The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, April 08, 2011

Raising the Wild Child

Some of you know that Jason has been a rambunctious trial--as of course, little boys should be. I'm sure my sainted mother is grinning from heaven. "Told you so!" At any rate, over the last year we had a wonderful therapist, Dr. Meyer, who oversaw our efforts to help him learn to obey, cut down the lying and tantrums, control his behavior, and in general mature. Dr. Meyer didn't object to the idea of spanking, but I noticed he smiled and scribbled when I decided for myself that I didn't want to take that path: didn't want Jason to associate my touch with pain. But discipline was necessary, and discomfort is a great teacher (one of the reasons drugs are such a bad idea for the immature, by the way: without pain, we simply don't learn whole swaths of critical life lessons.) At any rate, I began to collect a cluster of approaches, and test them (without testing, theories aren't much good) and Dr. Meyer was fascinated, and actually wanted to write an article with me for a journal of child psychology specializing in ADD kids. I hesitated because I wasn't getting results that were sufficiently positive. But as time went on, and I kept adjusting, I started getting those results. The move to Atlanta has of course added chaos to our lives, and we have to start some of this process over, but I'm still impressed by how much Jason matured during the time when I was applying these techniques.

The most important of them had to do with meditating morning and night with him, and teaching him hatha yoga. I spoke of this to one of my coaching clients, R., who is having issues with his own kids. R. asked me to provide him a break-down of my approach. The following note went out yesterday, and with tiny modifications I thought I'd share it.


Dear R.--

Terrific talking with you today. Actually glad you reminded me of the breathing thing, and wanted to jot down a few thoughts in that regard.

1) Breath is the "canary in the coal mine"--it is the first thing to shift as the body-mind degrades from calm to stress to strain. Control the breathing, and you control the rest of the chain.

2) Breath is the only process that is both voluntary and autonomic. It is the doorway to control of ordinarily unconscious functions, such as fight or flight response.

3) The best way to learn any skill is to practice it multiple times during the day for short sessions (rather than expending the same amount of time in a lump).

4) I was using breathing with Jason in several ways. First, every morning and every night we would sit together cross-legged and chant "om" in multiples of ten. If everything was fine at home and at school, it required only ten. But for every level of difficulty, I'd add another ten, until sometimes he was doing it forty times morning and night, counting up to ten over and over again. "One. Ommmmmm. Two. Ommmmm." etc. Breathing slow, and deep in his belly. Most of the time, I would do this with him. Sometimes, I would force him to do it alone while I watched. I kept track to see which was more efficient and effective

5) Hatha Yoga is just a breathing exercise, tying knots in the flow of breath, then unraveling them and tying a new one, seeking calm and flow under increasing levels of physical stress. By the way, this is a core explanation of the transformative aspects of many body-mind disciplines: martial arts, tai chi, so forth. I chose the "downward dog" pose because holding it causes real stress. It is a bear. But if you use focus and proper form, as well as control the breathing, the "pain" becomes mere intensity, and can be ridden like a wave. When Jason has been "bad" I'll put him in Downward Dog position. Usually after 30 seconds, he's a hurtin' unit. I can remind him to breathe, extend, and focus, which entrains proper habits of body-mind integration under stress (remember: if stress does not become strain, it will not hurt you. Behaviors linked to fear and anger can thereby be controlled). This allows me to use the aversive conditioning of "talking" to his nervous system (pain) without anchoring violent physical contact into our relationship, and teaching him a VERY valuable skill simultaneously.

6) By identifying an area where he craves excellence (Judo) I've been able to use that as a way to teach principles of thought and action (Musashi's Nine) and relate that to success in proper behavior in other school, controlling his temper at home, and so forth. "Do Not Think Dishonestly" and "The Way is In Training" work great for teaching discipline, homework, reliability, clarity, and a host of other positive values. He HATES being thrown, especially by girls. Heh heh. So by showing him how a discipline I want him to master will lead to results in alignment with his internal values. I get a serious twofer. Maybe a threefer.

7) Every day, in every way, I tell him and show him I love him, and that that love cannot be lost, damaged, and will never be withheld. I don't always like his behavior, but that is separate. He needs this like roses need rain. It allows me to speak to him honestly and directly about how I am helping him learn to be the man HE is committed to being. He wants to be a warrior. A hero. One others can rely upon. This is the only path I know that will educe such strength, and allow him grace in his journey.

Anyway, that's the basic stuff. Ask if you want more specificity!


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