Martin L. Kutscher, M.D.
On this Web page, we leave the world of medical science and enter into the world of personal beliefs and philosophies. Some of these thoughts are taken from well-worn texts, and others are fairly novel ideas. See if any of them ring true to you. Hopefully, you will find this to be philosophy with directly practical applications. There are ideas here that we should teach to our children; the same ideas should help us deal with them.
One caveat: Often, concepts seem good, but we are just too mired in old habits, inertia, or depression to actually utilize them. This is where professional help can get a family "unstuck." To get things moving in a positive cycle, professionals can help with counseling and behavioral techniques. Physicians may also need to add medications to help with attention, impulsivity, anxiety, or depression.
[M. Kutscher, M.D. © 2002]
"Catch them being good" is a deservedly popular phrase. Basically, it refers to the basic strategy of looking for the positive moments and reinforcing them, rather than focusing on the negative. For example, praise the five math problems that were completed, rather than criticizing the sixth that was skipped. Give praise for sharing the crumb at all, rather than focusing on the crumbs small size. You get the idea. It will help, if you can keep it up.
I would suggest that the best way to help ones own problems is to help someone elses problems instead. Many religions teach it, but why does the human brain work this way? I have a theory: When we teach our children to constantly focus on helping their own lives, we encourage them to view themselves as constantly deprived of something--deprived of reading ability, deprived of math ability, deprived of friends, deprived of talent, etc. Implicit in the urge to help oneself is a statement that "I do not yet have enough. Im not satisfied yet with my life as it is. I am not happy."
In contrast, implicit in the act of helping others is a statement that "Other people have bigger problems than I do. I have enough gifts in my life that I can share them with others. I am useful. I already have enough, including a purpose in life. I am happy."
Loosely, translated, helping others means volunteering. Lets encourage our children to volunteer around the house, join a volunteer club at school, join the local youth group, big brother/big sister, etc. [Note that being forced to help around the house may add to the childs sense of being useful, but it does not lead to the greater insight that the child already has enough to volitionally give of him/herself.] For ideas, try:
All of us could probably benefit from adopting the stance of "seek first to understand," a phrase used in the book Dont Sweat the Small Stuff (And its all small stuff.) [Click here to order from Amazon.com.] Usually, we are so wrapped up in our own reaction to something that we never stop to ask: "What underlying factors made my fellow human being do that to me?" Usually, theres a good answer if we seek it out. Pausing to understand the reasons why others treat us as they do can help us control our impulsive responses. (Impulsivity is a particular problem for those of us with ADD.) Lets teach our children: First, pause to understand. Then, react.
In order to understand others better, try the following three ideas:
M. Scott Pecks popular book, The Road Less Traveled, begins with the terse sentence: "Life is difficult." Although our children--and ourselves--often feel singled out to be victims, it often comes as somewhat of a relief to realize that we are not the only ones with problems. In fact, if you have access to a computer to read this, I think it is fair to say that compared to many people on our planet, our problems are rather small. Maybe not. Maybe our problems are the greatest. Or maybe we just do not know what other people are going through. Rabbi Telushkin quotes his mother: "The only people who I know who are happier than I am are people who I do not know very well." Helping our children realize that they are not the only ones with problems may help them keep their difficulties in perspective, and may help them understand other people's points of view.
It is useful to recognize that not everyone sees everything the same. In fact, animal studies show that some of the most difficult tasks for creatures to do are:
1) Recognize that others have feelings, just like us.
2) Recognize that others may have different feelings, not just like ours.
As rarely as humans utilize the first ability, we almost never get around to the second. However, we could much more accurately come to understand the meaning of an event to our child if we recognize that their reactions may not be the same as ours. What is their reaction? Although by no means always accurate, we can open a window into a childs mind simply by paying attention to their reaction. Unfortunately, we often incorrectly dismiss their reaction by labeling it "over-reacting."
A psychologist I recently met taught me the following: People do not over-react. They react, by definition, appropriately to the meaning a situation has for them. People have "over-meanings," not "over-reactions." When our child blows up over what seems like a trivial issue to us, it may help us to understand that to our childs mind, this issue must have a tremendous amount of meaning. We could benefit from saying, "Wow, if thats how it feels to him, we better calmly discuss this," rather than "Wow, hes overreacting." For example, imagine an ADD childs tearful screaming over the process of getting dressed. Hes not over-reacting. He is living a tough morning. Maybe that would change our reaction to his behavior. Childrens "over-reactions" are a window into their minds.
In short, then, we can lead our children (and ourselves) to understand other people better by teaching them to ask:
1) "How would I feel in that situation?" [By simulating the situation on our own brain, we can get a rough idea of what someone else is likely to be feeling.]
2) "How is he actually reacting?" [Remember that other people may approach a situation with other "baggage" than we do, and may actually react differently. Obtain a clue to anothers true reaction simply by truly listening.]
We can then apply this insight to our philosophy: "Seek first to understand. Then, react."
--Martin L. Kutscher, M.D.
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