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|Case Studies - Page 3|
Creating a Support Network
When learning skills, children need the support of their social network. A practical way to ensure this is to let the child identify who she wants to ask to be her supporters. Children are greatly influenced by other children—for good and bad—and it's advisable, therefore, to encourage the child to include not only adults, but also friends or siblings in this group. These supporters can support her, for example, by affirming that the skill is an important one to learn, by showing interest in her progress, by offering practical ideas about how to learn the skill, by helping her remember the skill, and, above all, by celebrating with her when she's acquired her skill.
It's typical for children to want to have lots of supporters, and people asked by children to support them in learning a skill are usually delighted by the invitation; however, when the problem is of a more intimate character, such as enuresis or encopresis, a child may want to include only his closest family members among his supporters. Rarely does anyone refuse to be a supporter to a child, but should that happen, others are always more than willing to say yes.
"You'll need some supporters to help you learn the Waiting Tone skill," Christine said, "so who do you want to help you to learn it?" Carla wanted Christine to be her supporter, and then added her parents, both grandmothers, two of her friends, her teacher at school, and her dancing-class teacher. The following week, she asked all of them if they wanted to support her, and was delighted to find that they were happy and willing to do so.
To acquire new skills, children need to have confidence. In Kids' Skills, confidence-building is accomplished through making the child aware of why people who know her well believe she has what it takes to learn the skill. Therefore, cooperation with a child's network is an essential element of this approach. Carla's schoolteacher was invited to the next appointment. Christine seized the opportunity to build Carla's confidence by asking the teacher to tell Carla whether she thought she'd be able to learn the Waiting Tone skill. "Certainly she'll learn it," said the teacher. "Not long ago, Carla got quite a good mark in her math exam, even if math has always been difficult for her." Christine turned to Carla's parents. "What about you? Do you also think she'll be able to do it?" she asked. "We believe that you can do it," the parents said to Carla, "because you're our daughter, and we know you're a strong girl." Carla's eyes were shining with delight.
After this preparatory work, it was time for Christine to help Carla draw up a plan to practice her skill with her supporters' help. Again, whatever plan is developed, it works best when the ideas it's built on come predominantly from the child.
"So, tell me Carla, how will you practice the skill of waiting for your turn?" asked Christine. "What can you do to stay patient in situations when you feel really impatient?"
"I'll carry a picture of Cindy in my pocket, and I'll look at it while I have to wait for something, and then I won't put it back into my pocket until it's my turn," Carla said.
"That's a great idea, but how will you remember to do that?" Christine continued.
Carla thought for a moment and then said: "I'll remember by saying to myself 'Stop.'"
A plan was made, according to which Carla would start her training at school with small steps. She agreed that her teacher would inform her classmates about the plan so they, too, could support her. She agreed that the teacher would place a diary on her desk where both of them would write notes about Carla's progress; also, her classmates could scribble down their observations about how she was doing.
"There's one more thing we need to think about, Carla," Christine said "and that's how do you want others to remind you of your skill if you forget it and become impatient again?"
This question has a central place in Kids' Skills, where what conventionally are perceived as relapses or setbacks are taken for nothing more than instances of the child's temporarily forgetting her skill. This framing of setbacks as temporary and inevitable forgetfulness opens the possibility of inviting children to determine for themselves how their supporters can best help them get back on track.
Carla came up with the idea that if she became impatient again, her teacher and her two best friends at school, who sat close to her in class, could whisper into her ear the name of her magic helper, Cindy.
Carla set out to learn her skill with her supporters' help. She practiced her skill diligently. Within a couple of months, her supporters agreed that she'd made enough progress to warrant her celebration. Soon thereafter, her parents organized the garden party they'd promised for her, exactly the way she'd wanted. She was proud of her accomplishment and said that she now wanted to extend her newly learned patience skill to other areas of her life—to dancing lessons, to situations with friends, and even to her treatment of her little brother.
Carla's teacher was so impressed with her progress that she recommended Kids' Skills to another teacher, who had a student with problems like Carla's. This teacher even asked Carla, the current "expert" in Kids' Skills, to act as one of the girl's supporters.
The change in Carla's behavior, in her ability to wait patiently for her turn—or to control her impulsivity, as professionals would say—was so significant that the following summer she was transferred back to normal school, where, according to her teacher, she's done well.