is safe and attend school at the same time?  Is there a way for the child to feel “cool” with their peers and still be a respectful person?  Is there a way I can maintain a healthy weight without feeling left out of the party?

A favorite quote of mine is “To know and not do is to really not know.”  You may be able to tell me what to do to meet one of my needs, but if I don’t do it, it’s because there is another need that is interfering.   When people know how to meet all their needs effectively, they do.

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4 thoughts on “I’ve Said It A Million Times!

  1. These are words that I try to remind myself of frequently. In my field, a frequently repeated phrase is “shift judgement to curiosity”. I think it is easier to figure out the “why” behind a behaviour when we get really curious about it and drop the value judgements – just another way of saying what you already stated so well in your post.

  2. I fully agree Rebecca. Behaviour is chosen (consciously or not) to meet a need. It is also a language through which we can get some insight into what is going on for a person. So, how to respond? For me the important thing is to respond to the individual with respect, listen for information about what is going on for them, listen for their feelings and validate them. For example the child who is wanting to look cool in front of peers could be taken aside privately: ” Billy you looked as if you were enjoying other’s attention in class. What is it you are trying to get by making those comments ?” And then “It’s important to me that we get along in this class and also that I can teach the class which is difficult when people make smart comments. Would you be interested in working out a way we can both get a bit more of what we want?” My intention is to build or maintain relationship with the child, indicate my own needs and encourage the child to think about his own choice of behaviour. Then work out together a way forward.

  3. Love the picture!!! A self portrait?

    Your approach is wonderfully compassionate, and certainly more helpful that labeling and pigeon holing.

  4. Thanks for the ending quote. Imagine if in schools, students could so frequently have needs fulfilling experiences that they would look toward creating their own needs fulfilling paths and assist the needs fulfilling paths of their fellow classmates. School would be a place to create belonging, fun, freedom and power/recognition!

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