Rabbi Shmuel Gluck is the Director of Areivim, an organization that offers counseling, crisis intervention and referral services for teens and their families.
Creating Change in Others: Part IV
In last week’s article I described how a cause and effect approach should work for rebellious children. Parents will find that these children often respond by “upping the ante”. When children “up the ante” parents must respond in a manner that negates their children’s two anticipated goals.
These are: 1) Get the parents to “give” in by bombarding them with negative and, ifnecessary, escalating, bad behaviors. 2) (If the first one doesn’t succeed), Get the parents angry, thereby allowing the children to feel good about themselves by exercising control over their parents.
Parents must remember that children are very aware that they have little or no control of their lives. Money, transportation, style of clothing, and permission to go to friends, are all dependent on their parents’ decisions. When children have a good relationship with
their parents, they welcome such control. When they don’t have this warm relationship they resent their parents control tremendously. Anything that they can do to exercise some level of control and undermine their parents, is important to them.
To insure that the children don’t accomplish either of the two goals, (thereby removing any advantages from their decision to “up the ante”), parents should respond calmly to every incident. If the children are angry, but don’t direct the anger to a specific incident,
the parents should ignore their anger. If the children’s anger is so extreme that it can’t be ignored, the parents should calmly comment, “We’re sorry that you’re angry. If we can do anything to help you w will. If we can’t, then we‘d appreciate your calming down. Your anger doesn’t mean that you have the right to make others angry.” The key, as always, is in the wording, tone, and body language. The parents must be calm, caring, and not project weakness.
When children scream at their parents in response to specific incidents, e.g. not letting them go to friends, their response should be, “We’re sorry you’re upset, but screaming won’t make us want to be any more agreeable the next time”. When the parents don’t “give in”, and don’t become hysterical, the children’s reactions don’t effect them, and therefore the children have no advantages. Remember that the first several incidents may be uncomfortable for the parents and there may not be any indication that this approach is working. It’s only after this happens several times, and the children realize that not only haven’t they gained any “ground”, but they’ve probably lost some ground, that they’ll reassess their responses for the next time.
Therefore, during the first few incidents, the children may “give up” on their parents and “start up” with their siblings, break furniture, slam doors, etc. The parents should acknowledge what happened, not become upset, and respond by telling them “You may be upset, but throwing things on to the floor to get us upset is not going to make us appreciate you or fulfill your request”.
Parents must be prepared to deal with the ripple effect of these children’s behavior, such as the resentment their behavior will cause their other siblings. These siblings may become resentful at the parents’ patience with their difficult siblings, and for not “sticking up” for the good sibling’s rights more aggressively. The siblings should be compensated with extra time and love. In addition the parents should explain to the siblings that are old enough to understand, that what they’re doing is a thought through approach, requiring their patience.
The cause and effect approach should continue even after the children calm down. Even though they want their parents to immediately treat them better, the parents should say to them: “Although we didn’t get angry at you, that doesn’t mean that you can expect us to ignore what took place in the last hour.” If, on the other hand, the children wait and “cool off” before talking to their parents, the parents should treat them better. This will highlight to the children that when they act better, they’re treated better. After a while the children will see that the respect and privileges they receive is consistent with their own performance.
In last week’s articles I indicated that when parents respond to their children’s negative actions, they shouldn’t feel that it’s necessary to react to every incident. Creating change in others should be a thought through process and therefore there’ll be more than enough incidents to which to respond. Applying cause and effect each time can create resentment in children, increasing their resistance (which is so important to avoid). In addition, by choosing those incidents at which to react, parents can wait for those incidents which are less complex, and times when everyone can be more patient, in a better mood, and more capable of dealing with any ripple effects.
The message that should be given to children is simple. The parents should describe to them how they behaved and what just took place. It should be done clearly, and without emotion. Such a cause and effect approach must be genuine and make sense to anyone who would have observed the incident. Most importantly, the reaction of the parents’ must be understood by the children to be a direct result of their actions and not just a form of punishment. Sometimes children, as defense mechanisms, will claim that they don’t understand the connection between what they did and why their parents won’t do them favors. The parents must determine whether the children really understand.
Explaining to the children that making a mess in the kitchen “cost” the parents 20 minutes, leaving them 20 minutes less time to buy them something, is a simple example of cause and effect. However, explaining to children that the parents are reassessing their relationship with them because of the way they’ve treated the parents, is more difficult. The children’s maturity and honesty will decide what will be understood as a valid cause and effect.
4) Personal behavior is probably the easiest form of behavior to change in others. Children don’t notice changes in personal behavior as much as peers and, especially, spouses. The basis for creating change through personal behavior is because individuals don’t want to be different from those around them. They certainly don’t want to feel inferior to those around them. If one individual, as a result of his behavior, has created a standard, many others, will attempt to keep up with that standard in order not to feel inferior.
If a husband is careful when he puts things away in the home it will be more difficult for a wife to be careless. I’ve deliberately chosen a case in which a wife learns from a husband (and not the other way around). People who have faults that are typical for their gender, age, upbringing, etc., may not learn from those in the other gender, or are of different ages, or upbringings, who demonstrate strengths in these areas. Those with the faults will see these strengths as expected from the other groups. Men, for instance, may say, “men are supposed to be messy, wives are supposed to be clean”.
When a husband puts things away carefully, his wife, to avoid being embarrassed, will be more careful when she puts things away. This is a perfect way to create change through personal behavior. However, in this scenario it would be natural for the husband to have an urge to become angry or condescending, but doing this will ruin any chance of changing his wife’s behavior.
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