Posts tagged “gentle parenting

Naughty? 10 Ways Kids Appear To Be Acting Bad, But Aren’t

As I read through the list of “naughty” behaviors, I had to admit the author, Dr. Erin Leyba, was onto something. Erin has a blog and a website called “the joy fix for parents,” which you can find at Approaches like Joyful Parenting and Gentle Parenting, like Choice Theory, remind us to view child behavior through a more thoughtful lens, a lens that sees them developmentally, rather than as pests that need to be squelched.

I pass on the 10 behaviors below, also quoting the article (which you can access by clinking on this Psychology Today link), and also adding a Choice Theory comment here and there.

 1 Not Controlling Impulses
Ever say to your kid, “Don’t throw that!” and they throw it anyway? Research suggests that the brain regions involved in self-control are immature at birth and don’t fully mature until the end of adolescence, which explains why developing self-control is a long, slow process.

Choice Theory: This developmental reality doesn’t at all mean we ignore impulsive behavior; it should remind us to respond to their behavior in a more level, gentler manner.

 2 Overstimulation
We take our kids to Target, the park, and their sister’s play in a single morning, and inevitably see meltdowns, hyperactivity, or outright resistance. Jam-packed schedules, overstimulation, and exhaustion are hallmarks of modern family life.

Choice Theory: We often expect kids to have the same levels of interest and stamina that we have as adults, and in doing so we neglect what kids all need a lot of – that being time to just relax. A meltdown may be the result of the circumstances – no nap, late bedtime, skipping a meal, too much sugar – we have created.

 3 Core Conditions
Ever been “hangry” – angry because you’re hungry – or completely out of patience due to sleep deprivation? Little kids are affected tenfold by such “core conditions” of being tired, hungry, thirsty, over-sugared, or sick.

4 Expression of Big Feelings
As adults, we’ve been taught to tame and hide our big emotions, often by stuffing them, displacing them, or distracting them. Kids can’t do that yet.

Choice Theory: Again, it’s not that such behavior shouldn’t be addressed or confronted; rather it’s about teaching and coaching kids on how to deal with their feelings. It can be as simple as “Use your words,” rather than going into a punishment mode.

 5 Developmental Need for Tons of Movement
Instead of calling a child “bad” when they’re acting energetic, it may be better to organize a quick trip to the playground or a stroll around the block.

Choice Theory: I saw a sign on a K/1 classroom wall that read: It is stillness that must be justified, not movement. I saw this sign over 20 years ago, but it has been such a significant truth to me that I have never forgotten it.

 6 Developmentally Wired to Resist and Become Independent
Every 40 and 50 degree day resulted in an argument at one family’s home. A first-grader insisted that it was warm enough to wear shorts, while mom said the temperature called for pants. Erik Erikson’s (1963) model posits that toddlers try to do things for themselves, and that preschoolers take initiative and carry out their own plans. Even though it’s annoying when a child picks your tomatoes while they are still green, cuts their own hair, or makes a fort with eight freshly washed sheets, they’re doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing—trying to carry out their own plans, separate, make their own decisions, and become their own little independent people.

Choice Theory: Number 6 really addresses core aspects of Choice Theory, and reminds us that, as parents and teachers, our goal is to help our children become independent as soon as possible. Such independence doesn’t mean “aloneness,” though, as learning to be interdependent is also a needed lifeskill.

 7 Core Strengths that Trip Them Up
We all have core strengths that can also trip us up. Maybe we’re incredibly focused, but can’t transition very easily. Maybe we’re intuitive and sensitive, but take on other people’s negative moods like a sponge. Kids are similar. They may be driven in school, but have difficulty coping when they mess up (e.g. – yelling when they make a mistake). Recognizing when a child’s unwelcome behaviors are really the flip side of their strengths—just like ours—can help us react with more understanding.

8 Fierce Need for Play
Your kid paints her face with yogurt, wants you to chase her and “catch her” when you’re trying to brush her teeth, or puts on daddy’s shoes instead of her own when you’re racing out the door. Some of kids’ seemingly “bad” behaviors are what John Gottman calls “bids” for you to play with them. Kids love to be silly and goofy. They delight in the connection that comes from shared laughter and love the elements of novelty, surprise, and excitement. Play often takes extra time and therefore gets in the way of parents’ own timelines and agendas, which may look like resistance and naughtiness even when it’s not.

9 Reaction to Parents’ Moods
Multiple research studies on emotional contagion have found that it only takes milliseconds for emotions like enthusiasm and joy, as well as sadness, fear, and anger, to pass from person to person, and this often occurs without either person realizing it. Kids especially pick up on their parents’ moods.

10 Response to Inconsistent Limits
At one ball game, you buy your kid M&Ms. At the next, you say, “No, it’ll ruin your dinner,” and the kid screams and whines. When parents are inconsistent with limits, it naturally sets off kids’ frustration and invites whining or yelling. Just like adults, kids want and need to know what to expect.


Again, I want to thank Erin Leyba for the great points she shared in her blog, many of them excerpted from her recent book, Joy Fixes for Weary Parents. Kids don’t come with instructions and often we treat them like they are little adults intentionally making our lives difficult. Leyba reminds us that children usually act the way they way they do because that is how babies or toddlers or children act. Our role as teachers and parents is to gently and compassionately teach them, as they mature, how to behave appropriately given the circumstances.

For me, one of the big Choice Theory reminders is that human beings are born with an internal system of motivation and behavior and that internal system remains in place throughout our lives. And thus, the significant adults in a child’s life have the privilege of helping that child become aware of his internal guidance system and the implications of his power of choice. It’s a pretty cool privilege, really!


What About Deliberate Disobedience?


When I shared this quote on Facebook, one person agreed that “Punishment should not be used because a child has a problem,” but then asked “What about knowing, deliberate disobedience?”

My short answer to the question – Should deliberate disobeyers be punished? – is No, deliberate disobeyers need a problem-solving response, instead of a punishment, as much or more than accidental disobeyers.


Liam and Pearl

My long answer goes on to explore the power in problem-solving and the damage that results from punishment. To that end, here are –

Five Things to Keep in Mind when
Working with the Deliberately Disobedient

1ne – Value the Relationship
Positive change is built on a positive relationship. There is just no way around this. Throughout this blog I keep coming back to this point because it is difficult to overstate it’s importance. The more frustrating or difficult the problem behavior becomes, the more a positive relationship is needed. In other words, if a kid is deliberately disobeying there is more at play here than that moment of defiance. A positive relationship fosters trust within the kid, as well as fostering compassion within the parent or teacher. Trust and compassion are good things when it comes to problem-solving.


Brothers (2014)

2wo – Strengthen the Will, Don’t Break It
It is uncomfortable and frustrating to the parent or teacher who is working with a child who seems to knowingly disobey, but give the kid credit for having some kind of inner strength to do things his way, even in the face of potential trouble. Hear me clearly, I am not defending disobedience or trying to downplay it as no big deal. Disobedience needs to be confronted and children need to learn how to fix what they have broken, but how we go about this makes all the difference. Too often our actions seem to focus on breaking the will of the child, dominating him or threatening him into obedience, rather than helping the child become the master of his own will and decision-making ability.

3hree – Unplug the Power Struggle
When a kid disobeys it can be viewed as a direct assault on adult supremacy. Viewing obedience vs. disobedience issues through this lens creates a power struggle that always leads to the adult and the child being adversaries with very different goals and a bad relationship to boot. On top of this, the focus is now on the power struggle, rather than on the behavior that needs to be addressed.


Look at the camera, Charlie.

4our – Models Matter
A simple, but powerful truth is that – We must BE what we want our children to BECOME. If we want our children and students to be good listeners and good communicators who are able to say what they want in a way that keeps them connected to others, then we need to show them what that looks like. If we want them to be reasonable and self-controlled, even when things don’t go their way, then we need to show them how that works. The goal is self-government. Problem-solving is meant to help kids monitor their own thinking and feelings and to learn to effectively govern their own behavior.

5ive – Developmental Smarts
Child behavior, including teenager behavior, has more to do with developmental maturity than it does with deliberate rebellion. Keeping developmental factors in mind can make all the difference.

For Instance

Developmentally Challenged
Parents of a three year old are frustrated at him for being fussy and crying, thus preventing them from spending time with other families as an afternoon get-together stretches into the evening. At one point they even grab him firmly and tell him he better straighten up or they will give him something to cry about.

Developmentally Smart
Parents of a three year old would love to stay and visit longer with friends, but they recognize that his naptime was affected earlier and that it has been a long day for him. No resentment. This three year old needs to get home and ready for bed.


It’s not Pismo, but it’s close.

Developmentally Challenged
Parents of a five year old chastise him in a frustrated tone when he gets his Lego train stuff out to play, since it makes the house feel messy. “Can’t we just have the house look nice for a while?” they ask.

Developmentally Smart
Parents of a five year old set aside a play area for Legos and whatever else he wants to do. They talk with him about putting things away before getting a lot of other stuff out to play with, but it is rarely in a frustrated or angry tone. “This is now his house, too,” they realize, “and we shouldn’t make a federal case out of him wanting to act his age.”

Developmentally Challenged
A middle school teacher is sick of his students talking so much during class and decides to threaten and punish those who don’t obey his ‘be quiet’ directive.

Developmentally Smart
A middle school teacher is frustrated that his students talk so much during class, but recognizes the adolescent drive in them to communicate with each other. Rather than try to stop this powerful force in them, he decides to harness their talking energy and increase their learning at the same time. To this end, his in-class assignments often have partners or small groups discussing topics and completing tasks together. They still get to talk, they understand the topic better, and he doesn’t have to become a punishment ogre.


True, even when we try to be developmentally-smart, children will still test their independence and boundaries we create. The question, though, isn’t on whether or not we should confront the behavior and expect better. The answer to that question is always YES. The question is more about How do we confront the behavior and help the child to want to do better in a way that doesn’t harm our relationship? The answer to that question lies in problem-solving, not punishing.


The process by which a child or student is confronted due to inappropriate or unacceptable behavior and is assisted toward making amends and creating a plan for better behavior in the future. At the core of problem-solving is the desire to help another person effectively self-evaluate.

Pain or discomfort that is applied to a child or student who misbehaves, especially a student who is believed to have deliberately disobeyed, in the belief that the pain will prevent future misbehavior.




Can Children Really Handle Choice Theory?


The following question was posted in response to The Ship Is Turning, the recent post from Jan. 10. What ideas or insights can you share with Anonymous?

My brother is a social worker who started in education at Lincoln High School. He is now in charge of taking this program to other schools in the district. When talking to him over Christmas, he expressed frustration in dealing with the younger students – 5th and below – that aren’t really self-aware yet. I have expressed this frustration to him before, but it fell on deaf ears until he experienced it himself. We concluded that while we might not be able to get them be self-aware and see the choices they are making, we are planting those seeds and giving them tools and strategies and a mental framework that they can build upon as they become self-aware. I’ve found that some of my 5th graders really struggle to reflect and think about themselves and their choices and actions – in my opinion it is because they are developmentally not “there” yet. Do you have suggestions or resources in helping the younger students in this process? I start with relationship, and continue with relationship, but are there other ways to help the students to think through their thinking and their choices?


Dear Anonymous,

You have asked a great question, an important question. How soon can children understand the concepts of choice theory and how can adults – both at home and at school – help them understand and practice these concepts?

Glasser used to say that there is nothing about choice theory that a six year old cannot understand. For the last five years I have been closely observing my two grandchildren, now ages 2 and 5, and I can say that I agree with him on this point. I have watched as one of them has an emotional meltdown over a perceived slight or problem – maybe the French toast was pre-cut, rather than allowing them to try and cut it, or maybe the syrup was poured for them, rather than them being allowed to pour it, or something else of a similarly serious nature – and then been impressed as my daughter or my wife patiently teaches them to put their frustration into words. Rather than responding to their seeming unreasonableness with anger or disgust – “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” – their feelings were acknowledged and they were coached toward stating what they wanted. They were beginning to learn the Caring Habit step of negotiating.

If a fifth-grader is struggling with the process of reflecting and making a good choice, I don’t think it is because he is developmentally “not there yet.” I think it has more to do with not having been given a chance to learn and practice the skill sets of self-evaluation, communicating, and being responsible for his own behavior. So what about these skill sets and how can we pass them on?

What You Think Matters
My daughter, who I think is an incredible parent, even though she disagrees (what does she know?), at one time described to me how she wants to come across to her boys – whether they were babies, toddlers, or young children – in a way that conveys her openness to being influenced by them. In other words, she wants them to know that she can learn from them, that she is open to what they think and what they believe. Wow! I thought. Imagine the implications of this way of being on the life of a young child.

Transparently Live Internal Control
There are few things as powerful as living by example. Along these lines, Ellen White wrote that “We must be what we want our students to become.” And more than just silently living the principles of choice theory, we need to explain how we are working through a challenge or what we are thinking as we self-evaluate. When it comes to reading and critical thinking skills, there is a teaching technique called Think Aloud. A teacher doing a Think Aloud will read from a text or reading selection, but will stop and comment on hard to understand passages or evasive vocabulary and literally show students how they process as they read. We assume that students know how to be thoughtful readers, but this often isn’t the case at all. Along the same lines, children will benefit greatly as we Think Aloud about the ideas of choice theory.

Class members demonstrate how puppets can be used to help students learn about choice theory and process their behavioral choices. (From the summer class at PUC, 2014)

Class members demonstrate how puppets can be used to help young children learn about choice theory and process their behavioral choices. (From the summer class at PUC, 2014)

Invite and Nurture Self-Evaluation
Children are used to being told what to do, others planning for them, and others grading them on their performance. Someone decided what they will learn and how they will learn it. We shouldn’t be too surprised if children seem to balk at the idea of responsibility and reflecting on the course of action to take. We have sought to control children, often with the idea of doing what is best for them and protecting them, but it leaves them with no practice at self-evaluating their situation and deciding where to go from there. I think children can be very fast learners when it comes to self-evaluation if we give them chances to do so. Even toddlers can be asked what they think the best solution is. In the school setting, a scoring rubric is an excellent tool to promote self-evaluation. Along with listing the assignment criteria and benchmarks for levels of performance, think about adding to two columns for feedback scores – one for the student to self-evaluate and one for the teacher to make an evaluation as well. When students turn in assignments we need to get in the habit of having them express what they did well or describe how they worked through a difficulty. Invite them to self-evaluate. Get them in the habit of thinking about their own work.

Eliminate Rewards and Punishment
Lastly (for now), create a management plan that is based on prevention, rather than cure; and on problem-solving, rather than punishment. Boundaries and expectations need to be clear, and specific procedures for classroom operation need to be taught and rehearsed. As I have emphasized before, structure is our friend as choice theorists, not an enemy. Children need structure. They just need it to be redemptive and restorative. When misbehavior occurs in the classroom there is no better time to show children how self-evaluation and problem-solving work. Wean students off of being controlled and manipulated by others, to being controlled and governed by themselves.


We have covered some of these topics in past blogs. I will list some of them below for your convenience. Click on the links for quick access.

Influence vs. Control

Lead Management and Car Washing

Gentle Parenting


Sticking It In Their Ear

25 Ways to Ask Your Kids “How Was School Today?”



An important resource is Carleen Glasser’s primary grade workbook on the Quality World, which is an easy and fun way to teach young children about choice theory.


You can order the Quality World Workbook from the Glasser Inc. bookstore by clicking on the workbook above.


Anonymous would love to hear your ideas on how to share choice theory with children. Actually, I would like to hear your ideas, too.


Some Things Hugs Can’t Fix

A Duke University study indicates that corporal punishment fosters anxiety and aggression in children, and that hugs afterward don’t remove these effects. In fact, the article states that “A loving mom can’t overcome the anxiety and aggression caused by corporal punishment, and her otherwise warm demeanor may make it worse.”


Such results would not surprise a person who believes in Choice Theory, which is based on non-coercive principles. Punishment is one of the deadly habits that harms relationships, influence, and performance. In other words, punishment strategies have a way of nurturing the exact behavior you are trying to eliminate.

Excerpts from the article include –

If you believe that you can shake your children or slap them across the face and then smooth things over gradually by smothering them with love, you are mistaken. Being very warm with a child whom you hit in this manner rarely makes things better. It can make a child more, not less, anxious.

Generally, childhood anxiety gets worse when parents are very loving alongside using corporal punishment. The researchers aren’t sure why, but it simply might be too confusing and unnerving for a child to be hit hard and loved warmly all in the same home. More severe punishment leads to more severe aggression and anxiety.

It is far more effective and less risky to us non-physical discipline. Discipline means “to teach,” not “punishment.”

43 countries have outlawed corporal punishment

Punishing shares the same mindset that fosters all of the other deadly habits. It is basically our desire to intimidate and to threaten put into action. These coercive behaviors all come from the same worldview. My personal belief is that intimidation has a similar effect on children when it comes to anxiety and aggression. As we attempt to change the behavior of our children by yelling, threatening, lashing out and punishing, they internalize this model and use these same behaviors when they want to change how a sibling or friend is behaving. The ineffective cycle is perpetuated.


Helping a toddler, or a child, or an adolescent become the best version of themselves involves patient instruction and when needed, compassionate confrontation. We need to explicitly describe and explain the needed behavior and hold the line on expecting it. Children need to be corrected when they are being unkind or bossy or too rough, but not just by yelling at them or threatening them. We assume that children, even toddlers, know what to do and how to do it, however I don’t think this is the case. Seeing my own grandchildren occasionally go into an emotional melt down over some perceived injustice (e.g. – bath issues, nap issues, food issues, have to be strapped into car seat issues, etc.), and then seeing my daughter patiently ask them to use their words to talk about their frustration, rather than acting out emotionally, is an example of this kind of instruction. Kids need to be taught the most basic skills and behaviors, and re-taught when they forget.


For those interested in the Soul Shaper classes at PUC during the summer, please keep the following schedule in mind and contact me if you have any questions –

Soul Shapers 1: June 22-25

Soul Shapers 2: June 29 – July 2


Get signed copies of Soul Shapers from me for $12 + shipping.

Now priced at $12.59 on Amazon.

Now priced at $12.59 on Amazon.


Two Lawnmowers


There is so much choice theory in this picture.

Two lawnmowers parked in a backyard shed, their work done for now, resting as the grass grows once again, but ready to get back at it when the lawn once again needs a trim.

Two lawnmowers. One real, heavy, dusty, its grasscatcher hanging out the back; the other small, plastic, unimposing, a toy.

Of course, the picture captures more than these two objects. It captures something about a relationship, something about the caring habits, and something about lead management. You can see the lawnmowers; do you see choice theory sitting there, too?

When I get the mower out to mow the lawn, my grandson invariably grabs his mower and wants to join me. He will ask, “Grandpa, can I help you mow the lawn?” And I will answer with something like, “Yes, I could use the help. Thank you very much.” I can imagine an adult answering that question with “No, I need you to stay out of the way. Lawnmowers are dangerous and you need to keep your distance.” Or maybe “No, I don’t need your help. You can play on the lawn after I am done.” I don’t like those answers, though, since I really like my grandson’s help with the different projects in which I am involved.

As I mow he is pushing his mower across the grass, too. Sometimes out in front of me, sometimes behind me, sometimes off to the side. He has a system, a plan that he follows, much the same as me having a plan as I work to efficiently get all the grass cut. He laughs a lot as he darts around, and I do, too, for that matter. When I stop to empty the grasscatcher, he stops, too, and walks with me to the green trash can, where we empty the clippings.

This last time, after we were all done with mowing, I pushed the mower to the back of the property, where there is a shed that keeps stuff like lawnmowers. I pushed it up the little ramp and was about to shut the shed door, but noticed that my grandson was now pushing his little mower up the ramp, too. I asked if he was sure he wanted to leave his mower there, as he wouldn’t be able to play with it if it was locked in the shed. He said he understood that, but that he wanted his mower to be in the shed, too, ready for the next time the lawn needed to be mowed.


I suppose I could have said, “No, let’s not put your mower in the shed. That’s not where it goes.” But that didn’t occur to me. I was so touched by our two mowers sitting there together.

So where’s the choice theory? A lot of you, as you read this, have already come up with multiple examples. Here are a few that come to my mind –

The Relationship
My grandson and I have a really good relationship. I enjoy being with him and I like it a lot when he wants to help me. He talks a blue streak as we work, some of the talk related to the job, but a lot of it not. And while sometimes he actually can hand me something I need or carry a board to where it is needed, not all of his “help” is actually helpful. But I want him close, I want his “help”, all of it.

The Caring Habits
Words like accepting, encouraging, and listening come to mind as I think about our mowing the lawn together. Yes, he is just pushing a toy around, and yes, I could respond in kind, but I don’t think our two mowers would be sitting in the shed together right now if I used one of the deadly habits like criticizing or complaining.


Lead Management
My grandson loves helping with projects. A few weeks back I constructed 75’ of new fence. It was a grueling job that involved the removal of the old fence, disposal of the old boards, removal of the old fence posts, and the digging of the new holes. It was hot, too. And yet he was with me a lot of the time. Out there in his Crocks and his underwear, talking, listening, handing me stuff, and doing stuff on his own. He is growing up to be an involved, helpful young man, not because we are making him be that way, but because we are open to his being involved. We are supportive of his interest and his efforts. At times we invite his participation or try to persuade him to join in the work. Usually, it is more about accepting his offer to help.

The picture of the two mowers captures what is possible when we place a high value on relationships and keep the caring habits in mind. Whether young or old, people thrive when the elements of lead-management are present.


Me and Chris Kinney.

Me and Chris Kinney.

The talk at Lower Lake High School this past Thursday evening (9-11-14) went well. Chris Kinney, a teacher at the school and one of my former students, organized the event and recorded it, too. There are administrators and teachers at the school that want to head in a choice theory direction and Chris is fueling and supporting that vision. I will be sharing more about this in an upcoming blog. Well done, Chris! It was a great evening all the way around!


We have been stuck on the number 16 when it comes to Amazon book reviews for Champion of Choice. It would be great for the book, and by extension the ideas of choice theory, if that number could go significantly higher. Reviews don’t have to be long and they are simple to do.

Now priced at $17.23 on Amazon; 16 reviews have been submitted. (We've been stuck on 16 for a while.)

Now priced at $17.23 on Amazon; 16 reviews have been submitted. (We’ve been stuck on 16 for a while.)

The eBook version can be accessed at –

The paperback version can be accessed at –

or from Amazon at –

Signed copies of Champion of Choice can be accessed through me at –


Identity Theft

Although I am an adult, it feels like I am still trying to figure out who I am. Does that make sense? I’m not sure what I want or what I have to offer. It’s a bit depressing, actually.   Shane N.

Identity theft and the fraud often associated with it affect 15 million Americans a year at a cost approaching 50 billion dollars. It is maddening when a person usurps another person’s identity and then steals his victim’s income or savings. As a result, a lot of effort goes into protecting identities. As important as our financial identity is, though, it shrinks in importance when compared to our personal identity, which is the essence of how we see ourselves. If anything must be nurtured and protected, especially in children, it is this persona we refer to as identity.


As adults we forget this nurturing thing, a lot, and often shift towards emphasizing that our children assume a role, rather than helping them identify their identity. Roles are like “job descriptions” that an adult wants a child to fulfill or a mask that an adult wants a child to put on. When roles are forced on young people, rather than their identity being nurtured in freedom, to me, it is a form of identity theft. It is like stealing who a child really is and replacing it with a forgery of someone else’s design.

One of the greatest things my parents did for me was to help me become the person I wanted to be. I never felt pressure to become what they wanted me to be or to make them look good. Now that I am older I realize what an amazing thing that was for parents to do.   Raine W.

It is a great gift when adults support young people in every way possible, yet give them the space to become the best versions of themselves. As adults we may have a picture of what we want our child to become—a doctor, a pastor, a sports hero—or we may have pictures of what they should look like, what their hobby should be, who they will marry, and where they will live. And, once these pictures are in place, we tend to manipulate circumstances in such a way that reality will come to match those pictures. Manipulation is a part of the identity theft process. The gift lies in staying away from it.


Choice theory is a big help when it comes to identity formation. It helps adults who are trying to fix themselves later in life; better yet, it helps parents and teachers keep from screwing kids up in the first place. The theory helps because it is based on the idea that the only person I can control is me. Rather than being externally controlled, we are internally guided. This internal guidance system starts to be formed at birth. When parents and teachers understand choice theory they behave in a way that honors the internal guidance systems in children. We come to recognize how ill-advised it is for us to be the guidance system for another person, and how necessary it is for children to develop their internal guidance as soon as possible.




William Glasser: Champion of Choice

is being discounted on Amazon!

Just sayin .  .  .



The Choice Theory Study Group scheduled for May 24 has been cancelled. Stay tuned for next school year’s calendar.


Those just joining The Better Plan check out the 2013 – Year At  a Glance link in the upper left hand corner of the page to easily discover articles from last year.

The Best Version of Themselves

Glasser received an honorary doctorate at the same time I received my Ed.D.

Glasser received an honorary doctorate at the same time I received my Ed.D.

I began the last blog with “The Glasser biography is printed and is now available!” It turns out it would have been more accurate if I had left it at “The Glasser biography is printed.” I have the book. It looks great! But I still can’t tell you how you can get a copy. Nothing yet on the publisher’s website or on the website. The Better Plan followers will be among the first to know about how to get the book. Stay tuned.


photo 1

I have continued to think about some of the things Glasser suggested in one of his unpublished articles that I posted as part of the March 19 blog. For instance, in reference to how parents should guide their children he wrote that –

“What we should be sensitive to from early on is what they want. Then as much as we can, rather than to give them things we should make an effort to take the additional time to teach them how to satisfy their needs themselves.”

The idea of taking the time to teach kids how to satisfy their own needs has made a real impression on me. This process is about honoring your child as a fellow human being with unique dreams and goals of his/her own. It is about respecting their ideas and helping them achieve them. It is a process full of love and compassion.

It was helpful to me that Glasser went on to explain that as parents we can –

“Assure them from the time that they can comprehend it that we believe in the way we live our lives, but that our way is not necessarily the best way, the only way or the way for them. And as our way changes, as it will, show them that we can be tolerant of ourselves as we change. From this they will learn that they too have a way but that it is not the only way and that they should be tolerant of themselves as they change.”

Is such an honest and candid relationship possible between parent and child?

I especially thought about the effect such a relationship would have on a child’s spiritual journey. What would it be like for parents to express how much they believe in the way they live their lives, but somehow to admit that their way may not be the only way for the child? What if parents modeled an authentic and real connection with Jesus, and invited their children to be a part of that connection, yet somehow did so non-coercively? Too many children are growing up to be screwed-up adults, unclear regarding their purpose in life and spiritually unhappy. To a great extent I think this has a lot to do with children experiencing the opposite of what Glasser described. Instead of focusing on creating and maintaining their own spiritual lives and then inviting, inspiring, and persuading their children to join them, parents are leading halfway religious lives and then trying to force their children to do the same. Criticizing, nagging, threatening and punishing are frequently present in this approach.

Glasser believed that if we can foster a relationship with our children that honors and respects them as fellow human beings –

“ .  .  . especially to refrain from criticizing them, we have a chance, even a good chance (there are no sure things in this delicate process) to enjoy the reward which is a child who loves us, respects us, and enjoys spending time with us.”

And I would add that more adults would turn out well-adjusted and mentally healthy.

photo 2

As I considered Glasser’s thoughts on parenting I was reminded about something I read in Ted and Nancy Sizer’s book, The Students Are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract (1999). Describing the role schools can play in students’ lives, they wrote that “We must insist on a high school design which will help all the high school’s people to reach for the best version of themselves.” p. xiii

I like the idea that we can help children and students to reach for the best version of themselves. I like the phrase “best version of themselves” a lot.


Classroom Application:

In the absence of intervention, students will come to see their teacher as the judge and chief evaluator. Students turn in assignments and hope that their teacher will accept it, or maybe even like it. Somehow the school system has created a divide between what students do and their own connection to that skill or product.

Teachers can begin to restore this connection between pupil and product by changing their own role in the classroom. Whenever appropriate, a teacher can help students evaluate aspects of their assignments by saying or asking things like –

Tell me what you like about what you have created.

What part of this assignment was the most satisfying for you?

What grade would you give yourself on this assignment and why?

What strategies did you use that helped you complete this assignment?

Teachers can still make evaluative statements; we just need to do less of it. We need to share the evaluation process with students. This sharing can be done informally, like the sample questions above, or it can be done formally where student self-evaluation becomes part of the project rubric.


“I think the big mistake in schools is trying to teach children anything, and by using fear as the basic motivation. Fear of getting failing grades, fear of not staying with your class, etc. Interest can produce learning on a scale compared to fear as a nuclear explosion to a firecracker.”    Stanley Kubrick

Sticking It In Their Ear

Newspaper article from 1962

Newspaper article from 1962

Early in Glasser’s career he emphasized the idea of being responsible. Reality Therapy (1965) echoed this theme a lot. Taken as part of the overall elements of reality therapy – elements like involvement, no punishment, and never give up – responsibility could be kept in perspective. However, Glasser soon discovered that teachers were taking the idea of responsibility and using it as a hammer to whip kids into shape. Seeing that people were misusing the idea he began to pull back from it.

Early on he was also known as an expert on classroom discipline and his “get tough” approach was advertised in national magazines. He let this happen for a while, but realized that such a message didn’t accurately capture what he was trying to do. Once again, he began to pull back from what people thought he was saying.

We still face this challenge today. We love the sound of choice theory and are drawn to its application, yet when we have marinated for so long in external control (reward/punishment) it is easy to go back to what we know. Teachers chuckle in agreement when I suggest that it is possible to use internal control strategies in an externally controlling way. As Glasser used to say, “It’s easy to believe in choice theory, but it’s hard to do.”

I thought about this during our recent Choice Theory Study Group as we focused on the concept of total behavior. Key pieces of total behavior include that 1) all behavior is purposeful and that 2) all behavior is made up of four parts – thinking, acting, feeling, and physiology. A key piece of total behavior is that two of the four parts – our thinking and our acting – are under our direct control.

And this is where a potential problem lurks. In the same way that teachers back in the 60s and 70s misunderstood and misapplied the idea of responsibility as Glasser intended, teachers today might be tempted to tell students that they are responsible for their own thinking and acting. If something is under our direct control, like how we act, then it may seem reasonable to emphasize this to students, even to bombard them with it.


This is the thing, though. Gaining insight into total behavior and understanding how it applies to you personally doesn’t come from someone else telling you about it, especially during a tense moment when they may be telling you to get your act together. Such insight comes from being gently led toward the concept and being asked the right questions at the right moments.

One of my mentors, a man who taught me so much about supervising teachers, shared that

“It is better to get something out of someone’s mouth,
than it is to put it into their ear.”

As teachers and parents this can be our goal, too. Total behavior is correct, in my opinion, and our having direct control over our thinking and behavior is correct, too. Helping our children and students realize that, without damaging our relationship with them, is our challenge. Somehow we need to help them talk about what the idea of total behavior means to them, rather than just sticking the concept in one of their ears.


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