This weekend Jason came home for a surprise visit. When he got home Brooklyn was so excited she had an accident in the living room. Actually we thought she had an accident it turns out I had my fourth home leak in three months. Yes you read that right, but the situation made me giggle. I really thought she was sooo excited she wet herself.
What does this story have to do with anything you ask? Well I also talked with a parent this week about her sons anger problem. When I asked what was causing the anger, she said it was sudden, that he just "snapped." I shared with her that I didn't think he was just "snapping." I compared it to a dog, that often they showed signs through their body language that we didn't pick up on. That a dog circling the door, whining at the bottom of the stairs, pacing, were all signs of what's about to happen- a wet floor! We just need to figure out those warning signs so that we can grab that leash and get out.
It's the ABC's of behavior.
So the behavior was urinating in the home, but that could be caused by medical conditions, separation anxiety, fear, etc. We wouldn't punish our children for having these issues would we? Well I certainly hope not.
As the ASPCA explains: "Do not scold or punish your dog. Anxious behaviors are not the result of disobedience or spite. They are distress responses! Your dog displays anxious behaviors when left alone because he’s upset and trying to cope with a great deal of stress. If you punish him, he may become even more upset and the problem could get much worse. "
When I think about my students that have anxiety or anger issues, i think of this. Scolding or getting angry at them is only amplifying the situation.
In addition, coming home and finding the mistake and then "rubbing a dogs nose in it" to teach him a lesson is only creating more fear and anxiety. "Avoid physically punishing or yelling at your dog if he eliminates in the wrong place outside. Doing this won’t teach him where you do want him to go, and it might convince him that it’s not safe to eliminate at all if you’re around," suggests the ASPCA. This along with the fact the dog won't remember why you are upset is why positive reinforcement works best of dogs, explains Victoria Stilwel, dog behaviorist, and author of a phenomenal book.
So where am I going with this? I have become captivated by the idea that much of what I have learned through my dog, I can apply to my students. Obviously humans and dogs differ and I am not comparing your darling baby to a dog, only that I am in the nicest of ways =).
So back to my students whose "snapping." He isn't really "snapping." There as to be an antecedent: someone says something that irritates him, he doesn't get his way, etc. Even before the snap, there is still one more antecedent: his body and/or mind is getting angry. Does he make a fist? Does he have a negative thought pattern? What is it right before?? This is the hardest part I think, because just like my dog doesn't remember urinating hours earlier, my student has a hard time reflecting on that initial trigger. Do I fault him or get angry, according to any dog behaviorist- no! Still I am trying to get him to read his own body language and reflect to no avail.
So I look on -what is the consequence? This is immediate! I really mean that - immediate. When you praise a dog for urinating outside as you want them to- the praise has to be the second they hike their leg. This is why a clicker and clicker training is helpful. The second Brooklyn does what I want her to I have to praise her. I still find myself waiting just a bit too long on the praise at times. So in the case of my student the consequence is what happens immediately after. As soon as he uncurls his fist when he is angry, that's when I would praise him. The problem is I am not there to praise him. So what is the immediate consequence?
If the student is a bully, then if the other child cries then the consequence is actually a reward. He got want he wanted- to upset the other child.
So what if he isn't a bully (and in this case I really don't think he is), the immediate consequence is that that the other child is hurt and hopefully that is consequence enough for them to stop. If not, getting "grounded" sure might be enough for them to reconsider their action. In the case of my student this isn't enough for him to stop. So what do I do?
Ok longest post ever- but here is my question to my fellow counselors: How do I help a student from getting angry if we can't identify what is his trigger and is reluctant to reflect on the consequence? What should I do to help this student?