Sunday, 9 September 2012

It's Just Not Fair!

Schools in Australia have a Sun Safe No Hat No Play Policy. This protects the long-term health of children in light of what we know about over exposure to the sun and skin damage. It’s a reasonable preventative health measure.

A young child (6 years old) recently in a school playground was crying, hatless in a shaded area looking on as her ‘hat ready’ peers played on the playground equipment having the greatest time ever!

I asked her what had happened (A=Activating event) and she replied

‘I can’t play on the playground with my friend because I have no hat!’ So I reflected back to her what she said (as counsellors do).

‘You have forgotten your hat and you can’t play with your friends. Is that right?’

‘Yes.’ She said through a veil of tears. ‘How do you feel about this?’ I asked (Emotional Consequence of A=C).

‘I feel very sad because I can’t play with my friends on the equipment. The teacher said I have to stay in the shade. She is mean. She makes me mad!’

Again I reflected back to her thusly ‘you feel sad because you have no hat and you can’t play with your friends on the equipment and you feel mad too because the teacher says you have to stay in the shade. You say she is mean. Is that right?’

‘That’s right she makes me mad and it’s not fair that I can’t play with my friends.’

‘Ok you feel mad and sad because you can’t play with your friends and the teacher is mean because she won’t let you play in the sun and it’s not fair.’

Our little friend believes that the event (A) ‘I have to stay in the shade’ is making her act and feel as she does (C). Someone or something is making her mad and thus in her mind A=C i.e. She does not accept any responsibility for her behaviour and feelings. Nonetheless she is about to learn some useful ideas about the way life works because the teacher on duty (me) is about to pounce and give her an REBE (Rational Emotive Behaviour Education) booster!

I say:

‘If you think it is really bad and it’s the worst thing that can ever, ever happen then you will feel mad and angry. This is Brain Bully thinking, Brain Bully (BB) is trying to trick you. Tell BB that if you h ad  a very sore throat or you can’t find your favourite teddy or your dog is sick and has to go to the vet are much worse than having to play in the shade because you have no hat.’

She says:

‘Brain Bully is making me sad and mad. Get lost BB.”

I say:

‘Well done. Now you think, ‘this is bad but not the worst thing that can happen to me.’ Now you are using helpful thinking. Brain Friend (BF) thinking helps you to feel better. Do you feel better?’

Now this process may seem long and drawn out but it can be shortened somewhat by saying in the first instance (assuming the school teaches REBE across the curriculum) the following:

‘Nobody makes you mad. You make you mad when you use BB thinking. This is not the worst thing that can happen (‘do you need an ambulance?). There are bigger problems than this. Tell your self this is a pain but you can stand it.’

It is useful for our young learner to be reminded that:
  •  Things are very bad if you think they are.
  • You feel bad when you use BB thinking.
  • Challenge BB with BF (‘this is not the worst thing that can happen’) and change how strong you feel (annoyed but not angry) about things.
  • How you think about things makes feelings and actions not just what happens to you (the event).

If this is reinforced in all interactions between teachers and students at school children will generally feel healthily annoyed, concerned and sad about things rather than anxious, angry and depressed. That’s what REBE is all about. Try it and see!

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