What Lurks Below – Lessons Learned in Teaching and Counselling

In teaching and counselling children and families I have learned that the presenting symptoms are rarely the critical piece of the puzzle.  As behaviour and educational therapists, our job is to search for the “WHY” of the behaviour.  We are trained as behaviour detectives.  A helpful metaphor is imagining murky lake waters – we need to delve into the murky waters and ascertain what lies beneath.  In doing so, we come one step closer to a positive interactional relationship with our children or student.  Below are five key areas to consider – so take a plunge into these ideas, they will help you clear the waters and  uncover the “whys” of behaviours and relating.

First– give affirmations.  Effective parenting and teaching depends on this. Without affirming and attaching with your children, all else will fail.  Develop your listening skills as a parent and teacher. Students need to be heard and feel autonomous.  Engage in discussions and activities that foster attachments. This is the prerequisite of motivation, performance and belonging.

Second, let your kids get bored. Too often I hear from parents that “I have to schedule activities for my child, because they will go ballistic if they are just at home.”  The more structured activities you have scheduled in, the less self-directed they will become.  This means that you need to allow unstructured time so that your child can learn critical skills, such as old fashioned play, quiet time and delaying immediate gratification.

Third, do not hover over children. Do not clear all obstacles. This undermines the child’s sense of mastery and competence, leading to higher levels of depression and anxiety, even into adulthood.  Allow them to fail and make mistakes.  Effort and difficulty should be welcomed, this build neurons and connections. Instead of feeling dumb and wanting to give up – children will learn to take on challenges, this is when true learning occurs! 

Fourth, defiant behaviours are tricky!  Defiant children actually believe that they are equals with the authority figure.  Understand what drives the student to oppositional behaviour. Consider learning problems, anxiety, peer rejection or sibling conflict. As well, without respect and attachment, defiance is surely to get out of control.

Fifth, become aware of your own thoughts as a parent or teacher.  Negative or toxic thoughts will sabotage your relationship with the child. Such thoughts include “I can’t face another day with this child”, “She is manipulative and evil.”, “This kid is going to ruin our family.” Learning to counter these negative thoughts is key.  Search for the positive qualities in your child or student – the more you can focus on these positive thoughts, the better you both will feel when interacting.

Dr.Laura Cesaroni

Victoria Bevilacqua