I couldn’t help but think about parents and teachers who love and teach children with challenging behaviors as I drove along the hills behind my childhood home this past weekend.
I even got out and took a picture.
On the other side of the hills, where I grew up, the land is cultivated in beautiful green swaths that come together like a patchwork quilt. But these back roads are largely public lands and have been set aside in their more natural form.
My mom, a self-professed “desert rat”, loves the land. It’s always been familiar. Always been beautiful.
But I’ve taken more than one friend out from their green, mountain backgrounds and into my desert hills, and they’ve used words more along the lines of “barren”, “ugly”, and “wasteland”.
I admit I’m drawn more to green treed mountains than to dry yellow hills, but every time I’m home I can’t help but think about how much I love the sky.
I may be from a small town, but the sky out there is H U G E. With that much canvas to work with, the displays become breath-taking! Enormous billowy clouds rolling along on a summer day. Bright pink flashes that deepen and expand right before the sun drops below the horizon. And stars like you’ve never seen them, perforating the complete blackness that comes at night.
What does all that have to do with challenging behavior?
I’m getting there, I promise.
As I drive the back hills, I see the ground below and realize it’s not as appealing to me as it may be to my mom, but I don’t spend my time there. I put my attention toward the sky. The sky I love. In my opinion, it is the desert’s best quality.
As we love and teach children, we’re confronted with challenging behaviors or personality quirks that may get under our skin.
But that isn’t where we have to put our attention.
We can choose to put more emphasis on the things we love. On their best qualities.
A child may be prone to emotional meltdowns, but does he also have a deep empathy for others?
A child may be more physically aggressive, but is she also an eager helper?
A child may be able to push every single one of your buttons by 10 am, but does he also have a hug that melts your heart?
There is always good. Sometimes we just have to choose to see it.
Sometimes we miss brilliant displays of a child’s better qualities because we’re so mired down by their behaviors that perplex us. We can proactively choose a perspective that sees the best in each child — in spite of their challenges.
That doesn’t mean the challenges go away, and it doesn’t mean we can ignore them completely. I still have to pay attention to the ground as I drive, but my emotional investment is in the sky. We can attend to the challenging behaviors — make corrections and hold to consequences — but we can choose to put our emotional investments in a child’s strengths. We can choose to focus on the positive aspects that allow us to connect.
Correction is always more effective when it comes with connection. When we see a behavior as just that — a behavior — not as the child himself, we are able to guide from a more healthy and effective emotional position. And children are more ready to be receptive, because they know you see them for who they really are. Who they really are at their best. When children know you see the best in them, then that is where they put their attention too — in being their best.
And maybe we can hope they choose to use some proactive perspective taking when it comes to our flaws as well.