Now that we have talked about the Flowers, ways of keeping children safe, others have found it helpful to share ideas about what we might do if children are not being the sort of people we want them to be:
- Are there boundaries/rules needed to help children grow strong? (Groups sometimes talk about traditional boundaries being taught through stories.)
- How do we encourage/teach children to stay inside the boundaries?
- What do we do when the boundaries are pushed? Broken? When talking about the behaviour and the preferred behaviour doesn’t work, what do we do?
- How do we ‘carry through’?
- How do children know what will happen when they go outside the boundaries?
- How do we know when to step in … when misbehaviour starts? Or when all hell has broken loose? Or somewhere in between?
- What would you have wanted them to do instead? Make sure children know this!
- How can everyone in the family be a role model for other family members?
Depending on the time available and if group members are willing, there may also be opportunities for demonstrations of role plays at this point. Sometimes we’ve used puppets, while other times participants have played the roles of children and parents. We try to think about all ages represented in the group, knowing that what works for pre-schoolers won’t work for teenagers! Ideas usually come up in the group discussions which we write up and share. Below is a range of strategies and ideas that have come from discussions in the groups. You may like to share these with the group after they have come up with their own ideas.
Strategies for thinking about and responding to children’s behaviours
It’s important to note that various terms/practices that are often recommended in parenting programs, such as ‘time out’, ‘you’re grounded’ or ‘rewards’, may not always make sense in Aboriginal contexts. For instance:
‘Time out’: In practice, what does ‘time out’ mean especially if you have a crowded house? In the groups we have run, mums have more successfully used ‘Thinking Time’ instead. This might involve standing where you are, or off to the side, and thinking about what you have done and what you need to do about it. After thinking time, when the child knows what they need to, they do it! Or Mum gives herself ‘Time Out’ to calm down and think! (Good role modelling!)
‘You’re grounded’: Where would they be grounded and how? This only works if the adult is consistent and the house hasn’t got other extended family members around all enjoying themselves! The most useful variation of this is if they have messed up with friends, they don’t get to go out with them the next day.
‘Rewards’: Rewards are also problematic. If a family has some money, the children are likely to be given some, or something, then and there. The mums in previous groups have found that spontaneous comments and actions work better, like, ‘You did well. We can go fishing.’
The following eight strategies have come out of our group discussions about ways of responding to children’s challenging behaviours:
Strategy One: Make links with the Fruit of our Trees (preferred behaviours and values). Rather than always telling our kids what to do, we can ask questions that link back to desired behaviours: ‘When someone does ___, does that show ‘respect/caring’?’
Strategy Two: Identifying and involve role models. We can identify important role models for our children. Who are the people who the children will listen to and who will guide them? We can then ask these people to speak to our children.
Strategy Three: Involving children in the process. Sometimes we can involve our kids in coming up with plans. We can ask them:
• What behaviours fit the ‘Fruit’/ the sort of person you want to be?
• What will help you to remember/learn these behaviours?
• What should we do if the bad behaviour keeps happening?
• What are your ideas for times when ____?
• Is there anything I can do to help you remember ___?
Strategy Four: Consistency. We can’t allow children to side-track us. For example, if we want the child to go to school, we can stick to the point in as few words as possible, breathe and firmly repeat the same words or similar ones: ‘Time for school’; Time to go! Now’; ‘I’ll walk with you’; ‘You ARE going’. Although we wouldn’t use all of these at once!
Strategy Five: Look for patterns
- When does this behaviour usually occur?
- Who is around/what is happening?
- What happens just before? (This is often difficult to work out! Drawing comic type pictures can sometime help put the behaviour in a central square and then go back, what was happening before, and before that? And what happens after?)
- Once we’ve worked out the pattern we can try to change it.
Strategy Six: Practice. Some of us have found it helpful to practice how we might talk to the children about issues, or what we might say if we need to growl at them. We can practice with each other or even use puppets.
Strategy Seven: Getting rid of the negative ‘shoulds’ and replacing them with realistic thinking. If we have got a whole lot of negative yarning in our heads (especially about all the things we ‘should’ do as parents but think we are failing at), then sometimes we’ve found it helpful to write all that is going on in our heads on one half of the board/ paper. On the other half we can put more realistic expectations! This has been helpful.
Strategy Eight: Stories, stories, stories. If in doubt, we always remember stories, stories, stories! We share stories with children about what happens to people who continue doing the behaviour of concern. And we yarn together about why the desired behaviour is important. These stories often include how the older children can become role models and helpers of the younger ones.
Sharing and learning from success stories
As the program continues, we follow up and seek out stories about how participants are going in using these strategies. When a success is reported, we ask the participant to describe the steps, everything she said and did in some detail. We repeat these steps aloud as we write them up as an acknowledgement of the person and for the learning of others. We ask questions so that every step is very clearly and vividly described. Here is an example of a success story:
A mum in Roebourne was having problems with her kids fighting as soon as they came home from school. Growling didn’t help. Yelling didn’t help. Hitting didn’t help. Then she remembered her Tree. Next day she ignored their fighting and asked who wanted to make some jelly. Cooking was on her Trunk. The next day she said she was going for a walk. Going for a walk was on her Trunk and her Roots. They went with her. On the week-end they all went fishing. The fighting after school stopped!
As possible parenting interventions are discussed by group members, we suggest trying these suggestions at home and coming back to the group to discuss how they went.
Talk about boundaries with family and children:
- What boundaries should we have?
- Ask family members about their ideas on how to teach boundaries
- Discuss what happens when children go outside boundaries …
- Are there ideas on the Tree that can help?
- How can adults and older children be good role models?