Perspective Matters: Seeing Behavior in a New Light

(Guest post from Joel Newman, Director of Soccer Shots Portland)

Yesterday, I experienced a paradigm shift. Over the last 12 months, I’d been watching and thinking about a kid out in Beaverton who loves to act out in our class. It seems, however, that the exact opposite had been happening.

Since our start together, this particular child been acting out in class – using his hands on other kids and generally disrupting the class several times each week. We’d spoken with the teachers to ensure our strategies aligned with theirs. We learned his general background to enable us to have insight and compassion into his behavior. We heard from the child and his parents about how much fun he has with us. We were not letting this one go.

The challenge was that most anything that is established as a behavior is just that – established behavior. So, getting a change – getting a new behavior or an absence of that behavior – entails having purposeful, meaningful interactions to help a child learn new ways to express the sentiment behind the behavior more compassionately or appropriately. To be sure, this boy is sweet, protective, helpful, independent, silly, athletic and intelligent. He’s a bright, fun kid with an oversized heart. However, as I sat down to talk with the director of his school yesterday, the child’s acting out was still on my mind. We’d seen improvement, but not what I’d expected – not over this long a period of time. Was it time to re-strategize?

“Oh no,” she said. “You don’t know what he was doing outside your class.”

She went on to describe a set of behaviors another full notch beyond what we’d seen at Soccer Shots. Her words were a block of wood hitting my head, rattling around facts and lines of thought I’d drawn.

In the wider context of his behavior elsewhere, he wasn’t acting out much at all with us. My head rocked for a minute as a huge paradigm shift occurred: Instead of thinking of him as acting out in our class, I began to see how with us, he may have found a place to act in.