I got a chance to use a new method with a kid this week. Normally Iím not Mahatma Ghandi in the morning, but on Monday I gave it a shot. As I alluded to in Class, I had a situation in which I got calmer as my client got angrier.
It was about 6:30 am, a half an hour before Erin was to get up, and only 10 minutes after I had flicked on the coffee maker. Bladders show no mercy, and Erin woke to use the loo. When he was finished, he wanted to have a hug and I obliged, pausing at his door. He asked me if he could have his light on but I told him, very calmly: "No, but in about 15 minutes if you can be quiet, and not wake John (sleeping downstairs), Iíll knock on your door and tell you itís time (to have your light on)." He shrieked quite loudly, and reached past me and flicked the light on. I got quieter and asked him calmly if I needed to take the light bulb out. He shrieked again, and tried to slam the door on me. As I did not want my coffee to spill, I calmly moved my foot with the door so that it would not allow him to accelerate the door much, and so it would hit my shoe, not my shoulder. This frustrated his effort to make a loud bang and watch me lose my last marble. Then he got "the look" on his face and yelled at me that I was a "Cheap Fucker!" (whatever that is.) I responded quietly by getting a look on my face of unflustered bewilderment and asked him what in the world he was doing. He started to lose some of his emotional edge, and hesitated. Then, as if to try to find a way of activating his own rage, he yelled at me and tried to slam the door again. He tried several strategies and finally managed to spill about 3 drops of my coffee. We both looked down at the coffee, as he waited for me to decapitate him. I did a weird thing. I squatted down beside him making myself quite vulnerable physically, and asked him almost in a whisper what was wrong. He hesitated for a micro-second, so I asked him another question: "Are you actually disappointed, and not really mad?" Again he hesitated, and before he could generate an angry rebuttal (it was right there, trust me on this) I said, "Itís okay to be disappointed and sad Erin, you donít need to be angryÖis anger easier?" At that point, he exploded into tears, and moved in for a hug at the same time. It was one of the odds "flip-flops" I have seen.
I told him that it makes perfect sense to be disappointed to have to wait for 15 minutes without the light on. Then he described with words how he got angry instead. I thought he was in a good space just then so I said, "Erin, as you get older, you will be able to get disappointed without getting angryÖand thatíll be a good thing. Some people grow up and still canít be sad or disappointed without getting mad." He said that his old Dad was like that, and I said, "Itís kind of sad when grown-ups do that, but youíre starting to grow up a little alreadyÖyouíre ready to be able to be sad when youíre sad and stuff."
It was a good moment. Then I put my hand on his shoulder, and nudged him toward his bed and said, "Iíll set the timer for you, okay buddy?" He was too busy crying now, so he did not answer me as he got back into his bed.
I was impressed by his nimbleness at recognising himself in the mirror I held up to him (figuratively speaking). He seemed to even want a way out of his own folly. I think his developmental level (Initiative versus Guilt, and Industry versus Inferiority) is serving to motivate him to want to be seen to be mature, and yet for him, asking for what he wants has traditionally cost him a beating. Ironic, somehow, that he has been more rewarded for obnoxious behaviour than for proper manners.