There's hope! Ms. Ale' will help you look at it in a new way:

Through careful examination of language, behavior and environment,
Ms. Ale' offers specific tools, precise language and behaviors
to help parents and teachers work in harmony
with children.

Join the conversation. Share your experiences, successes
and challenges.

We're all in this together!

Monday, January 9, 2012

My Way

I just got my first book published called West Virginia Tails.  I mention this here not to promote the book, but to draw attention to something that the marketing department of the publisher wrote on my website about the book:

"Rekindle love Alethea Shiplett's way..."
It goes on to talk about the book.  What struck me was that they spoke about a way of loving - my way of loving. 

At first I went, "Awwww! How special and poignant and insightful of them!"
Then I went, "Hey!  The way in the book that I talk about is not something I made up myself!  People will think those were my ideas and techniques!"

And now I'm like, "Whoa!  I need to blog about this because it lies at the heart of what I'm hearing from parents."

So often, parents who are challenged with their child's behavior problems, temper tantrums, stubbornness, willfulness, etc., will latch on to what I like to call "quick fixes".  These are approaches which for all intents and purposes DO work immediately and enable families to move forward with living, dinnertime, running errands and all of the things that parents and families have to do.

"I count to three". 

"Then what happens?" I ask.

"There's a consequence," is the most common answer.

"What is the consequence?" I ask.

"Well, I take something away or remove a privilege.  Something like that," is the reply.
"How is the consequence related to the misbehavior you are trying to correct?"

"He knows he loses something if he doesn't....."

And so on.  Invariably, the consequence is completely unrelated to the behavior or the setting, and is truly nothing more than a power play on the part of the adult.  The question that is never asked is:  What are you teaching the child.?  How does arbitrarily taking something away help the child to become a self-directing, self-controlled adult? 

Is your lesson that they should be obedient to authority out of fear of punishment?  That is certainly a motivator to do what is right or desirable.  But do you really want obedience based on fear or loss?  Fear is the most detrimental emotional state to normal, healthy development.  Fear must be utilized very carefully, and only, in my opinion, where it is truly warranted - for safety precautions.  Even then, a healthy fear is really just a mindful caution of real consequences to one's actions.  An unhealthy fear is not based on reality - what can really happen.  From this kind of irrational fear stems anxiety, worry, timidity and can lead to neurosis, panic attacks, anxiety attacks, health problems and other imbalances in the body's systems.

And what does obedience based on the threat of loss teach the child?  That the child will loose something or be inconvenienced or her privileges curtailed if she does not obey.  Curtailing privileges can certainly be connected to issues of trust.  If the child is making poor or risky choices, then they cannot be trusted.  Consequently, their freedoms must be curtailed until trustworthiness is exhibited.  For example, a mother wants her children to walk from the home to the car and get into their car seats.  Lately, the children have been climbing into the back seat or the driver's seat and playing with objects, switches, buttons and the like.  
Perhaps the mother can review the sequence of steps before leaving the house.  Then the mother may need to walk with the children, holding their hands until they get to the car in order to guide their bodies to their car seats.  In other words, she should allow as much freedom as the children can own responsibility for.  She could also give the children a choice before leaving the home.  They can play in the yard for 5 or 10 minutes before climbing into their car seats or they can go straight to their car seats.  Whatever approach she takes, the focus is on gaining their cooperation in the process, rather than coercing their behavior with threats of loss.

This raises the possibility of obedience based on love and cooperation.  I need such and such to happen.  My needs interrupt your activity and require that you get in the car and go with me.  What can we do to make this transition amenable for everyone?  Is there a favorite song or toy that can go with you to the car?   Who will carry Mommy's purse and who will carry Mommy's keys?  This is a conversation that can happen before leaving the house.   All this is just a process of making a smooth transition and gaining the child's interest and cooperation in the process.

So is there a "my way" to love?  To rekindle love?  I'd say "no".  But only through thoughtful listening to the needs and wants of others, of open and safe communication, of experimentation with different choices to see which ones work best for everybody, and with the ability to address special needs and interests when they arise, can we work together to do what needs to be done. 

Remember - shift your perspective from "How do I get them to do ________?" to "We're all in this together!"


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Name the virtue when you see it

The scenario from the previous post reinforced the desired behavior by naming the virtue of “trustworthiness”, then describing the trustworthy behavior.  This two-step process expands the child’s conception of the virtue, helping him to understand what trustworthiness really means (to do what you say you will do) and to apply it to new situations.  The more examples of trustworthiness that can be pointed out, the stronger will be the child’s internalization of this virtue.  “Look at Jason.  He’s trustworthy because he’s washing his hands like he said he would before snack.”  “Erin is putting away all the pieces of that puzzle she was working with.  Isn’t she trustworthy?”
The first scene, where we witnessed Hailey standing still and waiting, was a perfect opportunity to acknowledge her desirable behavior.  “Wow, Hailey.  You’ve been very patient waiting for Landon to finish telling his story.  Thank you.”  At this moment, I have often introduced another technique for reinforce the positive behavior.  I set up a Virtues Table in the classroom.

The Virtues Table
A small table, spread with a lovely, flowered cloth.  On it sits a clear dish in the shape of a heart.  Next to the dish is a pretty little tin bucket painted pink with flowers.  Laying spread out before these two items are cards, decorated with glitter and gems, with words written on them:


Imagine it’s time for show-and-tell, but instead of holding up a physical object, the children hold up themselves and share a situation in which they exhibited generosity, trustworthiness or patience.  Imagine the children nearly competing with one another to do good.  “I shared my ball with my little brother.”  “My mommy made me cookies and I told her thank you.”  “I waited until Zachary was done with the puzzle, so I was patient.”
After each tender report, the child takes a gem from the bucket and drops it in the heart-shaped jar.  After about a week the jar is filled to the top and we celebrate the  moment by emptying the jar and gazing at all the gems that represent all of our kindnesses.  Then we begin again.
Now it often happens that when the parent comes to pick up the child at the end of class, the child exhibits behavior that the parent deems inappropriate or chaotic.  This elicits a comment from the parent to the effect, “Did she act like this all day?”  Or “Is he this way for you?”  Then I get a chance to boast about all the times the child exhibited a particular virtue, all of the instances when he was patient, courteous, etc.  This, in turn, triggers the child to also begin to list the virtues they’ve shown.  My favorite moments are when the parent shares with me an anecdote about the child at home telling the parent that he is courteous or trustworthy.  How precious it must sound to hear your little child tell you “I’m generous and trustworthy and thankful and patient.  I’m very patient.”
The virtues table is merely a focus for our attention.  Recounting our moments when we showed virtues is not enough.  The most important part of virtues education is when we incorporate the language of virtues into our daily interactions with the children:
“Look at Victoria’s hands.  They’re resting in her lap.  She’s waiting patiently for her turn.”  (This is said when several of the children are attempting to grab the material so they can use it.)
 “Erin is sitting quietly so she can take a turn now.”  (This draws attention to desirable behavior rather than watching a child jump up and down shouting “I want a turn” to be given any attention for the undesirable behavior.)
“Thank you for standing quietly and tapping my shoulder.  Can I help you with something?”  (Instead of giving attention to someone shouting “Teacher” across the room).  Likewise, I tap a child’s shoulder, wait for eye contact, then state my request, rather than shout across the room “Time to clean up!”

Whatever you pay attention to, you reinforce

“…and Tippy had his legos, and we made a airplane, and Tippy flied his airplane over the playground…”

My eyes are on Landon as he careens his story about his (imaginary) brother around the room, arms waving, sound effects and facial expressions.  Then I hear behind me, “TEACHER”.  My eyes are fixed on Landon.  This time, more urgently, “TEACHER!  Look at me, Teacher”, comes a voice from across the room.  Again, my eyes remain fixed on Landon as his story veers off down a side street of his imagination.  I show him my continued interest in his tale.  Finally, the voice behind me is stilled.  A patter of feet approach from behind.  A gentle tap on the shoulder – more silence.
Landon pauses in his story, takes a breath and winds up to venture off in another exciting direction of his tale, when his eyes break from mine and glance behind me.  This is my chance – at last.  I break my eye contact with Landon to look behind me.  I see Hailey, standing still, watching me, waiting for me to look at her.  When I do, she says “Teacher, look at me on the slide.”  I smile at her and say “OK, just a minute please.”  Then I turn to Landon to ask him to excuse me for a moment while I watch Hailey show me something.  He’s amenable so I give my attention to Hailey.  Moments later, I may be back listening to Landon, playing a card game to which I was invited by Zachary or, preferably, standing at the side watching the children and letting my gaze lay softly and lovingly upon each one whose eyes meet mine.
This is a frequent scene from the early weeks of any group of children with whom I am working.  One of my first objectives in the class has to do with the mechanics of working together.  Shouting for my attention from across the room is not conducive to a harmonious group.  If I answer the shouting child, even to indicate to them to wait a moment, then I cheat the child who has my attention – by denigrating the value of what he has to say.  I cheat myself by acting like an impulsive bundle of reactivity rather than a deliberate and thoughtful agent in the environment, and I cheat the interrupting child by denying her a lesson in delay of gratification – one of the most important lessons for children.
It takes the consistent practice of only a couple of weeks for the children to learn that if they want my attention, then they must tap my shoulder gently and wait for my eyes to meet theirs.  Coaching and loving reminders are part of this process.  The skill being taught is no different than learning to ride a bicycle or swing a baseball bat effectively – repetition, demonstrations of the technique several times, practice, modeling and reminders are used to help an athlete perfect a skill.  Putting an athlete in time-out when they forget to place their feet properly or speaking blamefully or negatively does not build confidence in one’s ability either.  We say “Nice swing, now bring the right foot a little more forward and try again.  Terrific job!”
I constantly look for what the children are doing well, rather than pointing out what they are doing wrong.  For instance, Landon, Mommy and I needed to walk along a bit of sidewalk back to the classroom door.  The sidewalk bordered a busy street. Since we had already constantly practiced that Miss Ale’ always goes first (because she’s taller and the cars can see her better), I asked Landon “Who goes first?”  Landon points to me, but he is pushing his mom and whining to her to go in front of him.  She wants him to go first and he is becoming more and more frustrated.  Finally, I understand what he’s trying to make Mommy do.  Mommy’s becoming more frustrated too, because she wants Landon to go in front of her.  I call this tension between Mommy and child “Mama Drama”.
I have to find something positive to say but it’s a confusing and tense moment.  Finally, I say, “Wow, look how trustworthy Landon is.  He’s walking right behind you, Mom.  Isn’t he trustworthy?  Look, he’s walking right into the classroom.”  The mother mentions that he’s being so rude and nasty, so I say “But look!  He’s being very trustworthy.  He didn’t run away.  He went straight into the classroom.  It could’ve been much worse.”  She acknowledges that this indeed could be true, yet she feels helpless, perhaps embarrassed, to get Landon to do what she wants him to do.
Her language is filled with one of the most mis-used words when giving directions to young children – “Don’t”.  Don’t talk so loud.  Don’t open the door.  Don’t touch…Don’t take…Don’t say…
Any words that point out what not to do reinforces attention to the undesirable behavior.  Instead, tell them what you want to see more of, instead of what you want to see less of.  “I like how you’re walking right behind Mommy.  You’re very trustworthy.  You know how to walk safely on the sidewalk.”
Feel the difference?  Makes you want to do even better, doesn’t it?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Safe Words

It's been a while since I've posted to the blog.  I've been very busy with grad school and a full-time job nurturing three little Arab-American girls.  I've been journaling the process of socializing these girls and I plan to share it here.

But first let me address the topic of "safe language", as promised.

What is the safest thing you can say when you are at your wit's end, your child is in melt-down mode and you don't want to add insult to injury?  You want to help your child through her upsetness without aggravating the situation.  And, just admit it, you just want it to stop!

The first thing you can try is to describe what you are seeing - "You're crying".  "You look like you are mad."  "Your shoulders are scrunched up like this."    "Your eyes are leaking.  There is water on your cheeks."

By describing what you see, you are not adding judgment nor blame to the situation.  You are nurturing emotional intelligence in your child by describing the behaviors associated with certain emotions.  You can also say "Something happened?"  or "Something happened."  This sounds less blameful than "What happened?" or "I saw what happened," and then  you describe what happened. 

It is better for you to listen and reflect while the child describes what happened.  You also want to give the child a safe space to say what they are feeling and thinking.

Remember, the "heat of the moment" is NOT a teachable moment.  According to the techniques of Conscious Discipline, to which I ascribe, the child's reasoning faculties become disengaged when the child is under stress.  Therefore, any lessons you want to impart will be lost and you will end up feeling more frustrated.  The quickest way through the melt-down is to make sure the child feels validated and heard.

Reflective listening skills also work wonders in this situation.  You merely reiterate what the child just said. 

Child:  I wanted to play with that!
Adult:  You wanted to play with that.
Child:  Yeah!  But he wouldn't let me!
Adult:  He wouldn't let you.  Sounds like you really wanted to play with that, but he wouldn't let you.

Yes, it's really that simple.  You'll be surprised at how quickly your child will respond to you when you have acknowledged that you have heard what she's had to say, heard it accurately, attentively,and lovingly.  If you don't feel very "loving" at the moment - then FAKE IT!  Don't add your stuff to the problem.  Make your voice calm, no matter how you feel inside.  And finally - Q.T.I.P. - quit taking it personally.  Your child doesn't have the tools that you do.  So she may just be manifesting raw expression of emotion.  so - be the adult and QTIP. 

After the storm as blown over and everyone is talking, you can begin to reflect about what happened.  There are some simple phrases that help this reflective process:

"You wanted_______.    ex:  You wanted to kick the ball.
You did___________.    ex:  You pushed Billy down to get it.
___________ hurts.         ex:  Pushing hurts.
Next time try ___________."  ex:  Next time, try asking Billy, "Please move."

Or you can ask the child, "What else can you do?"

As a last resort, when you are also in melt-down mode, the safest thing you say is to use the describing technique - only this time describe what you are experiencing emotionally.  "I'm feeling so upset right now.  I'm breathing heavily.  My heart is racing.  I feel the muscles in my neck are tight.  My stomach hurts.  I'm trying to think of something to say, but I don't know what to say right now!"  Use ONLY "I" statements, in this case. 

Remember, this is not the time to teach your child a lesson, especially when you may be feeling upset, angry, frustrated, etc., yourself.  In the heat of the moment, your objective is to create a safe and accepting space where your child's feelings are validated.  You can deal with her behavior AFTER you are both in a calm state with warm emotional connection re-established between you.

Feel free to post a melt-down episode and we'll dissect it together!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Everything is Energy!

Have you noticed that when you're having a bad day, your child is also?  You wonder why your child at least could cut you some slack today of all days, right?  I've been there too.  I've been there so many times that I am convinced that the child is just responding and reacting to my own energy.  If I am tense, distracted and stand-offish, the child will be needy, whiny and clingy - which is not what I wanted to be dealing with in my own upsetness and self-absorption.  When I feel centered and present, then the child is cooperative, calm and loving.

The lesson is - always look within yourself first if you want to change your child's behavior.  Young children are not strong enough and equipped with enough life skills necessary to be free agents in their environment.  You are their reference point to what's going on in the world.  When you are out of whack, their world is out of whack.

The road back to good energy lies within you and begins with what you choose to focus on.   Here are some quick and easy steps you can take immediately to change the energy:
1.  Begin changing your focus with taking a deep breath.  You need oxygen to your pre-frontal cortex as much as your child does in order to stimulate the rational part of your brain. 
2.  Focus your attention on what is immediately in front of you at the present moment - the child.  Your child!
3.  Put a smile on your face, no matter how fakey it feels. "Fake it 'til you make it", my partner always says.  Hold onto your hands so they don't get out of control.  Notice how your neck, chest and stomach feel.  Shake your hands in the air so that they flap up and down at the wrists.
4.  If you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all!  If you have to make sounds, try singing or humming. My magic song that I use to instantly change the energy between myself and a child is "You are my Sunshine!  My only Sunshine!  You make me happy when clouds are gray.  You'll never know, dear, how much I love you!"   Or "The Barney Song".  Come up with your own magic song. 
5.  If you have to say something - use "I" statements.  Talk about how you feel and how your feeling is manifesting itself in your body.  This is a very instructive exercise.  "Boy, Mommy feels tense today!  Look at my muscles.  See how tight my chin is?  Look at my shoulders.  They keep getting all scrunched up.  I wonder what I can do to feel better.  Do you have any ideas that may help me?"  This kind of language instructs the child in how to become aware of and name a feeling.  It also shows how one can process a feeling and move through it and past it, rather than remain in the emotional state reactively.

Although we  may say we believe it, and no matter how many times we hear it, there is a part of us that cannot bring ourselves to believe that:
                      If you want to change the world, you must change yourself.
Blaming the child will not get you down the road in resolving misbehavior issues with your child and gaining more cooperation, good-will, self-discipline, self-control and harmony in your relationship with your child.
I challenge you to conduct energy experiments.  Notice the relationship between your energy and your child's energy.  Notice yourself as an agent of energy-change.  Share your experiments here.  How did you change the energy?  What worked?  What didn't work?  What was the outcome?

The  next step has to do with language.  Our next discussion with examine the use of "Safe Words" - specific words and phrases that you can always fall back on in situations when your child is upset, in conflict, or misbehaving.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gently Whispering

I'm sure we've all heard by now the term "Whisperer".  Cesar Milan is one of my heroes.  The term originated, as far as I know, with Monty Roberts - the original Horse Whisperer.  His book changed my view of teaching when he cited the most important thing he had learned from his teacher, a Catholic nun.  To paraphrase..."there are no teachers unless there are learners".  In other words, a teacher is just talking to herself, to the walls, to the air when she teaches, unless the student is learning.  Monty's approach to "gentling" horses (his term) was to work in harmony with the horse's nature - to respect its fears, its needs and its desires.  And he applied these principles to education of humans too!  As does Cesar Milan in his books about how to be" a calm and assertive leade"r.

This makes total sense to me.  That is why I find Montessori principles, Conscious Discipline and Virtues Language so powerful.  They work with the child's nature, in harmony with the forces of human development to nurture development - like the role of a gardener.  You can't make a plant grow faster.  And you can't make a daisy grow into a rose.

Adults feign such hubris when it comes to children.  And they are blind to the costs of their own creating.  They come to see undisciplined, unfocused, lazy or resistant children as "normal".  Monty Roberts, Cesar Milan, Dr. Maria Montessori, myself and others see children differently.  If we nurture children in accordance with laws of nature and development, we see children who are naturally self-directed, self-disciplined, who prefer order, who exhibit social sympathy - in other words, children who are in harmony with their environment.

Have you ever seen such a child or group of children?  I have.  It's rare and fragile in this world.  But it will cause you to weep with the sheer implications of it - a world in which folks live in harmony with themselves,  one another and with their environment.

Now let's start a conversation about how to get there...Cheers!