“Great, he’s a pleasure to live with!” A parent caught herself making this remark in an impromptu moment when she was asked how her teenage son was doing. She surprised herself when she heard her own words and experienced a little bit of internal dyssynchrony. After she has had time to reflect on this experience of cognitive and emotional dissonance, she realized that this was due to two underlying reasons:
• First, her experience with her teenage son’s much older sisters had been difficult, far from being a pleasure.
• Secondly, society as a whole is more accepting of lamentations about teenage antics and rebellious behaviours rather than a public declaration that they are a pleasure to live with!
This mother went on and authored a book on this theme, entitled: My Child is a Pleasure. Her name is Diane Gossen.
Parents often have different experiences with each child in their family. The fact that Diane had a difficult time with her daughters earlier on, and then a pleasurable time with her son subsequently is not unique in itself. We have all had personal experiences or been observers of families where siblings who seemingly grew up in the same household in the same environment with similar dealings by their parents having different “growing up” journeys, especially through the adolescent years. In Diane’s case, the variable worth mentioning is that her daughters were much older, and in between her daughters’ teenage years and her son’s birth, her parenting style changed. She wrote in her book that for the second time around, she was able to put into practice at home many of the ideas she had learned through her work with Dr. William Glasser in Control Theory (later renamed as Choice Theory) and Reality Therapy. This success then led to her subsequently establishing her own work on Restitution.
Glasser’s Choice Theory posits that behaviour is driven by five physical and psychological needs, similar to those of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy:
• Survival (food, clothing, shelter, breathing, personal safety and others)
• Freedom/autonomy, and
Our school community was fortunate to have Diane with us for a day last week. We started our learning journey with her when she came to work with our staff and parents in 2011/2012. On this second visit she spent time first with our new staff to lay the foundation, and then worked with the whole staff to delve deeper into the philosophy of reality therapy and also guided us through case studies. She shared with us how understanding her son’s basic needs enabled her to resolve conflicts with him as he was growing up. The premise of Glasser’s work is that all behaviours, appropriate or otherwise, are purposeful; and we behave in certain ways at any given time to meet our own physical and psychological needs. Therefore, successful and enduring conflict resolution between two human beings can only happen when the solutions are need fulfilling for both parties.
The parent book study club whose members have been studying her book sponsored a luncheon with Diane and picked her brains on specific issues they are encountering at home with their children. It was fascinating to observe how Diane advises different approaches to seemingly similar conflict situations. She explained to us that even with siblings in the same family in the same scenario, the conflict resolution approach for each
child should always be guided by each child’s specific need at the time. For example, when children resist bedtime routines, the resistance itself can stem from different needs not being met. Here are some possible scenarios:
• A child with a belonging need will be more responsive to going through bedtime routines accompanied by mom and dad or a loved one.
• A child with a freedom need is more likely to require more choices in routines and the sequencing of these same routines.
• A child with a power need probably requires some autonomy in establishing routines so that there is a sense of accomplishment.
• A child with a fun need will respond well to bedtime routines that incorporate elements of fun.
In the evening with parents from a wider community, the topic of Diane’s presentation was on empowerment and how it has its foundation on the nature of children’s intrinsic goodness. When we believe that children’s innate intrinsic motivation is to do good, then we will put our efforts into supporting their development rather than to control them. Furthermore, we will accept that being able to control one another is only an illusion.
Our book club continues to meet and study these gems of wisdom. I look forward to sharing more about the myths of control, and also how most adults assume one of five positions when we interactive with children, especially when discipline or conflict is involved. These positions of control are: punisher, guilter, buddy, monitor, and manager. Our discussion has led us to realize that while all five positions are effective in stopping undesirable behaviour in the short term, the legacy that each strategy leaves behind on how children feel about themselves is drastically different. We welcome new members who would like to explore the application of these strategies in their parenting journey. Our next club meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 6 at 8:30 am at the school. Please contact the Maplewood Parent Committee members if you are interested in studying with us.