Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Maybe the hardest thing ever.

I have a lot of experience with behavior management. Mostly, I teach parents how to improve their young children's behavior. It's tremendously rewarding to watch parents, who come to me in distress, feeling like they can't control their own children, grow in their confidence and cunning.

Yeah, cunning.

Anyone with a small child knows it takes mad cleverness to outwit the little creatures. Also, it takes tremendous emotional self-control.

After (*coughcough*) years of practice, I can tell you which, of all the techniques I teach and coach parents to use, is the hardest to actually implement effectively.

Ignoring undesirable (yet relatively harmless) behavior.

All the other things, the praising positive behavior, spending quality time, setting clear expectations and limits, having a consistent schedule, giving good directions, even time out and consequencing ... all pale in comparison to the job of ignoring a child who is doing or saying something annoying. [By the way, ignoring doesn't mean truly tuning out. It means not showing OUTward signs of attending. That's where the emotional self-control comes in.]

This week, I saw the adult equivalent of that in a writers' forum. It was an argument that just went on and on and on and on and on and omg I could keep typing but you get my point. I was lurking, as I am wont to do, and kept staring at the screen and whispering "Ignore them. Don't respond." But then ... more posts! More arguing! This was one of those throwdowns where people haul out the popcorn-eating emoticon.
Isn't he cute? Anyway. The argument didn't even have to happen--it wasn't a debate about two worthy ideas or anything like that. It got to be about semantics and little turns of phrase that had caused the other person to feel offended (though nothing truly offensive was said ... at least for awhile). I was really struck by how neither side could walk away. They were even telling each other to walk away, but no one seemed able to do it, even when it became apparent that neither side was going to come away looking good.

I am fascinated by that kind of thing. It was so important to have the last word. And this is what happens when you attend to a kid's undesirable behavior, like if you yell at him or whatever--it basically never works out. Sometimes it does, temporarily, but usually the kiddo will up the ante, because that kid is a human and we seem to have that need. I always tell parents--the second you step into the ring, you've lost. If I had been sitting next to any of the posters on that forum, I would have said the same thing (right before they called the police to remove the strange, bespectacled woman from their abode).

Have you ever been in a situation like this, where you just couldn't walk away? Did you regret it later? Have you ever been able to walk away from a person who was provoking you? Was it in person or online? If online, was it harder or easier than being in person? And how did you manage to shut down your desire to respond, to get the last word?

And it's the last Wednesday of the month, so it's Deb's turn to answer this month's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog question, which was about prologues. Lydia's answer can be found here.


  1. I find it hard to ignore a child's bad behavior in the classroom because I'm usually not the target audience -- the other kids are. So they get the attention they want from other people (who then join in or copy the behavior) so I have to shut it down quick. Of course, this doesn't always work, because some kids up the ante because they want the last laugh ...

    The trick is to not get drawn into an argument or a back-and-forth with them. And that is sometimes hard, too!

  2. I've been in both situations where I couldn't walk away (but should have) and situations where I walked away- and wished I hadn't. But most of the time, IĆ¹, pretty good at figuring out pretty fast if it's worth the argument or not. Love the popcorn emoticon! lol

  3. My in-laws are visiting and one of my biggest pet peeves is that the mom won't her children when they start crying.

    Really, the reason they're pitching a fit is because it's clear if they holler long enough someone will give in to get them to shut up.

    Or if they make a disciplinary promise, "You're not getting dessert if you don't eat what's on your plate," and the parents don't follow through with it. (Child doesn't finish his plate and still gets several bites of dad's ice cream.)

    As adults it's harder to be firm because we have more pride and there's not a clear "authority" figure. But I would think we'd know when to just shut our mouth and call it a draw.

  4. I use to jump into that ring with my oldest too many times to count but I finally learned (listened to a good friend) and stopped. I also remembered the golden rule," if you can't say something nice then don't say anything at all" and starting complimenting him and I added goodnight hugs like he would get when he was little, and our relationship is 100% better (he's 15).

    My problem now is the children in school. There are a few with such outrageous behaviors I don't know what to do - ok actually, I wouldn't know what to do, luckily these few children are not in my classroom.

    I'd love to chat about some things that are happening in my school ... too many admin's that have to run down the hall and "handle" a out-of-controled (occasionally chair throwing) student.


  5. You are always the master of witnessing these scandals. I would ask you where this happened, but then it would take me whole day up, reading about it.

    I used to butt heads with my guardians so often when I was a teen I would usually end up leaving the room. They were nuts.

    Now that I'm the parent, it's not always as easy as it sounds. With one child, when it's just one on one, it's not that hard, but when they start in on each other, sometimes you have to step in.

  6. I have learned to be better about reigning myself in when it comes to throwing myself into these forum arguments. I used to be really shy--now I revert back to that when things get too spicy.

  7. It's so sad when it's obvious everyone wants to walk away, but they just can't. I tend to give up on the thread and go elsewhere. If I don't, I worry I'll get caught up and add something I'll regret.

  8. I think letting stuff go is one of the hardest things to do, but if something like this was going down on the internet, I tend to pull back. After all, SOMEONE is ALWAYS WRONG on the internet, and internet dramaz is some of the worse drama there is. Best to waste as little time as possible on it.

  9. One of my favorite phrases is "you may win the battle, but lose the war", and I practice that philosophy quite often. These little skirmishes take more effort than their worth. :)

  10. As an early childhood special education teacher (and YA fiction writer), I LOVE this post! Thanks for putting it so eloquently!

  11. The simplest way to improve our son's behavior when he was a child was to sit him on the chair in the living room and ignore him. Worked like a charm every time. As for the other question, I'm the queen of clamming up rather than persisting in a pointless argument. The thing with banging your head against the wall is it feels so darned good when you stop.

  12. Such a great topic, Sarah. I imagine most, at one time or another, can relate to feeling pulled into an argument with a child and/or an adult.

    Outside of raising my kids, I find, especially using email or other internet arenas, that people tend to feel a heightened sense of superiority or nerve, (I know. No one wants to be likened to THAT word when speaking of themselves, but we've all more than likely been there.) when they are *behind the wheel*, so to speak.

    Anytime a person takes a stance of *I'm Right*, it implies in a big way that the person standing in front of you (or on the other side of the coffee house or planet) is *Wrong*. No one wants to feel like they are being told their opinion or belief is wrong. Whether those words are actually used or not is not really the issue. It's that a line was likely drawn somewhere in the conversation, turning it into an argument, when one or the other involved grew tired of the other not folding up camp and joining in THEIR opinion, rather than agreeing to disagree, apologizing where necessary, and shaking hands on it.

    I did have an experience years ago with a good friend, at the time. Although we were able to get beyond the actual argument, via email (I raised the white flag of truce by calling her, apologizing for MY part in the argument), unfortunately we were never able to really get beyond the hurt that came from it. And when I say "we", I mean me.

    My experience felt more like a personal assault (don't they all). She was studying to be a Psychologist at the time, and looking back I can say, she *thought* she was being honest about her feelings, evaluating me in a disparaging manner, when in fact she was name calling. Likely it was my own need to hear "I'm sorry if my words hurt you", in order for me to get past it. But, she stuck to her original assessment, never said *Boo, or kiss my foot* to me about the name calling, Where The Argument Began, and that ended the friendship for me.

    I drew a line in the sand to maintain my personal boundaries, explained what my personal boundaries were. Perhaps my own trust issues. Who am I kidding? Most certainly my own trust issues. In hind sight, would I do it again? No. Experience tells me now that I should never have engaged her further once she began the name calling. Like you said, "the second you step into the ring, you've lost". At the time, I just didn't realize I was fighting a losing battle. She was never interested in compromise.

    Wow! So much emotion tied up in this topic! My fingers have hovered over the delete key through most of this reply, afraid to continue the argument. *g* That is so many ways Screwed Up!

  13. Such a great post, and such great advice! I think you'd love this post by Jay Kristoff -- it's all good reading, but make sure you check out the flow chart down the bottom, titled "So, you're mad about something on the internet". It should be compulsory reading...

  14. I was once in a very toxic relationship where neither of us could ever be the one to walk away (to the extent of throwing things). Thankfully, the lessons I learned from that have stayed with me.

  15. It is so much easier for me to "walk away" online. A simple click of the button, and the toxic conversation is over.

    FTF though, the person isn't as easily turned off, and that need to eventually respond can get overwhelming. The only person I've never been able to eventually walk away from was my red headed son. I just wanted him to understand how wrong-thinking he was. (Yeah yeah, I know how wrong-thinking I was, in hindsight.) Now that he is an adult, and I've decided to accept that he is not baiting me on purpose - he really does fit his diagnosis - I am able to stare at him without saying a word. Yep, years of practice. Not always successful.

    That need to have the last word is addictive.


  16. It's SO hard to walk away. But I've found it's IMPERATIVE to walk away, LOL!

    Nice post!

  17. The best advice I've ever received came from my dad decades before a book of the same name hit the shelves. He literally told me: "Don't sweat the small stuff! Life offers plenty of obstacles, so choose your battles wisely." (Daddy was a psychologist, by the way.) I took that view with my kids, and still do with a teenager in the house. Before I jump into something I ask myself, "Is this issue worth the confrontation?" It is surprising how often the answer is a resounding NO! Some people look for confrontations, but I'm not one of them. I don't avoid them when they are necessary, but I certainly do my best to steer clear.

  18. I've been around adults who behave like that in real life, not just chat forums. It becomes obvious they were not adequately disciplined as children. Now that they're adults, I and other peers have no authority to discipline them. They end up getting feedback from other adults in unpleasant ways.

  19. It's definitely difficult. Most of the time, I'm able to keep my mouth shut and walk away. Just...walk...away...and...don' But I wall admit, every once in a while I just HAVE to "be right" and say my piece. And do I feel any better afterward? No. I feel like I lost the battle of self-control. And thus I press on...