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Laws of Childhood - part 2

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Boys Town's Patrick D. Friman, Ph.D. on raising happier, healthier and better behaved children. (Part Two)

Leave them there until they stop fussing. When they stopped fussing she turned around and she picked them up and now she's got them in her hands. She's got to put him down, right? Where? Big house, where'd she put him? By the DVD player because she's cruel and abusive and she wants this to happen again, right? Why would you do that? Why would she put him next to the DVD player? That play pen is not a blow torch, that's not one trial learning.

I would be there for the first few sessions, sometimes they lasted hours and she would go back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth until finally the infant would go to the DVD player, raise its hand and then turn away. Now why would the infant do that? Because the infant is thinking, "I wouldn't touch the DVD player, mama would put my butt in time out." No, that's not why. That's a one year old. One year olds can't think like that, they don't have that kinds of words, they don't think in that way. In fact even though the world has paid a lot of attention to that infant's butt, that infant doesn't have that word. That's not what's happening.

What's happened is an association is formed between the play pen and the DVD player and where previously there was excitement about the DVD player that grows up in them, now when they get near the DVD player, the unpleasantness of the play pen rises up in them and it isn't fun anymore and so they go off and do something else. At which point I would have mom pick them up and play with them for a while because they veered away from the DVD player and a connection has been made, but it was made because of this and the consequences. This is the very key part. That's law number one.

Here's law number two. Parents come first. I'm not one, but I am your champion. I think you should come first. There's a phenomenon in our culture and there's way too much of it to suit me, it's called the child centered family. And in the child centered family, the child has the most power because the family is sort of structured around the child and I fault shrinks. I'm a shrink and I fault shrinks for this idea. It was developed in the 20th century and I'm going to ruffle your feathers a little bit if you think that family should be child centered because I'm going to tell you what I think. I think it's absolutely idiotic. I'm trying to make my case. First of all you think of the family as a small organization. And so you have an organization, you want the organization to work well, would you take the least competent member of that organization and put them in charge of it? That's what a child centered family would be like.

Or we could talk about the family IQ. So I'll tell you about how to measure a regular IQ, here it is right here. I'll explain it. Have you ever wondered about how an IQ is measured? It's pretty simple actually. Not nearly as full of smoke and mirrors as most shrinks would have you think. You have a child of a certain age, let's say 10. So you take that age, you set that aside and then you give them a test and on that test they earn a score which is equivalent to a mental age. So they're 10, say, they take the test and they are on a mental age of 12. You divide how old they are into their mental age, 10 and 12 and you multiply that times 100 and you get an IQ of 120, a pretty smart kid. You understand, is that clear?

The family IQ is derived this way. You take the age of the child running the family. It's 10, it's a child centered family and then add up the ages of all the people in the family. Let's say we've got an only child so it's 10 years old and two parents, they are 35. So 35, 35 and 10. That's 80, 80 total the years, divide 80 into the age of the child or the person running the family, that's 10, 80 into 10, that yields 0.125, multiply that times 100, you get a family IQ of twelve and a half which is a profounding retarded family. Now if you don't like the word retarded and bear in mind the word retard is still part of the psychiatric classification system in this country will use profoundly developmentally delayed family. That's why you don't want a child centered family.

So following the law. How do you follow this law? Well, you demolish an idea and here's what the idea is. The child gets the idea that they're in charge. Dan mentioned we saw 1900 kids last year. A lot of those kids were young kids and most of those young kids had a very mistaken notion about life and they are all in it. They thought that they were in charge. They thought they didn't have to do what mommy and daddy told them to do because of the amount of authority that they had inside this organization. And so how do we follow this law where parents come first? We can't explain it to them. If you could just explain stuff like this to kids, just tell them how it is and point out how rational it would be if they went along with the program and how good things would be for them. If you could do that, we'll you'd be home watching TV right now. I mean if you could do that we go out of business because everybody has explained everything to their children. Everybody has reasoned about everything to their children. Everybody has pointed out the illogicity of what their children do to their children. If that worked we wouldn't be having this conversation. So we can't just tell them.


So how do we demolish the idea? Well, we got to show them and we have a vehicle that we use, just one of many. I'm just going to talk about one. We demolish their idea by exposing them to say something called time out. Now you know about time out but this description of time out may be a little different than the one you think of. This description of time out has only two components in it. One component is nothing going on and the other component is there's nothing you can do about it. That's it, that's what time out is for me and for us. I don't know what it is for you guys, everybody seems to have a different idea of time out. That's my idea. Nothing going on, nothing you can do about it but let me just put it in a slightly different emphatic context. Nothing going on and there is nothing on God's green earth that you can do about it. You have a sense of my time out. What that renders a child is absolutely powerless.

Now remember this is a person who had the idea they were in charge and now they are absolutely powerless. That's what's called change based loss. They have lost something. What did they lose? They lost how they thought life was actually working and a person that taught us, our culture, a lot about change based loss is Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. You may have heard of her before, you may have heard of the stages of death before. She studied death and dying by interviewing people that were going to die. What she found was that there was a series of stages that people went through when they were going to die and the model was so powerful it's now used to understand change based loss all across the spectrum of loss. For example business consultants across the country used this model to explain what happens when organizations has made major, major changes. There's a lot of changes based loss and people go through these stages of loss on those organizations and the children in whom or for whom we have demolished this idea. They seem to go through the same thing. So we demolish their idea by putting them into the time out circumstances where nothing is going on, there's nothing they can do about it and they go through denial.

Now the denial usually takes one of two forms. One is attitude. Now they cop an attitude about it. You put me in time out? No, none. I'll put you in time out. Talking to me about time out? Are you talking to me about time out? Are you talking to me about time out? Me, by time out? No, no, no. I talked to you about time out. In fact I don't talk to you about time out, my people will talk to your people about time out. You're not talking to me about time out. You know they cop an attitude.


Or they act like they like it. They enjoy time out. This is fun for them. They are a very, very busy little person, they got to get up in the morning and do their toileting, do their eating, do their playing, do their fussing and they have to go through some oppositional behavior. Then they do some playing and they get into some danger and then they have other things to do and they never have a moment in their day to do anything that they call free time and now they have time out, this is great. They have a break, thank you. Or something along those lines, they're acting like this is nothing to them but it is something to them because now we're in charge of it. There's nothing going on. Kids hate it when nothing is going on and they really hate it when they can't do anything about it and so that makes them really, really mad, that makes them angry.

Now this is the anger stage and the anger is instrumental. What does that mean? It means it's designed to do something. What's it designed to do? It's designed in time out. How? By getting the parent to react. You see if the child does something that gets the parent to react, that's something. Remember time out is nothing, nothing going on. If the parent reacts that's something going on. It ends right there and the child brought about the something by something that they did so there's obviously something they can do about time out, they just didn't so that's over right there.

Their anger will take a lot of different forms, I'll give you some examples. Some kids when they’re first put in time out as I construct it. They'll just take off their little shoe and their sock and throw it on the floor. Why would they do that? Because they remember just how much effort mommy and daddy put in to getting that little shoe and sock on that foot, keeping it there. So this is their way of saying, "Screw you mommy and daddy." Hoping for a reaction.


Some kids, usually the only children will say, "I don't love you. I never did and I never will." Now mother of 12, she doesn't care. "Good, good. I'll just deal with the other 11." But a mother of one, this is her only child, she has a very hard time ignoring this. So the child goes, "I don't love you." and she's like, "What? Did I hear you correctly? Did you say you don't love me? You lived in my body for nine months, nine months of incontinence and cramps and you like a basketball towards the end stuck inside my shirt. You don't love me, I'll tell you what we're going to do. We filmed your delivery. We're going to watch that film together. We're going to play it backwards because I want you to know where you came from and just exactly what I'm capable of Miss You Don't Love me. We'll see who doesn't love who."

Or in a good Christian family, end of sanity. You're a good Christian family. Your beloved child gives the matriarch of your good Christian family the one fingered salute. Do you ignore this in your good Christian family? I don't think so. I think this is an obscenity upon the family and it must be dealt with. Yes, well the instant you do that, what you've shown this child is that time out is over and they now know how to make it end and that is to use obscenity so you've actually in your attempt to get rid of obscenity empowered the child to use it. You ignore this too, you ignore everything in the context of time out, which is nothing going on and there is nothing on God's green earth that you can do about it and once they get a sense that that's the way this thing works, well they want to bargain a little bit. And this is a hard stage for a lot of parents to ignore because they make promises that you wanted them to make all along.

They only promise to be good, they promise not to do it anymore. They promise to always be nicer. It's music to your ears and you ignore this entirely. Why? Because they're not promising so that they become better people. They are promising so that you can get them back to this status that they were in before all this mistaken stuff happened to them. They are offering you whatever they think you'll buy so they can get back to being number one in the family. So they can get back to their status as being in charge. So you ignore all that too and this stuff can be pretty powerful.

I remember my sister first teaching my nephew time out when he was three. He's 27 now and 6'4" and weighs 250 lbs. Played on the National Championship Football team in Division 12A in Montana. Big guy but as a little kid he's just really, really overactive and oppositional. So she's training him how to be in time out and he gets to this stage and she has me on the phone, I'm hearing this. He's in the background going, "I'm feeling kind of sad, mom. I'm feeling kind of sad. Be good, I'll be good." And my sister wants to let him out. It was very persuasive. But you know how that would evolve, like a year later it would be, "I'm feeling kind of sad, mom. I'm feeling sad over here. I'll be good." You know it would be like a manipulation. So you ignore this stage too, no matter what they put into the offer.

And when they realize now that there's nothing they can do about it and we've just eliminated all their options, they grieve. This is hard to ignore also. Some people call this the depressive stage. It's just a natural part of the process as the status that they once had is slipping away from them and then you get to the final stage which is acceptance. Acceptance of what? Well, acceptance of the new world order. And in the new world order we have anointed mom and dad as king and queen. So we will introduce the child now to mom who is queen and dad who is king. And then we have to explain to the child that they are not a duke or the duchess, they are not a lady in waiting or a footman, they are in the castle. They don't even have a position in the castle and what they need to do is worship the king and the queen properly if they are to have the things in life that they become accustomed to. If you don't like that model, like the royalty model, then how about a business model.

So we introduce the child to the CEO of the corporation which would be, let's say mom she's executive officer and the CFO, chief financial officer that would be dad in this scenario and then we tell them they don't even have a seat on the board. They don't have a job on the corporation. They don't even work here, they just live here. Now if they get enough education, they get some skills, they're going to move up. One day they may have a real job in the corporation and one day if they get enough education they might have a seat on the board, but in the mean time, mom and dad are in charge of this organization and you sir, you know where you are. That's how we communicate to a child that the family is parents centered. And then once they have that idea, you take that home and build on that.

Parents come first. Parents come first. If the plane is going down, who are you going to give the oxygen to? Parents come first. That's the second law. This is tough. You folks are intelligent people, intelligent people will come out and try to learn things this way. So intelligent people rely on words to do a job that words can't do, sorry. Like I said, if the words could do it we wouldn't be here. You've used them, everybody has. Because if the words worked Boys Town would fold. And the more you use them in an attempt to teach children, the less they learn from you other than how to listen to you usually in ways where it goes in one ear and it comes out the other. But they don't learn to do by listening.

You have some skills, tennis? Dancing? You bowl? You play golf? You swim, you sing and you play an instrument? You got some skills. Somebody explained that to you? Is that how you learned? They told you how to play golf and you just picked up the club and started to hit it down the fairway. They explained to you how to roll a curve with the bowling ball and as soon as you've heard it and you got up into the lane and you started throwing strikes. They told you about tonality and all of the sudden you could play the guitar?

No, none of you have skills that were learned by listening to people explain how to do stuff. Skills take lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of practice; 10,000 hours, 10,000 hours to become a master of something. Ten thousand hours of practice, not 10,000 hours of listening. Ten thousand hours of doing whatever it is necessary and the component stuff in this skill, that's how we learned our skills. Now we have these kids, we want them to learn the skill. It comes in two varieties, one do what you're told and the other is don't do what you're told not to do. It's hard for them because they don't want to do what they're told and they do want to do what they want to do especially if you don't want them to do it. And to learn to reverse that process is the skill, a very difficult one and it takes lots and lots and lots of practice. It doesn't take a lot of talking.

Let's say your 15-year-old has passed the written part of the driving test. Ready for him to drive? He hasn't been behind the wheel of the car yet, but he got an A on the test. So it was explained to him well how to drive, he was able to answer all the appropriate questions, you're going to give him the keys? No, he's not even driving yet. The learning of that skill is in the driving. Now in addition to what I've just said, the basis for the law is in child development. We talk to kids using language that we understand really, really well. But they don't because the language that we use has a whole bunch of what I'm going to call abstractions in it. I know that's a complex word.

I first heard that word in class when I was in junior in college and I thought the kid that used it was showing off to the teacher, I don't know what he was talking about so I'm not expecting everybody to clearly understand what an abstraction is but let me try to find it for you. An abstraction is just using a word to refer to a collection of objects. The word is the abstraction and the objects to the objects. And some abstractions are really simple like red. Red refers to bunch of red stuff and kids understand that abstraction. But one abstraction that they don't understand very well is an abstraction called same. Unless the things that we're referring to are very, very similar like they're all red.

Let me ask you this. Think about this and give me an answer as soon as you can think of it. How are a car engine or a car, how is a car and an acorn like? Are they alike in any way? How are they the same? Pardon me. Okay, they could both be green. That took, they could both be colored, they could be the same color. That took five seconds and those two things couldn't be more different physically, right? That's my point. Young children don't see sameness very easily unless the things they're looking at look very, very similar. So what I have up here are five quarters in a bunch, five quarters in a row and up to the age of seven kids have a hard time determining that they're the same amount of quarters in both groups.

So you ask them, "Honey, which one of these has more quarters?" They go, "That one." You know, say it's a five-year-old. Now if you have that five-year-old on an allowance, you know and you're paying them five quarters a week and he asked you for a raise. Well, you could use this to your advantage. You go, "What? You'd like a raise? Sure, sure. I tell you what, here's what you're earning now. Starting next week you're going to get this." Now, why is that relevant to anything that we're discussing? Because it is not at all unusual, I think you would agree with me here, where people to speak to children thus. Isn't that the same thing you did last week that I told you not to do? Isn't that the same thing your dad put you in time out for yesterday? Isn't that the same thing that we've gone over and over and over again?

Now in our mind it's obviously the same. Whatever the two things are they are clearly the same but remember we are developed in a way that we can see that an acorn and a car are the same. They can't see that kind of sameness and so when you're talking about something they did yesterday and something they did today, they couldn't be more different for them other than you're mad and you were mad then. But what they did there which was a different time frame, different context, different people present, was dramatically different physically than what they're doing now and where they are now with whom they are now. They just know you're upset. They know they did wrong. They don't know exactly what it is and they can't classify it the way you classified it. When we talk to kids, we use language we really understand well. They don't often know what we're talking about but they have to play along as if they did. That's why I recommend you don't use very many words especially when you're trying to get some work done with kids.

Yeah, let me just do a little bit with these other two... sense of time. You talk to kids a lot about their futures. You've lived that future. It's a series of experiences you've had in your life from when you were their age to the age you are now. So you're looking at real things that happened in real time. But you're drawing their attention to real things that happened in real time in your life, it didn't happen in their life. Their future hasn't happened yet so that's a huge empty abstraction for them that seems to be meaningful to us and therefore they have to play along like it's meaningful to them when they had no idea what we're talking about. They get a D minus on an Algebra test as a freshman in high school and we start talking about the ruining of their career or college or what they're going to get on the ACT test and they can't bring their attention any further out into the future than Friday. It's completely abstract and the more you talk about it the less they learn about what you want them to know.

And don't versus do. Don't versus do. In don't and you know it's something that we want them not to do so to not do it means nothing occurred and it's really hard to praise or reward or acknowledge or appreciate something that didn't happen. It's really much, much easier for everybody involved if you use do. You can use do to stop things from happening just as easily and more powerful than you can use don't. We tend to rely on don't because what's happening is something we don't like and what comes up in this immediately is, "Don't do that. Stop it, cut it out. No." Stuff like that. But it's very hard to appreciate anything that they did in response to that demand that was compliant because nothing happened. There's nothing there. Another way to stop a kid from doing something is not to tell him to stop, but to give them an instruction and to follow that instruction they have to stop what they are doing, but they have to process their own stop command, not ours.

I'm going to give you an example. Some kids pester their parents. Yours probably don't but there's some parents in Omaha that have kids that pester. And pestering perturbs parents. If yours did, it probably wouldn't perturb you but there are some parents in Omaha that were perturbed by pestering and frequently parents will use some kind of a stop command about pestering. "Stop that, cut it, stop bothering me." Here's a way to handle it to use a do. They pester you, be happy to see them and give them something to do. It's just a simple instruction. "Oh, hi. Hey, oh, yeah. Take this over there, put it on the chair." If they don't do it, we know how to handle that, that's time out. They didn't follow your instruction, that's simple. If they do do it, you're very appreciative. "Thank you very much." And if they show back up give them something else to do. "Oh, you're here back again. You're my little helper. Good. Here, take this over there. Put it right over there, back there. Yeah, no, no, way, there you go. There you go. Excellent. Great. Oh, here you are again, well, you are an industrious little son of a gun. Here. Hey, take all this and put it right over there. Excellent."

And at some point they get an idea. And the idea is, "Every time I go to mom she gives me something to do." And they go play. And when they go play you go and find them and play with them for a while and they've learned. You want mom to play with me, go play and she finds me and plays with me. If I want to pester mom to get her to play with me she just gives me a bunch of junk to do. You didn't ever tell her not to pester you, you didn't use any don't commands, you used a lot of do commands and every time that demand, that do command is followed, you praise it, you appreciate it, you're happy about that. Much, much easier way to teach and there's more concreteness there. Following the law...