Decoding is a critical first step to respectfully connecting with a person who is experiencing negative emotions and expressing those emotions in sometimes harmful or self-harming behaviors. Three critical steps to decoding someone’s behavior are: To observe the behavior, To ask what the person might be feeling, and To acknowledge their feeling. A recent example of decoding I used was with a young man I’d not met before whom I was asked to interview. I introduced myself and asked him if he would mind if I spoke with him. He sat in the chair, crossed his arms and had a scowl on his face (not a happy camper). My decoding went like this: 1. Observe: Tommy, I noticed you have your arms crossed and your jaws clenched, 2. Ask: Are you angry? He responded with a yes. (If he would have said no, I simply would have asked; What are you feeling?) 3. Acknowledge: I can see you’re angry. (An empathic response that provides connection) I then asked him what caused him to be angry and he said was angry because he was supposed to be at another activity he was looking forward to. We then went on and had a … Continue reading
Have you ever noticed how ‘other people’ (not you of course) do things and say things that quite obviously makes things worse for themselves instead of better. They appear to have a genuine lack of awareness that these behaviors are counter-productive and self-defeating.
The short clip below involving a dog protecting his bone is a perfect representation of the blindness of self-defeating behavior and the self-inflicted pain it can cause. Like the dog protecting its bone, our children are protecting themselves in ways that without any understanding to others looking on appears to be counter-productive and self-harming.
In our work with youth we understand that behavior has meaning and purpose and is needs based. We view their sometimes outrageous behaviors as their best attempt to meet one of the basic needs for safety, belonging, achievement, power, purpose or adventure. With this understanding in mind, we incorporate therapeutic interventions so that the youth in our care gain insight into their self-defeating patterns of behavior and think about and incorporate healthy ways to express their emotions to get their needs met. Some of the interventions we utilize at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch include Life Space Crisis Intervention and The Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics.
We have found that the use of illusions are often helpful to illustrate various complex ideas about how the brain functions. Look at the picture. What happens? This is a picture of half of a human face. Your brain quickly reacts to this incomplete pattern by turning the face sideways – which, to it, makes more sense. To continue looking at the half face photo would mean the brain is not allowed to do its work of completing the pattern. Sometimes the brain is so anxious to make sense of the world around it, it will add or subtract information in order to satisfy this desire to predict thereby – better ensuring its continued existence. Because our brain’s primary directive is to keep us alive, many of its functions underscore this drive. In order to stay alive, it is helpful to be able to anticipate what is going to happen next. Our brains are constantly and continuously trying to predict what will happen, next words, next actions, in an attempt to be prepared in a response. A extension of this is the need to complete patterns.
Natural consequences are outcomes that happen as a result of behavior that are not planned or controlled by others. For example, if a young person is mean to others he may find that he is not invited to join in when others get together. An adult did not plan or control this consequence, but he or she may observe it and choose to allow it to happen. That adult then may be able to discuss what happened with the young person who was left out and help him or her learn predict such natural consequences in future interactions. Use of natural consequences allows an attentive adult to teach young people the connection between their choices and what happens to them.
Behavioral principles have been prominent for forty years in programs for youth. Parenting programs also include healthy doses of behavioral intervention strategies. There is great value in understanding the uses of behavioral approaches in our work – at the same time, there are significant limitations. One drawback of the infusion of behavioral initiative in our work is the perceiving meaning of the word “consequence” itself. You won’t find “punishment” as a synonym for “consequence” in Thesaurus. Yet, they have become synonymous in our work and that has been detrimental to our understanding of the purpose and power of what consequences are and how consequences can be used as vehicles to help us as professionals achieve the meaningful learning, growth and change in behavior of our youth in our care.
This is the first of a three-part series on using “consequences” in our work. These brief presentations are intended to provide a starting point for learning, dialogue and training on an important and pervasive topic throughout services and professional disciplines.
Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch – A Work in Progress Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch began in a courthouse in the old West town of Tascosa. Beginnings, in most things, have a significant impact on journeys. The same holds for a boys’ ranch founded among the backdrop of cattle thieves and gunslingers. Our history has carried with it many traditional beliefs which have strengthened our mission and, at other times, weakened it. These established ideas included each staff member utilizing his/her own personal approach to childrearing, labeling children as sick or broken, and a heavy dosing of behavior modification. Over the past 75 years, we have grown from housing a mere 9 wayward boys to a capacity of almost 300 boys and girls, aging from pre-school to seniors. During this time we have shifted our beliefs from the more traditional to transformational. In tandem with this trend has been our progression as a trauma aware facility. Although we have been relationally focused for several years, just recently we began an intense journey of learning about how relationships and experiences impact brain development. Pioneers in the field who have guided our thinking include Dr. Karyn Purvis of Texas Christian University’s Institute of Childhood … Continue reading
Misinformation regarding the brain is in no short supply. The most common misinformation is likely regarding the hemispheres of the brain. This stems from the popularity of the topic in the 70’s and 80’s driven by the first split brain operations. In this RSA animation, Iain McGilchrist revisits the divided brain with newer insight debunking the most commonly heard myths. However, what he brings to the table is a new understanding that may prove more interesting than what is most frequently presented.
A beautifully animated talk by Daniel Pink the author of Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us.
We work with youth and we work with youth from a “strength-based” perspective. However, when we work with staff who work with youth, do we use a “strength-based” perspective?
“We studied what makes companies and teams great—and we uncovered a secret: focus on your strengths. The key to increasing team productivity, customer satisfaction and employee retention is to make sure that you and your team members have the chance to play to your strengths every day. Unfortunately, only 2 out of 10 people do so.” – Marcus Buckingham
Common management practices (performance appraisals, etc.) often focus on weaknesses (goals for improvement, etc.) and less on strengths. Wouldn’t it make more sense and wouldn’t we be more effective if we aligned all elements of our work to a “strength-based” perspective?
Marcus Buckingham has been a leader of “strength-based” leadership in the business world.