Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Preschool Whisperer

I've had more than one client spontaneously refer to Caesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer on National Geographic in reference to staying calm when interacting with preschool aged children. Both of these parents, and I as well, are clear that working with dogs is not the same as working with kids. But there is a powerful metaphor available in thinking about Caesar. On his show he frequently refers to the idea of Calm, Assertive Energy, as way of being around dogs that helps them to calm down and follow his lead. In very brief interactions with a problem, aggressive dog, you can often see the change in the dog's body language seconds after he enters the scene. The dog is in tune with the way he carries himself.

This Caesar metaphor nicely captures a concept that I've had a clear image in my mind about how it looks, but have some trouble communicating. I think the folks at Love and Logic have had the same challenge. It is much easier to describe the techniques than it is to capture the subtle way of being with kids, yet I think the idea is essential.

After reading some of Wayne Dyer's older books I adopted for some time his phrase of "quietly effective" practices. You'll notice one of the pdf handouts on the Enjoy Parenting Again site is titled Quietly Effective Techniques for Working with Preschoolers and Toddlers. 

This idea of calm-assertiveness is a state of mind in which you are responsive, but not reactive. Where you hold yourself in a way that communicates to the child that "I can handle the situation and help you, and I can even handle you if needed." This way of holding one's self helps kids to be calmer and to feel safer, especially when they are melting down. Often instead we can become reactive or aggressive sounding. But this "I've had it" stance communicates something very different, along the lines of "I'm not really in control here. I'm powerful, but just barely managing myself." When kids are around this they often feel unsafe and act out even more. Or the attention principle comes into play.

More on this in future posts. For now I'll just say that my clients have been the source of many powerful ideas I've come across. This is one I'll be hanging onto. 
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