The Two Questions to Solve ANY Behaviour Issue

Want to watch the video version of this post? You can do that by following this link.

I wanted to talk about something that’s been weighing heavy on me for a little bit today. Particularly because I find it keeps coming up in the Parenting Posse in different contexts and I’ve debated bringing attention to it because I kind of feel like a jerk for being like “YOU’RE MISSING THE POINT!” but I also operate under the assumption that if you’re in my group or you’ve liked my page then you likely WANT me to point out these things…so here we go!

I’ve noticed a trend lately, which is this HYPER-FOCUS on solving micro problems. And what I mean by micro problems is SUPER SPECIFIC issues. And this is why this is bothering me and I think now that I’m pointing it out it’s going to start to bother you too.

As you may or may not know, I started my career in early intervention. So I did basically play therapy with children who had some kind of developmental diagnosis, everything from a run of the mill speech delay all the way up to one of my clients had a developmental syndrome that he is one of 3 children in North America with that specific condition. So I dealt with a WIDE range of children. And I got kind of a reputation for moving difficult kids past big hurdles. Which is why I’m here, that’s why I have a group and a business and why I do what I do because I LOVE IT. And I continue to love it! Nothing gives me a thrill deep down in my gut like seeing something click for a child and click for a parent. I’ve never been high but I can’t imagine anything feeling better than that feeling.

So I got this reputation, which meant that I often got pulled into other people’s clients and asked “What’s your take on this?” and every time…EVERY TIME…I would ask two questions:

  1. “What don’t they know how to do?”
  2. “And how are you teaching them to do that?”

They sound like simple questions, right? But let’s pull an example from the Posse: A member posted recently looking for suggestions on how to deal with her 5-year-old who was being exceptionally mean and aggressive towards his younger sibling.

So, what does that child not know how to do?

And yes, the answer is “be nice to his brother.” but let’s go deeper than that. That’s the problem up close, I want you to step back and look at the bigger picture. What don’t they know how to do? What is involved in “being nice”? What skills are missing? Are they lacking empathy? Are they lacking emotional control? Does it have nothing to do with emotions and they lack impulse control? Break it down, drill DEEPER. What’s the problem? What’s the ACTUAL issue? And it can be all of those things! VERY rarely do children wrap their behavioural problems up for us in a nice package with a bow on top so we can just unwrap it and be like “Ahh, impulse control, nice and clean cut.” It might be any combination of skills. Do they not know how to share? Do they not understand turn taking? Are they having difficulty setting firm boundaries?

Figure out what the problem is. That’s step one. We do that by observing them and by taking notes. Take videos to document incidents. Take pictures. We’re so focused on being super Mom that we’re going in guns blazing “I’m GOING TO FIX THIS!” but you can’t fix something when you haven’t defined the problem. That’s like taking your car into your mechanic and being like “there’s a banging noise in the rear” and them giving you a quote to fix it when they haven’t heard the bang, they haven’t looked under the car, they haven’t tried to figure out where the bang is coming from…banging in the rear? That’s $900, please. That would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?

So while it’s very easy for me to say “What don’t they know how to do?” the answer isn’t usually easy or quick.

The second question was “And how are we teaching them to do that?”

Again, sounds easy but I’d usually get very simplistic answers. If a child is being aggressive towards their sibling I’d usually get “Well, we’ve talked about how that hurts people’s feelings, we’ve put him in time out, we’ve taken away the toy the dispute was over, we’ve told him he won’t be allowed to play near his brother if he can’t play nice…”

Can we see the thread that joins all those things?

They’re all dealing with the surface problem again. Also, none of those answers actually answered my questions of what are we doing to TEACH them how to solve the problem? They’re all reactions. They’re all consequences. Not a single one is showing, actively what to do. They’re all TELLING what NOT to do. And those two things are not the same. Showing them what TO DO and telling them what NOT TO DO is not the same thing.

And don’t get me wrong, consequences are important. Behaviour management is important but it’s not enough. It’s not enough. You can manage these surface problems till you are blue in the face and its still going to reoccur because you didn’t solve the problem! You didn’t fix the issues down here that is causing the surface issue. Think of it like a boiling pot. The bubbles on the surface are a symptom of the fact that the burner is on. You can scoop bubbles off the top and pour ice water in till the cows come home but it’s going to eventually start to boil again because you DIDN’T SOLVE THE PROBLEM and turn the burner off.

So time and time again, I’d go into these meetings- I’d spend my entire time asking questions, narrowing down what the problem was only to end up saying “So you’re not making progress because that goal you wrote doesn’t actually address the root issue.” “That solution you came up with isn’t solving the actual problem.” And time and time again that team would come back to me 2, 3, 4 weeks later saying “THANK YOU! We finally made it over that hump. We’re finally making progress, things are moving forward. You’re a miracle worker.”

Let’s get something really SUPER CLEAR here: I’m not a miracle worker. I’m not a genius. I didn’t come up with any of this stuff on my own. I’m just applying what Vygotsky, what Dewey, what Montessori, what Piaget, what Malaguzzi and Gerber and Bandura and Bronfrenbrenner, the whole bloody cannon, came up with. I’m just putting the puzzle together.

If you can do those two things: figure out what the problem is, and then TEACH them how to solve it…you’re golden. You’re flying right.

So I want us ALL, and it’s a habit you need to develop, and it’s one that’s very easy to fall out of when you’re tired and stressed and rushed and basically a mother- but I want us all to get in the habit of stepping back and looking at the bigger picture instead of being micro-focused on the symptoms. Otherwise, you’re going to keep doing this dance. And we’re too damn busy to keep putting out the same fire over and over and over again. As parents, we’ve got more on our plates than any generation before us did. We are too damn busy. In order to enjoy our children more, in order to stop burning ourselves out, in order to get off this hamster wheel we need to be parenting more efficiently and more effectively, and this is how we do that.

That was a little ranty. Total disclaimer, this isn’t aimed at anyone in particular; this isn’t a condemnation of the discussions that have been going on in the Posse. It’s just been niggling at the back of my mind and I needed to get it out because bottling things up isn’t healthy.

If that made total sense to you and you’re like “yeah- I need to work on that.” …a good first step is to go and grab my free Scripts for Managing Crazy Making Behaviour. It’s 10 audio recordings, and in each one I kind of walk you through stepping back and looking for the root issue- which then informs the script I give you for each issue. They’re totally free- I get consistent positive feedback about them so if you’re looking for a place to start- that is it my friends, and they’re totally free so you’ve got nothing to lose. The link for them is below for you.

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About Allana

Hi, I’m Allana. I teach parents of toddlers and preschoolers why their children are misbehaving and what to do about it without yelling, shaming, or using time-outs. When not teaching parents about behaviour you can generally find me chasing around my two boys, reading cheesy romance novels, or hanging out with my own parents.

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