Sunday, July 31, 2011

Behavior - is working for him or just 'poor coping skills'

From -

For the unfamiliar, a functional assessment (sometimes called a functional analysis) is a procedure through which the function (causes, purposes, goals) of a kid’s challenging behavior is identified. Though FBAs are common in schools, the information gathered through and inferences drawn from a functional analysis vary depending on the orientation, training, and experience of the evaluator conducting the procedure.

A core assumption guiding most FBAs is that maladaptive behavior is “working” for a kid by allowing him to “get” something desirable (e.g., attention, peer approval) or “escape” or “avoid” something undesirable (e.g., a difficult, tedious, unpleasant task). 

The belief that challenging behaviors are somehow “working” for a kid leads many adults to the conclusion that those behaviors are purposeful -- what might be referred to as the intentionality attributional bias -- and this can set the stage for misguided statements such as, “It must be working for him or he wouldn’t be doing it.”

 This mentality invariably sets the stage for interventions aimed at punishing kids’ challenging behaviors so the behaviors don’t “work” anymore, and rewarding adaptive replacement behaviors to encourage ones that “work” better. This is the foundation of most school discipline programs.

But this definition of “function” reflects what I call the “first pass” of a functional assessment. There’s an indispensable “second pass” – a deeper level of analysis – that, regrettably, often goes neglected: What lagging skills account for why the kid is getting, avoiding, and escaping in such a maladaptive fashion? 

This question springs from the core mentality of the CPS model (Kids do well if they can) and from the assumption that if a kid could get, escape, or avoid in an adaptive fashion – in a way that “worked” without causing all the misery that accompanies his challenging behavior – he surely would. 

When one is focused on the “second pass” of a functional assessment, it becomes clear that the essential function of challenging behavior is to communicate to adults that a kid doesn’t possess the skills to handle certain challenges under certain conditions. This belief sets the stage for interventions aimed at teaching lagging cognitive skills and helping kids solve the problems that are precipitating their challenging behavior.


Behavioral challenges - learned or a product of lacking skills

Russell Barkley at the recent keynote speech for CHADD Atlanta Annual Conference said: “The arguing, defiance, refusal is a learned behavior – not genetic, not biological. It arises out of a pattern of behavior we have understood for 40 years. The way parents manage the emotional gambits of the child may make the emotions of the child better or worse and may teach the child that emotions are a tool to use on others. This is known as Coercion Theory. What the child is learning is how to use negative emotion to coerce another into doing what they want, usually leaving them alone." 

The difference between Barkley and CPS

Barkley  - behaviorist – behaviors are learned through external reinforcement and motivation

CPS – behaviors -  demanding situations outstrip skills , already motivated , intrinsic motivation improved by supporting autonomy = kid generates solutions , competence = acquisition of skills using cps and relatedness= non confrontational – addressing both needs

Coercion theory created by Patterson is part of Social Learning theory which explains how behaviors are learned and reinforced. It is essentially behaviorist  - that kids are the sum total of the external stimuli they experience.  Behavior is shaped by consequences  which punish or reward behavior . The child-parent dynamic usually described is the child being aggressive and the parent then fails to be firm and enforce a consequence. Parents who don't follow through with consequences teach kid that their behavior pays to help them get what they want. The theory ignores the whole child, one that has feelings, makes meaning of experiences , his temperament, developmental stage etc and the contribution of the parent to the interaction.  

I agree to some extent with the idea that parents model behavior and kids can learn from them. If parents always use Plan A on their kids, kids will respond with Plan A. In most cases parents are also lacking the skills that are needed for Plan B and continue to use Plan A not because it is working for them , but like children they are doing as well as they can. Even if we say kids perceive these behaviors as working for them , we still need to ask why are they responding in such a maladaptive way. We all try to get attention, avoid uncomfortable tasks and try to get what we want – the difference is how we go about it.
Barkley himself talks about ADHD kids having a problem with executive functions -  the skill of inhibition. The arguing, defiance and refusal can be attributed to the lack of executive functions.

Self Determination theory researchers Deci and Ryan have disproved Patterson's and other behaviorist research that rewards and punishments can reinforce or discourage behaviors. Behaviorists have moved away from punishments – ' honey catches a lot more flies than vinegar' . 

 SDT has shown that rewards undermine intrinsic motivation. Barkley sees ADHD as a deficit in intrinsic motivation and we need external motivators to compensate this lack of intrinsic motivation. But rewards undermine intrinsic motivation. SDT -  we promote intrinsic motivation by supporting the needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness . Instead we should use CPS – Barkley does recommend CPS for older kids-  .  It promotes skills , relationship and autonomy .


Monday, July 25, 2011

The 3 R's Relationship, Reflection, Resilience - Dan Siegel

Dr Dan Siegel , the creator of the word ' mindset uses the research into interpersonal neural biology to warn us that  the present educational system is undermining brain growth and emotional development.  From a collection of video clips – see Tedx – the power of Mindsight -   he says

 by focusing just on the 3 R's  - reading, writing, and arithmetic which are the neural circuits of the physical world we are depriving kids of the power of mindsight.

He suggests that curriculum should be based on the other more important 3 R's  -  Relationship, Reflection and Resilience -  the neural circuits of the world of the mind. When we are interconnected with others, in tune with them, have insight into ourselves / others and have empathy with them, we have mind sight.  In preschool we learned social skills, to connect and share with others. In school we take on our Western culture which according to Einstein creates an optical illusion of our separateness .

Traditional teaching and the way behavior is managed promotes separateness and looking at the world as only a physical entity. We should rather than ' working with children' to help them build relationships and be reflective. The brain is the social organ of the body. When we experience reflective relationships we create resilience. Resilience is the ability to meet challenges and get up after a fall.  

The practice of mindsight promotes many middle prefrontal functions of the brain help people connect with others and be aware of themselves.

Bodily regulation  -  Attuned communication- Emotional balance-
Fear extinction- Flexibility –Insight – Empathy –Morality  - Intuition

At the end of the talk Dan Siegel talks about the different effects of Yes and No have on a child. No is negative, a pushing down , separation, which gets a kid into a reactive mode -  the fight, flight or freeze  modes. Yes – makes a connection, empowers , feelings of love. Now for sure there will be times that a parent must set limits – the best way together  the parent should do it a way which is empathic and gives reasons so the child will start to hear the Yes – the reason we need to do this ,  the opportunities presented by this new challenge rather than the NO.

This reminds me of Edward De Bono's thinking tool  - the P.M.I

People are generally critical , good at critical thinking and discounting what others say. We are good at saying No. No creates separation and stops thinking. Instead we should teach kids to first look for the Positives in what we and others say , explore beyond our narrow visions, beyond ourselves.  This is creative thinking which leads to discussion, reflection and relationship. Then we can explore together with the kid the Minuses  of the idea in a parallel way- everyone looking at the positives together and then the Minuses together, not arguing -  and finally see if we can take something Interesting from the idea.

Resilience is about reflection ,the ability to see beyond the No and explore the positive and come up with creative ideas which take us forward together.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Focus on the process , social norms and values, not the money

As a young man I would always question the wisdom of spending much money on making  weddings, barmitvahs, family or school reunions until I was privileged to make a barmitvah, a wedding, attend reunions.  I then understood that money can't buy the feelings, the experiences , the attachments and relatedness that come with these occasions.

Dan Ariely talks of how we   convert social norms into economic norms

 Instead of talking about motives, feelings and values parents focus on behavior and convert the social norms into an economic ones when they use rewards, punishments and consequences. 

 In schools – instead of focusing on the process of learning, the learning experiences , we focus on data, test scores and how much they can buy kids in the job market. 

In the work place , managers incorrectly think that they can motivate workers with incentives. Everyone agrees that workers should be paid well, but managers don't appreciate that employees value ' relatedness , being able to direct your work , autonomy, being valued and respected above  'incentives'. 

When it comes to religion and character education rewards are used to get kids to do good deeds. A school tried to encourage kids to return lost articles or money found in school or on the playground by rewarding them. All of a sudden , kids were finding so many coins on the playground. A kid by mistake kicked a ball that hit a teacher. He ran away instead of offering help  -  he did not want to get caught. Rewards and punishments not only convert social norms into economic ones , they encourage and promote immoral behavior.

We should be helping kids to think in the following way.

A man who was about to go overseas for while approached his neighbor's  10 year old son. He asked him to look after his dog, take him for walks etc while he was away on holiday.

He asked the kid  -   How much ?

The kid -  I am willing to pay  $15

Parents , teachers and society as a whole should be helping people convert experiences from economic norms to social norms. If we focus on intrinsic motivation and reward we can help kids focus on the process and be guided by social norms


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lori Gotlieb, Barry Schwartz - Too much choice is not the problem !

Lori Gotlieb in her newspaper article ' 

says            ' children today have too much choice.'

She recalls  ' As a parent, I’m all too familiar with this. I never said to my son, “Here’s your grilled-cheese sandwich.” I’d say, “Do you want the grilled cheese or the fish sticks?” On a Saturday, I’d say, “Do you want to go to the park or the beach?” Sometimes, if my preschooler was having a meltdown over the fact that we had to go to the grocery store, instead of swooping him up and wrestling him into the car, I’d give him a choice: “Do you want to go to Trader Joe’s or Ralphs?” (Once we got to the market, it was “Do you want the vanilla yogurt or the peach?”) But after I’d set up this paradigm, we couldn’t do anything unless he had a choice. One day when I said to him, “Please put your shoes on, we’re going to Trader Joe’s,” he replied matter-of-factly: “What are my other choices?” I told him there were no other choices—we needed something from Trader Joe’s. “But it’s not fair if I don’t get to decide too!” he pleaded ingenuously. He’d come to expect unlimited choice. 

She then quotes the expert Barry Schwartz  that well-meaning parents give their kids so much choice on a daily basis that the children become not entitled, but paralyzed, because they cannot cope with so much choice.

So Lori Gotlieb and Barry Swartz say the problem is too much choice. I believe that they have got it wrong.  It is not a problem of too much choice but how choices are given. 

A   Pseudo choices or Plan A –.Caregivers   direct children to a limited number of adult-selected options. Giving a choice still means ' Do it my way ', my way can still  be a  choice from  A, B, C, or D.

B   Children generating choices in the context of planning and problem   solving.

Ann Epstein – ' the intentional teacher ' says Planning is choice with intention. (Her words apply to the home as well as the classroom.)  That is, the chooser begins with a specific goal or purpose in mind that results in the choice. First we must differentiate real choices in which teachers offer multiple options (“What colors do you want to use in your painting?”) from pseudo-choices in which teachers direct children to a limited number of adult-selected options (“Do you want to use red or blue?”) But planning goes further than selecting from open-ended choices. When we engage children in planning, we encourage them to identify their goals and consider the options for achieving them. For example, they might consider what they will do, where they will do it, what materials they will use, who they will do it with, how long it will take, and whether they will need help. Planning thus involves deciding on actions and predicting interactions, recognizing problems and proposing solutions, and anticipating consequences and reactions.'

The process of collaborative problem solving means that the concerns of all parties are put on the table, the problem is defined , then  the parties put their heads together and brainstorm and generate choices and solutions that are mutually satisfactory.  A mom commented after she had been through the cps process that she felt it was the first time she was being heard. The process helps kids internalize a concern for others . Decisions and choices will  therefore take into account their impact on others. Kids learn to make their individual choices in the context of values like family, classroom of kids and community. Kids will become effective decision makers and make moral choices. 

Traditional parenting recommends giving kids choices as a way to get compliance. Because giving choices  is a clever way of imposing parental will , kids see the choice not as part of a plan or a solution to a problem but a chance for letting them express their counter -will ignoring the concern of others.
Kids will wish for or expect unlimited choice when they don't participate ,in real decision making , planning , problem solving and given the opportunity to generate choices. They will also have difficulty in handling choice.

Lori Gotlieb, Barry Swartz  - the problem is not too much choice but the context in which choice is given.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Attachment parenting - The still face experiment Dan Siegal /cps

In the book ' Bright from the Start '  focus is placed on the communication between parent and infant. Parents communicate and collaborate with infants by tuning into their non-verbal language , being observant and attendant to their facial expressions, body language and tone of their voice. 

The baby in turn is picking up and observing his mother's body language, the way she holds him , the tone of her voice and attention she displays.

Dan Siegal calls these interactions , the dance of ' tuning in' , where  the mother and baby respond and adjust  to each other . This creates a ' circle of communication '  where the child and mom match the emotional connection equally.

 Ross Greene sees the child and mom , not using words but still communicating and problem solving in a collaborative way  -  

The outcome of this dance is a love relationship , secure attachment and brain growth.  Brain science has a new appreciation of neuroplasticity , that the brain grows and changes from these ' thinking' and ' attachment- based ' interactions.  neuroplasticity

In an experiment called -  the still face experiment

 mothers  were instructed to sit  face to face to their babies,  be connected and attuned to the babies'  cues, be responsive – I see you , I feel you and then switch off their responses and give the baby the silent treatment.

Babies aged 3,6 and 9 months participated in this experiment. The results of the experiment show how important the ' dyadic ' communication is to the child's development.

The traditional view explains the parent- baby dynamic as the baby being aroused by the various stimuli , making noises , faces and hand movements with the mother being in control ,making adjustments.
 An  alternative view which is supported by the still face experiment sees the baby as an active partner , initiating conversation and taking steps to solve problems.

Here are some non-verbal cues that can guide our interactions

Turn head away – ' I am tired of playing now, leave me alone '

Smacks lips   -' I am getting hungry '

Coos-    ' I hear you talking and I am talking back ,  say something else mom'

A shift from a latched- on eye contact  to a look of concern and an overflow of body movements   - I am feeling anxious and concerned , something is happening , …  … what's going on ?

Freeze mode –  awake but not moving hands or legs at all , eyes shifting  -  I am really afraid and confused