Saturday, 10 January 2015

Teach Children to be Healthy and Happy - A prescription for child resilience

Published on August 8, 2012 by Bill Knaus, Ed.D. in Science and Sensibility

Self-acceptance and confidence are a dynamite combination for any adult and any child to possess. Australian educator, Giulio Bortolozzo, shows how to use rational principles to earn this result.
The rhyme, Little Jack Horner, carries a conditional-worth message: Your worth depends on what you do. For those who don’t remember, here’s the rhyme:
Little Jack Horner, sat in the corner, eating a Christmas pie. He put in his thumb, and pulled out a plum, and said 'What a good boy am I!
Is it possible that Jack was a good boy because he pulled out a plum from the Christmas pie? What if he messed up and missed the plumb? Would this make him a bad person? This illustrates the problem with conditional-worth thinking.
It is often self-defeating to rate your worth according to how well (or badly) you perform at certain tasks. If you discover the plumb, that is great. If not, too bad.
Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) teaches that doing and being are different ideas. Consider the following rework of this popular children’s rhyme.
Little Jack Horner sat in the corner reflecting on the day. I succeeded once. I mucked up twice. But, I am always OK!
Young people can benefit greatly by understanding and developing unconditional self-acceptance (USA).  You will not always like the results of your actions. Nevertheless, you can still accept yourself as worthwhile despite your foibles, faults, and mistakes. You also need not falsely elevate yourself if you have a great day. That too, is a conditional-worth issue.
A self-accepting child will normally appreciate that some failure is inevitable but will not take it too seriously when it occurs i.e. “I am not a failure for failing at X.”  This type of believing is a formula for resilience. It correlates with a self-efficacy belief: “I can organize, coordinate, and execute actions to reach worthy goals.”  Self-efficacy correlates with higher school grades.
You may be thinking, “What can I do as an educator or parent to promote a habit of believing in yourself?” Before I get into that, I’d like to take you on a quick tour of how to apply USA to yourself.
The Rational Teacher
Albert Ellis, the founder of REBT, was renowned for creating rational songs for audiences to sing, for his brand of humor, and for his colorful phrases. Ellis would often use these techniques to help people debunk negative self-views that are based on conditional self-acceptance (CSA). 
Here is an adult CSA example: “I am a turd for acting turdily, as I must not do. And I'll always be this way, and I'll never succeed" (Albert Ellis). Think this way, and you are likely to risk self-loathing when you don’t do as you believe you should do.
Ellis used earthy language to demonstrate unconditional self-acceptance (USA). For example, I can hear him say, “If they don’t like how I express myself, too damn bad! I accept myself anyway”. His point: “I don’t need your approval to accept myself. But I recognize that approval is preferable.”
Ellis ably separated performance from worth. You may have acted turdily in a particular instance. You can pay a price in the form of lost advantages or social penalties. But, is this the totality of you?
How do you determine the global worth of a person? Admittedly, this is by definition.
Ellis’ position is that we are worthwhile because we exist and how well or badly we do or how others view us cannot change that. If you don’t like that static definition, here is a process definition: You have thousands of past and ongoing actions that you can classify into different categories. Many of these are objectively positive. Bottom line: a changing human can’t logically be pigeonholed in a static category.
If you thought Ellis’ earthy phrases were funny, you’d laugh. If you were horrified, you’d cringe. If someone cringed and reported feeling offended by his colorful language, Ellis might use this occasion to demonstrate his ABC approach. He would point out that his expletives (Activating event) don’t cause distress. What the listener Believes about the words brings about an emotional-behavioral Consequence.
Teaching Children Self-Acceptance Skills
Children are better prepared to deal with adversity, failure, and rejection by knowing their worth is not tethered to how others view them or how well or badly they do. However, if someone else acts poorly, the concept of acceptance still applies.
Ellis describes this as unconditional other-acceptance (UOA). This is how the philosophy works:  A child believes that a teacher “…made me angry and that’s why I left the classroom. She is bad!” 
The following rework of the Little Jack Horner rhyme illustrates UOA:
Little Jack Horner sat in the corner resting reflectively. He thought, “Is my teacher a turd?” “No that’s absurd! She just acted turdily!” (You can substitute other words for turd).
A teacher (or parent, or neighbor, or friend) isn’t bad though she or he may have behaved badly.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that anything goes. Rob a bank. Tell a judge you are more than your acts. You are still going to jail. A school bully acts badly. You don’t like it. If the bully runs for class president, you can vote for someone else.
As an educational experiment, ask your child to compare this UOA Little Jack Horner rhyme with the self-acceptance and original conditional-worth versions. A child’s answer(s) can start a useful dialogue.
Practical Tips
Without instruction in psychological mental health skills, the educative process may look like an empty space of broken student desks and chairs. Helping children build self-acceptance skills can help turn classrooms into centers for teaching and learning what Socrates called the ultimate virtue: self-knowledge.
Here are some REBT tips to help children build these acceptance skills:
Practice behavior specific feedback e.g.

"You did that well/badly" rather than person specific, "You are
 naughty, lazy."’ This teaches USA.

Encourage children to try new things and take prudent risks.
Practice your own USA (model how accepting you are of
yourself). For example, say aloud:

(1) “I didn’t do that well but I’m still OK.”
(2) “I made a mistake, but that doesn’t make me dumb.”
(3) “I have made mistakes but I’m not one.”

Teach your children that needless anger is made by irrational habits of thinking i.e. teachers or parents don’t make you mad by correcting you. That's something you bring on yourself.

This is an Albert Ellis Tribute Series Blog.
©Giulio Bortolozzo. Accredited REBT educator and trainer working in South Australia. Founder and director of the Albert Ellis Professional Learning Centre. Official rational emotive education representative for Australia. See: Albert Ellis Professional Learning Center
Twitter: @rebtoz

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