I’m getting excited for Cindy Leavitt’s presentation, Discipline That Doesn’t Divide, coming up tomorrow morning in Seattle. I saw her give this talk in 2011, and got so much out of it the first time that I’m headed back – both for a refresher and to discover the new gems I always find anytime I hear Cindy speak. (There’s still time to register for this talk, by the way, and I hope to see you there!)
One thing that especially resonated when I first heard Cindy give this presentation is the concept of aiming to changing a mind instead of changing a behavior – as Cindy described, it’s about soliciting good intentions – rather than demanding good behavior.
So, instead of, “Stop hitting your sister,” the focus shifts to the intention. “If you’re having a difficult time with your sister, can I rely on you to come and find me?”
Sounds dreamy, yes? And being totally realistic, things may or may not play out that way. Despite the best of intentions, the hits might still come out, especially if the child is very young. That’s because until children reach somewhere between age five and seven, it’s pretty much impossible, developmentally, for them to hold two opposing thoughts at the same time. After all, the child’s brain lives moment to moment. It’s just one of the many things we find so endearing about them. “I’m mad at you,” means “I’m mad at you.” And in that cut-and-dry moment, there’s no room, also, for “I should go get help from a grown-up.”
Once children find their mixed feelings, there is room for two different thoughts. But even so, as even grown-ups can attest, when feelings are big it’s not always easy to keep that mix.
Even so, identifying the child with where she or he is aiming makes all the difference in working to change a mind.
Oh No, George!, written and illustrated by Chris Haughton (Candlewick, 2012) is a picture book I’ve found that’s perfect to introduce the concept of intentions, and how they may or may not match to behavior, to young children.
The story begins with a funny-looking owner talking to his dog: “Harry is going out. ‘Will you be good, George?’ asks Harry. ‘Yes,’ says Harry. ‘I’ll be very good.’”
On the page turn, dropping in just the right, dose of humor and foreshadowing, George the dog thinks, “I hope I’ll be good.”
Until, right away on the next page, “George sees something in the kitchen. It’s cake!”
Once again, we’re privy to George’s thoughts. “I said I’d be good,” George thinks, but I LOVE cake.”
And then, the author introduces the first of several fun conversation starters, “What will George do?”
If they’re anything like my preschoolers, kids will love the suspense and chance to talk about what George should do. After all, preschoolers are quite savvy when it comes to knowing all the good behaviors others should be doing.
They’ll find it funny on the next spread, when we see George gobbling up the cake to the words of, “Oh no, George!” And it’s funny not so much because it’s naughty, but because they can relate to that internal pull – wanting to behave a certain way so very badly, but finding the temptation just too much.
The story continues in this way with additional temptations – a cat to chase and fresh dirt to dig in. In each case, there’s repetition in the page-turning suspense to find out, “What will George do?” and then humor in seeing George, again unable to resist doing the right thing, despite his intentions. We can all relate to feeling torn in this way, especially preschoolers, who pretty much live their lives this way.
Harry comes back, and is, of course, initially shocked to find his house thrashed by George.
But George, clearly, is still aiming in the right direction. He was disappointed in himself. “I said I’d be good, George thinks. I hoped I’d be good, but I wasn’t.” He’s got the beginnings of values, and also feels in charge because he’s relating his behavior to his intentions.
Harry suggests they go for a walk. And because this is a work of fiction, George has suddenly made great leaps in maturity. He now seems capable of holding two mixed feelings at the same time. He sees cake, and some lovely dirt, but is able to remember his intention to be good. “George doesn’t even try to chase Cat. Even Cat is a bit surprised.”
George has made progress – at least for now. I love that the book ends with an incomplete, true-to-life resolution when George smells something very interesting…
“It’s a trash can. There’s nothing George likes more than digging in trash.”
The story ends with more repetition that’s carried the humor throughout. “What will George do?”
And with the last page turn, with the simple question, “George?”, it’s clear that George is a normal, child-like character (who could be any age, for that matter!), whose mind will continue to wrestle with intentions and behavior.
In her Discipline That Doesn’t Divide talk tomorrow morning, Cindy Leavitt will be talking more about soliciting good intentions, as well as aiming to changing a mind instead of changing a behavior. Her presentation runs from 8:30 am to 1:00 pm at the North Seattle Community College Concert Hall, and the cost is reasonable: $45-85 on a sliding scale.
To register, visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/238570