I am going to take a brief pause before finishing the discussion about helping children change to address the idea of decision making. We are faced with a many decisions daily, and they affect us in both small and large ways. Deciding whether to eat the salad or the pizza when standing in the lunch line, to exercise or watch TV in the late afternoon, or to study or get on Facebook all occur daily for each of us. Children making these decisions have the added difficulty of not knowing or understanding the consequences with the depth or wisdom that comes as we grow and develop.
Obviously decisions require willpower and there are multiple things that we can do to improve our willpower. There are blogs devoted entirely to willpower (www.thewillpowerengine.com is one example). Willpower is the part of discipline that we all understand and know.
Decisions also bring into play something we rarely think of as youth workers. I am referring to the idea of the lens through which we view the world. When a child has been adopted or experiences a divorce or death of a parent they have a hard time making sense of anything. They now see the world through the lens of abandonment. They are motivated to do whatever it takes to avoid being abandoned again. Some may approach that by pleasing people, others may try to protect themselves with an insulated wall against the world. Regardless, both see the fear of abandonment in every decision they make.
Another example is the abused child. He sees the world through a lens of fear for his safety. Just like the child who fears abandonment, some will try to please others and some will approach this by distancing themselves or even becoming their own protector. They are their own advocate for safety in a dangerous world. But every decision they make falls under this framework.
Although these examples are very real and apply to a startlingly high number of children, even children without this level of trauma see the world through a lens that is less objective and less long term than an adult. When we tell a child to choose the salad and not the pizza, there is more at play than just having the will to say “no” to pizza. We must be aware enough of a child’s situation to realize that, without being overly dramatic, each child’s overriding decision maker is the desire to survive and the desire to avoid hurting. If pizza is a comforting food because it reminds the child of good family times, and right now family life is difficult, pizza is going to win out most of the time.
I don’t have an answer for helping every child see the world through an appropriate lens. It is a very difficult and time intensive task to help a child change their fears and usually require professional assistance to overcome those views. It is important, however, to keep in mind when we work with children that their lens is there for a reason. Therefore it is part of the picture of determining the choices they make. Be aware of how this affects the individuals with whom you are working. Address the long term complications of poor choices but also the fears and emotions that are contributing to the child’s poor choices. It is a delicate process and will require research on your part to help deter the powerful factor affecting the child. If you feel like you aren’t making the difference you want, maybe you need to refocus your lens a little to make the change effective for your kids.