Chapter IV: The Plan
Angela and I began to talk about a plan on the way back to the office. Two things were evident.
There was an ongoing crisis at home. Gloria changed jobs, moved her family from their long time home in Orange County, leaving security and friendships behind. Gloria and her mother Eleanor were hopeful and optimistic that a new start, in a new school, in a new neighborhood, would reap new behaviors. Instead, now isolated and desperate, the family was disintegrating. Unless we intervened, quickly, in a beneficial way, the county social worker was “leaning” towards removing Jerry from his home and placing him in foster care “to make sure he received “‘treatment.’” That would, I knew, inevitably lead to Jerry being “medicated” with one or more of those toxic chemicals, for his “disease.” And that, in my view, was intolerable.
Also evident, the school was out of ideas. The school psychologist told me “Jerry has not improved over the last three months despite our concentrated efforts.” He followed with, “and his behavior just seems to be getting worse and worse.” This type of logic makes me wince. Schools, treatment facilities, and other places where children gather to learn, to be trained, or to be helped are quick to take credit for a child’s success by touting the elements of their “evidence based” program. When no learning or training or help occurs, they are just as quick to place blame on the child for her own “failure to improve,” due to a “learning disability” or “psychiatric disorder,” or some other “deficiency.”
There was going to be two parts to the plan. Part I: Get Jerry to school. Part II: Make school a good experience so he wants to be there. I was confident about Part I. After all, he was nine years old. To be sure, mother and grandmother were engaging in some very common mistakes when managing Jerry. With coaching and some very intense initial support by our team, I knew it wouldn’t take long for mother to be back in control of her son.
I was less confident about Part II. The school, the principal proudly told me, was a “Zero Tolerance” campus. This is when a school decides they will model intolerance to their students and their families, and claim this as a virtue. This failed model of “control” is designed to fortify adults, at the expense of the children they supervise. Principals, some with a dab of zealotry, can become very hard to manage when “armed” with Zero Tolerance.
As a reminder, we received this referral on a Friday morning. I visited the family the following Monday. Angela and I met with the school on Tuesday. The next day was our regularly scheduled Wednesday staff meeting.
Our team included a therapist, Jordan, a Mental Health Resource Specialist (MHRS)[i], Vincent, Angela, and me. We formally had three services we could provide: therapy, social work, and counseling. Less formally, as a wraparound program, I knew we could do anything we needed to do to help this family, and that gave us great latitude. Here’s what we decided that Wednesday morning.
1. Starting that day, enroll mother and grandmother in our Family Night every Wednesday.
We started Family Night six months earlier. We had about four or five families that showed up every Wednesday at 5:00 PM. We provided transportation as needed. Once there, we had coffee and edibles for the adults, and we talked about the past week. We interacted for about 90 minutes, 30 of those minutes used for training in child management techniques. As important, the parents got to know each other and, as they shared many common stories, they comforted one another. Jordan and I provided guidance for this part the support group. We encouraged the parents to bring their kids.
Angela and Vincent took care of the kids once they arrived. Sometimes they would take them out for pizza. Other times, they had arts and crafts projects they were working on at the office, and they’d bring in food. At the time there were two young teenage girls, a 12 year old boy, an 8 year old girl (who eventually befriended Jerry), and a 6 year old boy that often stayed with her mother and the rest of us adults. (A year later we had nearly two dozen families involved, and about 40 children – we had to add an extra night!)
So, right after our morning staff meeting, I called Gloria to invite her to Family Night. It was short notice, however, I was sure that if we made it easy, she would jump at the chance. She did. I told her Angela would pick up the three of them by 4:00 PM, and we would have them back home no later that 7:00 PM. This was also going to be a great chance for Angela to meet Jerry. The two of them were going to end up spending a lot of time together. As important, it was a priority to get everyone out of that house for a little while, every week. They had been “trapped” for many months. Over the next six months, they never missed our Wednesday Family Night.
2. Beginning on Monday, one of us on the team would arrive at Gloria’s home by 6:30 AM to help get Jerry out of bed, dressed, fed, out the door, into the van, and off to school.
We committed to do this every day until it was no longer necessary for one of us to be there. This was key. Everyone’s day in the household began with turmoil. Every night each of them went to bed, unhappy, dreading the inevitable morning encounter. That had to stop. So, our plan was to take turns, each of us doing a week at a time. We had other cases we were working so our schedules had to adjust. Since we were going to have Angela spend a lot of time at school, Vincent took the first week, Jordan the second week, and I had week three. We intended to do this between the three of us for as long as it took to get Jerry into school everyday, without incident.
Who was “Out of Control?”
Parents and professionals make similar mistakes when trying to get “back in control” of recalcitrant children. The most common mistake? Arguments. Once you acquiesce and engage in a “yes you will – no I won’t!” conversation, whether with a 3 year old or 17 year old – while in the middle of giving a directive – the ending is nearly always unpleasant. Most unpleasant, these kinds of confrontations don’t really end at all. If you’re in an argument, it means there’s a negotiation taking place, something you did not intend. By the way, children love to “negotiate,” for as long as you are willing and then some, especially when it comes to school, chores, and other unpleasant endeavors they want to avoid.
However, when arguing occurs daily for even the most minor directives, over time everyone’s emotions are unsettled, and everyone’s moods can, and do, “adjust” from moment to moment as “negotiations” continue. Arguments often deteriorate and may include a variety of invectives, and other hurtful words. For parents – especially conscientious parents – frustration mounts.
On the other hand, for children, especially bright children, an argument can be ignited – and fueled – simply by ignoring you, imploring you, delaying you, faulting you, or in other ways letting you know they will prevail in an argument you never intended to have in the first place. Inevitability, these types of two-way conversations lead to the second most common mistake well-informed, loving parents unwittingly engage in: threats.
Threats sound like this: “If you don’t get your butt off the chair right now and into your room and take out the trash then . . . ,” followed by something you’re going to take way from him, whether a privilege, a possession, a level of freedom, or some other form of punishment. Giving “If . . . then!” directives unwittingly gives control of the outcome of the argument to the child, perhaps the most of unintended of all consequences.[ii]
So, after first hand experience in her home, we knew we had to help Gloria avoid arguments and threats, however subtle or habitual they were. Much more important, we gave her new tools to handle those “escalating” conversations. Over the next few weeks, we were there every morning to model these techniques.[iii]
Beginning on Monday, Angela would be at school every day to assist Jerry in the classroom.
I called the principal that Wednesday afternoon and met with her the next day. While the classroom teacher may appreciate the help, school districts have rules to follow, with formal “protocols” for nearly everything. Adding a new person to the classroom would take some doing. Fortunately, I had a good relationship with Jerry’s school principal, and she was an advocate of our new “wraparound” program. It took an extra week before we could go into the classroom, but it was worth the wait. Now we had the support of the court, the principal, as well as the classroom teacher and her aides. Our full “team” was in place.
Angela showed up at school every morning at 10 AM. The classroom teacher was relieved. She knew she had “extra” help every day, just for Jerry, so Jerry became less of a management concern. She had Jerry’s schoolwork for that day prepared ahead of time. The other two classroom aides, who usually spent a good portion for their day grudgingly arguing, threatening, cajoling and in other ways, “managing” Jerry, had other children to attend to, and looked forward to “handing” Jerry over to Angela at 10 AM every day. Jerry, as much as anyone, looked forward to his time with Angela too.
Angela stayed until 1 PM every day. We thought it was a good idea to be there through lunch. Jerry was eating lunch with one of the aides who was “assigned” to him, in a separate room, because he was so disruptive. That changed immediately. Angela and Jerry sat together in the cafeteria with the other kids and adults for lunch. Within a few days, she organized some games during lunch for a few of the kids, Jerry joining in.
There’s often a “honeymoon period” when new elements are brought into relationships. Jerry had less apprehension about school, and so did the school staff. We altered the obvious yet unaware patterns of behavior of the adults in Jerry’s life that were exacerbating the otherwise normal behaviors of this 9-year-old Star. We also knew we had to take advantage of the “honeymoon period.” They usually don’t last too long without fundamental changes taking place.
One more thing, before I tell you about our results. When Family Night was over that evening, I told Jerry I would come by on Friday so we could play catch. He grinned. When I got there on Friday, I told him, as I was leaving, that I would see him again on Monday after school. He grinned again. For the first week, I showed up every day after school at 3 PM – except Wednesdays when the entire family came to the office. I usually stayed for about an hour. We played catch, we talked about the day, I checked in with mother and grandmother, and I left. The second week I showed up on Monday and Friday and, by the third week, I showed up Friday only – and every Friday after that, for the next 3 months.
Results at Home
I mentioned earlier that I had the third week to get Jerry out of bed and off to school. By then our team had met many times. Both Jordan and Vincent, though different in their approaches and temperaments, were successful. By the second or third day of their week, each of them was tested. Jerry didn’t want to go to school on those days, and he made sure he let everyone know, in his own inimitable way. So, with Jordan and Vincent equipped with patience, technique, and an undying persistence, Jerry got to school anyway. Both Jordan and Vincent had one day, and two days, respectively, when they had to drive Jerry to school because he didn’t get in the van on time. Nonetheless, he arrived at school. Persistence, training, and a conviction to avoid arguments and threats, paid off.
Now it was my turn. Keep in mind, I had spent a lot of time with Jerry. He liked me, and he trusted me, little by little. The first day, Monday, was a good day. I got there at 6:30 AM. He knew I was coming. He was up already, and he was cooperative, though a few times I had to give some “reminders.” Still, I got him off to school. (I forgot to mention that our team took over in the morning. We gave the directives to Jerry, and we were responsible to get him off to school. There were no confrontations between Jerry and his mother while we were there, and that was a good thing.)
By the second day, not nearly so easy. Jerry woke up in what his mother always called “a foul mood,” and he didn’t want to go to school that day. So, like Jordan and Vincent, I stuck with our techniques, and I was persistent. On my third day, Jerry declined to get up, period. He was in full-blown refusal mode. Still, he got into the van on time. Please remember, he also knew by then that Angela would be at school by 10 AM. That made a difference.
By the way, what do you think we did? You’d be right to think we chased after him, sometimes, around his room. On his worst days, we would corral him, verbally, and, avoiding arguments and threats, continue – like a broken record – to insist he get out of bed, in his clothes, fed, and off to school, even if that meant we would drive him there.
I mentioned earlier that Gloria had Mondays off. On a hunch, I checked with the school. Jerry never missed school on a Monday. Other days were hit and miss, Friday the most common missed day, but not Monday. Not even once. She could get him there on Monday, but not without a lot of turmoil. Still, she got him there.
If you play a slot machine and it pays off every once in a while, you keep playing. If your slot machine never paid off, you’d stop playing. Jerry figured out that some days his antics “paid off,” so he kept playing. It’s worth repeating: whatever those antics were – and they were energetic – they didn’t “work” on Mondays.
On my fourth day, I arrived on time as usual. By then, Jerry had more or less succumbed to the idea that he was going to school. He didn’t make it easy. He was also “persistent” in his “techniques” to avoid school. However, there was an inevitability that seemed to finally win the day – as it always eventually does. After a few contentious moments in the next 90 minutes, Jerry got in the van and left for school. That’s when Gloria asked to talk to me.
“Dr. Cima,” she said, “you don’t have to come tomorrow. And you don’t have to send anyone else next week either. I can handle this myself,” she said, a little sheepishly, I noticed.
We honored her request, though we suggested one of us to come by at 8 AM starting the following week, just to see how she was doing. She thought that was a good idea, so we did. The next week we showed up as promised, this time at 8 AM. The week was not without incident. Mother had one or two hard days. However, we never had to intervene, nor did we have to transport Jerry to school. He got in the van every day. It was getting easier for everyone. So was school.
Results at school
Angela was doing what I anticipated. She provided enthusiasm and fresh energy in a negative environment. He was no longer a “target.” He couldn’t be. Once he got to school, he only had to make it to 10 AM, and he knew Angela would show up. Once she showed up, he got her complete attention. That eased the pressure on the entire classroom, kids and adults. Within a few weeks, Jerry improved dramatically. Who’s surprised?
In addition to his lessons, Angela had him drawing every day. He got better and better at something he was already doing. More important, he received acknowledgement from his teacher, aides, and classmates. The teacher, with Angela’s urging, announced she was going to have an art contest. Jerry won. Whether he deserved to win or not, he won. There was much less to frown about at school – for everyone.
He was befriended by two boys in class who started to eat with him at lunch. This took some time to develop. Jerry hadn’t had any real friends, well, ever. He was the problem child in school and his neighborhood nearly from the beginning of his school life. Other kids shied away, Jerry’s behavior so unpredictable, and adult responses so intense. Angela spent a lot of time helping him nurture his new found friendships. He also had a friend – a girl – he met from Family Night. She was also a Star. She also needed a friend.
By week five, Angela showed up 3 days a week. The following week, twice. By the beginning of the third month, she met with Jerry, and his teacher, once a week until the end of the school year. By then, it was a “lunch date,” as Angela arrived in time to have lunch with the two of them in the cafeteria. Was he still, at times, hard to manage? Of course. He was nine. However, by then, he was no worse or better than anyone else in class.
We had regularly scheduled weekly meetings with the team at school, and that included Gloria. Once a month the county social worker joined us. Progress was undeniable. Crisis avoided.
What about “Therapy?”
There was no time for therapy when we started. More important, therapy has nothing to do with child management. Unless they receive training, therapists haven’t a clue how to manage children, nor should they. Child management is not taught in graduate school. Level systems or point systems or other forms of behavior modification can be useful to start new behaviors, when used and designed for an individual child, and not a group of children. To the degree “b-mod” is used to stop unwanted behaviors or as a “discipline tool,” they continually fail.
Nonetheless, we had a gifted therapist. She made it a point to spend private times with all our parents on Family Night. She had a good relationship with Gloria. After the crisis was averted, she began to spend more private time with Gloria because, as Jordan told me, “now she can talk about other things in her life besides Jerry.” As you may guess, Gloria had a lot to talk about with Jordan. Jordan began to meet with Gloria every other week for an hour or so, just to talk. By then, Gloria started to get a grin too.
Vincent, our Mental Health Resource Specialist, was very resourceful. By the second month, he began to search for a Big Brother and, after interviewing a few candidates, he selected Domenic, a 25-year-old graduate school student, majoring in economics, with a minor in physical education. Domenic was single, stable, lived close, liked kids, and he was a great model for this long time fatherless – and friendless – child. Domenic was the perfect “medicine.”
Looking back, I think this may have been the most important addition to this family. We were all gradually withdrawing our involvement, as we inevitably needed to do. Domenic took to Jerry immediately, and vice versa. He saw Jerry at least twice a week, and usually for a half day every weekend. They went places and they did things. That’s all that was needed.
A Few Final Thoughts
Yes, it took this much initial effort to avoid a catastrophe that had been brewing for several years. By the time we were involved, everyone was overwhelmed. The school knew all about Jerry long before he arrived. The prior school sent all of Jerry’s “incident reports” along with his academic shortcomings to the new school. The psychologist told me that they knew they were getting “a firecracker!” Reputations matter. It was as if he had a giant “X” on his back from the first day. (I’ll be writing about “The Baldy Maneuver,” a reputation-changing technique that we used with much success during our meetings with school personnel and the county social worker.)
By the way, do you remember John, one of the teacher’s aides in Jerry’s class who was also the transport driver in the van? I told you he was likable, and very poorly trained. Well, since he was there every morning with us, everyone on our staff got to know him too. Six months later, he applied for a job in our expanding program, and I hired him. Also, the teacher became good friends with Angela and, with her urging, convinced the principal to have us come in and do some child management training for the school. We did, once a month, for the next six months.
About a year after I first got the referral, I was offered and accepted a position as Executive Director for a residential facility that housed teenage boys. I managed to leave the wraparound program in good hands. At that time, Domenic was still involved with Jerry. About three months later, I had lunch with my replacement. I learned that Gloria took her family back to Orange County. The program lost touch with her. I don’t know if Domenic was still involved, but I like to think he was.
What happened, exactly? The adults in his life changed their behaviors, and Jerry inevitably followed. Maybe, I speculate, if he had a different Kindergarten teacher, trained in different methods that encouraged his innate ways, none of this would have occurred. He certainly didn’t have a “disability” or “disorder.” That was clear, despite the insistence of doctors and educators. If so, where did this “disability” go?
No. This wasn’t a “learning disability,” or “ADHD,” or a “disorder” that needed “medical treatment” or some other flaw in Jerry, and other kids just like him. Instead, this common school experience points to a “teaching disability,” the most prevalent problem in modern day public and private education.
Based on the “Average Freshman Graduation Rate,”[iv] nationwide, the school drop out rate is 25-30%, and has been for decades. This means, out of a random pool of 100 students, 25 to 30 who start high school as freshman drop out before they graduate. We not-so-affectionately call them “high school dropouts.” If I was to convince you the majority of “dropouts” come from one temperament, Stars, what would you conclude? There seems to be two possibilities. One, Stars are not suited for school or, two, schools are not suited for Stars. Over time, I will make every effort to persuade you it’s the latter. I will provide some solutions.
The next blog will be about the genesis of the four shapes I use for each of the four temperaments. Squares, Stars, Spheres, and Cubes as metaphors have, at their root, a basis in holistic psychology. I spent time talking to David Keirsey about these terms, and I’ll share his thoughts as well. Then, I will follow with Temperament Traits, a concise and comprehensive review of the four children’s temperaments. Because they cause adults so much grief when in confined spaces where compliance to rules is essential, I’ll start with the Stars.
In the next few months, I’ll also be writing a shorter story about Timmy, the first “autistic” boy I met 30 years ago. Since there is no such “disease” or “disorder” as autism – sadly, you have been duped by my fellow professionals if you think otherwise – you may find Timmy and his family interesting. The vast majority of children given this bogus designation are Composer Artisans. The latest iteration of this false disease now includes “Aspergers Syndrome,” sometimes referred to as “autism with words,” an equally bogus designation. Consolidated as “Autism Spectrum Disorder,” this now includes introverted Cubes (Rationals) that have this “disease.”
Finally, Active Response Training techniques, and Keirsey’s proactive and reactive strategies, will be a major focus in upcoming blogs. I value your interest. I intend to earn your trust.
Rule # 7: If it’s a question of whether to do what’s fun or what is supposed to be good for you, and nobody is hurt whichever you do, always do what’s fun.
Harpo Marx – Family Rules[v]
Temperament – Artisan Composer
[i] In the Mental Health System in California, an MHRS is the equivalent of a Social Worker.
[ii] Here’s a another example. After 10 minutes of arguing, a mother tells her 16 year old daughter, in no uncertain terms: “If you don’t get your room clean, I’ll take your cell phone!!” Her daughter quickly replies, with a sense of confidence mother doesn’t appreciate: “I don’t give a crap about my cell phone!,” and throws it at her mother as she does. Mom has been trumped. Now she’s stuck with her meaningless threat, a still unclean bedroom, and a phone she didn’t really want. Worse, there’s nothing she can do about it because, inadvertently, she gave her daughter a choice. Either clean your room or lose her phone. She made her choice, something else mother didn’t intend. Worse, she can expect more of the same tomorrow. Why? This kind of exchange “works” for her daughter.
Threats, in the middle of an argument, can become an exciting challenge for some kids, young and old. They either call your bluff, or they let you know they are willing to experience whatever punishment you can dish up, rather than clean that room. Children are famous for biting off their own nose. Some seem to cherish it. They think as long as you “lose,” they “win.” That’s why we call them children. And that’s why we should never argue or threaten, when giving directives to children. Ever.
[iii] The techniques we trained on are taken from Active Response Training (ART), my own creation. This was mandatory training for all professionals who worked at my facilities. Incorporated into ART are a dozen effective proactive and reactive strategies found and developed by Dr. David Keirsey. I will be following this story with a series of blogs about these techniques and how they are used for each temperament.
[iv] Read more about drop out rates here
[v] See all of Harpo’s family rules here.