I need to apologize. I was hit by March madness. If you know anything about me, you know it could not be the March Madness associated with college basketball. It was college basketball right? No, it is the other March Madness – the one that hits all psychologists in March, especially those who work in schools. Even though I am still in the madness that started in March, I wanted to get back to my “habit” of writing and delivering a monthly blog to you.

This month, I want to focus on what I gained from the tri-state camp conference where I was a presenter and attendee. I had so many wonderful experiences. I got to hear and meet Dr. Angela Duckworth, whose research comprises the backbone of my upcoming book on “teen grit.” I had the opportunity to reconnect and spend time with friends and colleagues. I also had the opportunity to meet and attend the workshops of Bob Ditter, a clinical social worker, consultant and camp guru. In addition, to being a true mensch, Bob Ditter shared some important concepts at his workshops about working with children. I would like to share some of his thoughts, together with my spin on them, in this month’s blog. If you are a parent, educator, or have anything to do with children, I am sure you will find them helpful.

Here Are My Favorite Three:

    Talk to Kids in Ways They Can Hear

In the words of Bob Ditter, we need to “connect to kids before we redirect them.” How can we do that? Specifically, we need to “connect through empathy and validation, before we redirect.” As adults we often go quickly into “fix-it” mode or problem solving before we take a moment to empathize. However, it is often the case that until both children and adults feel validated, they will feel stuck. When they feel validated, children and adults are more willing to problem solve and be redirected. Remember, it is not enough to be empathetic only when you believe the feeling expressed is the correct one. Even when you don’t understand or agree, you should validate your child’s and spouse’s feelings. Although some behaviors are not acceptable, feelings are always acceptable.

I also connected to the concept shared by Ditter that you need to “take care of the right side of the brain (the emotional side of the brain) before you can deal with the left side (language/problem solving). You can do this by not discussing the challenging behavior at the “point of the struggle.” We often, (me too), try to have lengthy (one-sided) talks (lectures) when our kids are too emotional. They are not available! It is much better to have this important conversation outside of the moment. When you finally have this conversation, do it by “hooking a compliment to a concern.” What do I mean? Before telling children you are upset about their behavior, share with them what is going well. When I see kids in my office, I always try to start with what worked before we delve into what did not.

I am also a big believer in the concept that everything starts and ends with a positive relationship. Whenever I work with parents and/or children, I always emphasize that nothing can be accomplished without first establishing a positive relationship. Think of the people in your life you felt cared about you and treated you with respect and fairness. Weren’t you willing to do things for them because of your positive relationship? Remember, in the words of Rita Pierson, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” Therefore, before you try to get children to “hear” you, make sure that you have established a positive relationship.

    Our Expectations Shape People’s Behavior

Ditter shared a study that was written in Adam Grant’s terrific book, Give and Take. The study shows us the power of our labels and how they can affect our impressions. Specifically, Dr. Dov Eden, an Israeli psychologist, conducted a study that showed he could predict with unbelievable accuracy which young recruits in the Israeli military would become top performers. Dr. Eden studied the skills and aptitudes of one thousand recruits. He then selected a group of soldiers he labeled as “high potential.” Dr. Eden then told the commanders that they could “expect unusual achievements” from these soldiers. Sure enough, Dr. Eden was right. Over the next three months, Dr. Eden’s group outperformed their peers. It looked like Eden had an impressive way of identifying talent – or did he? In fact, there was a twist: the high potential soldiers were not really high potential, but rather chosen completely at random. By labeling them as “high-potential,” both the commanders and the soldiers saw themselves as “special,” which led soldiers to act “special.” The phenomenon, known as the Pygmalion Effect, is seen often in educational setting. How so? For example, when we put the “robins” (our high readers) in the “Robin’s Reading Group,” we expect more from them than from the “toads” (our low readers) in the “Toad’s Reading Group,” resulting in them meeting our expectations. In addition, do you really think the “toads” and the “robins” really don’t know what is going on when we “disguise” the names of their reading groups in this way? What can we learn from this? Treat all our students and our children like they are rock stars. By having high expectations for all, more often than not, they will become rock stars.

    Drop the Rope or My Spin – “Drop the Leash”

How many of you have heard of the concept of “drop the rope”? Ditter put this term on the map. “Drop the leash” is a variation on this concept. For those of you who are not familiar with this phrase, many children and adults will approach you with a rope that they want you to grab. They are looking for a debate and someone to grab their “leash” and their negative energy. Don’t grab onto this leash. Instead drop it and react in a way you can be proud. Model an appropriate way to handle frustration rather than mirror out-of-control behavior. To accomplish this goal, try to understand what underlies the person’s actions. Understanding leads to empathy, and empathy erases anger. By pausing to understand the reasons why someone may have said something inappropriate, you can better control your response. Remember, you can be a tremendous role model if you are able to pause to understand before you react, especially when you are feeling frustrated. Instead, mirror back to the person the way you want to be seen and remembered.

I hope you too got something out of this blog as I did from the conference, and thank you BOB DITTER!
To learn more about Bob Ditter go to https://bobditter.com
Please check out my website at drbaruchfeldman.com for additional blogs and upcoming events.