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There are only TWO Questions At The Heart Of Every Human Problem…

I once heard that almost every problem we encounter as humans has only one of two questions at its heart; “Do you really love me?” and “Who is in charge?”

I personally think there’s a lot of truth in this and “Who is in charge?” is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot this week,  especially re; the news about these plans for ‘behaviour hubs’.
I’m not going to rant about this but the approaches being talked about here are not the solution.

’Behaviour intervention’ has to be about meeting the best interests of the child, not basically training children to make adults’ lives easier.

For example, I’ve been working with a mum whose adolescent was struggling with ‘age-inappropriateness’; a refusal to take responsibility for his own actions & decisions. It was starting to cause huge and detrimental effects of his life. Intervention was necessary, for his benefit, not just the parent’s.

And most of us are familiar with our own version of this, to a lesser degree. Children not behaving according to their age is a common source of parent-child discord and “You’re old enough to know better” is a pretty well-used phrase amongst us, often with very good reason… But ‘growing up’ can actually be much more complicated than this…

One of the great myths about ‘growing up’ is that behaviour should follow the same trajectory as the body, but the brain doesn’t always work like that, because the fight/flight response doesn’t operate from the developed brain.

We all have what I call an ‘inner-smoke alarm’, meaning we can all react with a misfired fight/flight response. This happens for a whole host of reasons; unbalanced brain chemistry, stress, tiredness, worry, overwhelm etc. The double-downside is that this ‘alarm state’ prevents the brain from thinking, and thus developing more self-aware strategies to problem-solve.

What this means is that, often, what looks like ‘bad behaviour’; shouting, rudeness, hitting, aggression, reactivity and impulsivity; is just a misfiring fight/flight response. Like a smoke-alarm, it’s effective, speedy, but a very blunt instrument. It doesn’t know (or care about) the difference between charred toast or the house burning down.

And while it is possible for kids to choose ‘bad behaviour,’ very often they are not choosing anything. Choosing means thinking, and they are simply reacting. Chronological age is irrelevant in those moments. ‘Acting your age’ is neurologically impossible.

So what’s the answer? 

‘Consequences’ (and fear of…) can help in the short-term, but as a long-term strategy they’re not effective, IMO.  They don’t develop kids’ self-awareness, or give them the skills to think critically about how they behave and to self-manage that from within.

The heart of ‘appropriate behaviour’ is a child who is in control, of themselves, rather than being controlled; by ‘consequences’, sanctions, behaviour management systems, etc…

How do children learn to be in charge of themselves if we bring them up on a diet of ‘The grown-ups are in charge of you, not you’?

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