by Rebecca Gray
In 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.