I recently read a story about a woman whose job is to help difficult teens in the foster care system “settle down” so they can successfully function in a regular family. She has a unique method of working with the teens that, as others say, seems to “work miracles” with these difficult youths. I was amazed at how similar her approach is to the Discipline Without Stress methodology. Here’s what she does:
She said that in her mind, she chooses to think of these disturbed young people as “aliens” who have come from another planet. She pictures them as beings newly arrived on earth—with no idea of how this world works. She treats them as she would treat any foreign visitor to her home.
She holds no preconceived notions that they should know anything at all about “Earth culture and customs”—after all they’ve just arrived here! She treats them with great respect and extreme politeness, realizing that they know nothing of her culture and are sure to make some social errors while visiting.
She never raises her voice and is never critical. If they make a mistake, she simply and patiently excuses their faux pas and then calmly explains to them what it is they should do if the same situation comes up again in the future. She takes great care to neither offend nor embarrass them. She considers it her job to patiently educate them about things that we do here on Earth so that they can learn to live successfully in a culture where the customs are so entirely unfamiliar to them.
As an example, she told the story of a teen girl who is currently living in her home. The girl arrived home one day just after the woman had washed the kitchen floor. The girl didn’t take her dirty shoes off at the door and instead tramped mud right across the entire kitchen floor on her way to the fridge. The woman didn’t get mad. She simply described the situation as she had observed it and noted the resulting consequences of the girl’s actions:
“When people walk across the floor in muddy shoes, it means that I must rewash the floor and that’s going to take me a bit of time. Perhaps, the next time you come in from outdoors, you might try to remember to leave your shoes at the door. That would really help me a lot.” Then she said that she smiled but said nothing more. She simply went to the closet, brought out the bucket again, and rewashed the muddy floor.
She said that treats EVERY SINGLE INCIDENT of misbehavior, in this calm and very respectful way, and that she has found that her teenage foster children soon begin to act appropriately—all of their own accord. Rather than complaining, showing anger, or dishing out punishments, she just explains to her “alien visitors” what would be the right or helpful “Earthling way” to handle a similar situation in the future.
This calm lady has it all figured out! Her approach to working with young people is very much like the philosophy of Discipline Without Stress. She instinctively knows that the most effective way to work with misbehavior is to view it as “an opportunity to teach and to learn.” This lady exemplifies the power of a calm, patient, and positive approach to misbehavior.