Jin Xiong is our guest blogger. She is presently participating in the Brain Highways program with her son and husband.
When we started the Brain Highways pons course for our 4-year-old son, we already had completed 2.5 years of all kinds of therapies, as well as received many diagnoses: Autism, Oral Apraxia, Limb Dyspraxia, Global Development Delay (the list goes on).
Needless to say, when we came to Brain Highway for the initial assessment, we didn’t really believe it could help. We thought: Sure, this might be a program that works for everyone else, but not our son. Yet, we still decided to enroll.
We definitely struggled the first week. However, by week 2, we started to see changes! For example, I took my son to a playground with stairs. When he was done fidgeting with chains on the lower half of the playground, he decided to go to the higher part.
But for the first time ever, he just walked on the stairs, without holding anything, alternating his steps, walking straight up all nine stairs! I couldn’t believe what I just saw!
Walking up stairs—and with zero assistance—was HUGE for him. During our two years of physical therapy, they always told us that our son had low tone and that he needed to be stronger to do such things on his own. But right there–he did it! He actually did it without even looking. He appeared so natural walking up the stairs, just like everybody else!
And then his occupational therapist started to see changes in him. Suddenly, he had a better arousal level. He was no longer lying on the floor for the whole session, waiting for someone to rock him or swing him. He was now showing initiative by going over to equipment that he preferred.
Next, we noticed he had a better attention span, staying with in an activity for a much longer period of time. For example, previously he’d do two rounds of Ring around the Rosie—and then just walk away. But now, he was doing five or six repetitions, and all with a great smile.
Overall, our son seems so much more aware about his environment. He now pays attention when people walk by. He will turn to you when you call him. He just seems to be more organized and just seems to have extra energy that then makes it easier for him to pay attention to the world.
His scribble pattern has started to change, as well. Initially, he would just hold a piece of chalk and do a few scribbles, all while looking elsewhere. But now, he’s starting to make vertical lines—and lots of them, as well as arcs, all starting from the same point. Then one day we noticed three circles on the board! And while he’s creating, he’s now completely focused on what he is doing.
And today, Week 5 of the pons course, he tried to put on his Crocs sandals. I noticed he lined up the shoes wrong—the left shoe was in front of the right foot and vice-versa. But before I could correct that, I was distracted by something else.
Yet, when I eventually turned to help him, I saw him rearranging the shoes so that they were now in front of the correct foot—and then I watched him carefully put his foot in each shoe!
I was very excited! We had never really even taught him how to do that! While this may not seem like a big deal to many people, it shows that my son does have the ability to differentiate position and do a sequential action.
Best of all, I realize that this is all just the beginning of so many more wonderful changes that will continue to happen. Since we’ve begun Brain Highways, my son has a whole new way of looking at the world, so I’m eager to see what’s going to change next!
And, I’m very grateful . . . that through my son, I now know that the brain truly can change, once given a chance to do so.
Update on Nathan (from Jin)
After Nathan finished the pons and midbrain classes, he clocked another 50 hours of floor time. So, altogether, Nathan has now done 125 hours of brain organization work (We plan to resume floor time now that my baby is a little bigger.)
When I originally shared the changes Nathan experienced while in the pons course, he had only completed16 hours of floor time at that time. As his brain keeps developing, we continue to see more and more changes.
Nathan’s teacher definitely saw him change throughout the year. For example, his teacher said that his processing time (to respond) became much shorter. It used to seem like he couldn’t even hear someone talking to him, or he’d take really long time to respond. But now, even if you call to Nathan from a distance, he will immediately start looking at you.
We also notice that when we’re at the zoo or near a lake, if we say, “Look, there’s a duck,” he now actually stops whatever he is doing at that moment and looks around. That never happened before.
About half-way through the midbrain class, Nathan finally understood the concept of throwing, and he can now throw overhead, using one arm or both arms. That had been delayed for years!
He also runs much better now. It used to be more like a fast walk, but now it’s a real running pattern.
Even walking seems to be easier. He can go a longer distance, walking with us with a good energy level from beginning to end, with no whining, no wanting to be carried, and no more needing reinforcers. And he asks to go for a walk every day.
Climbing has become easier, and the monkey bars now make sense to him.
He now also gets the idea of steering a tricycle or bike — left hand pull, right hand push, turn left and more. And he’s even able to turn while he keeps peddling. These may be lots of things others take for granted as being easy, but this all used to be impossible or so hard for him.
Just recently, Nathan put the body parts of a potato head into each correct spot—something that his teachers and ABA therapists had tried to teach him for years. I think he now has a better understanding of objects’ relative spatial position.
We’re looking forward to Nathan continuing to develop his lower centers of the brain so that he can just keep experiencing life in many more ways!
Here’s Nathan riding his bike for the first time in public:
At Brain Highways, we encourage parents to “anticipate, pre-empt, and enjoy” when it comes to their kids.
In other words, Brain Highways parents no longer blindly throw their kids into situations that they predict are going to end up disastrous. Instead, they’re now proactive by first anticipating how they think their child might act and then by doing something ahead of time that circumvents that situation from ever going “south.” In short, after anticipating and pre-empting, everyone can now enjoy . . . whatever.
It turns out that role-playing is an effective “pre-emptive” tool, especially if the lower centers of the brain are underdeveloped. Why’s that?
Well, if the pons is underdeveloped, we’re still wired to go into a fight-or-flight response whenever the brain perceives a threat. But here’s the problem. The brain is not very adept at discerning what’s real and what’s not. So, someone with an underdeveloped pons may interpret anything new as threatening, which then triggers that fight-or-flight response.
And that’s where role-play can really help. Time and time again, Brain Highways families experience the value and importance of role-playing specific situations before they actually happen.
Why is this so effective? Well, this is where the brain’s inability to differentiate between what’s real and not works in our favor. The mere act of role-playing lays down neural networks. So later, when the actual situation happens, the brain already has some familiarity with it—which then greatly decreases that fight-or-flight trigger from something new and unknown.
Recently, JetBlue Airways offered parents and their children with autism an opportunity to participate in an event that could be considered one step beyond general role-playing. They set up practice runs where these families actually went through the entire airline process—including boarding the plane and being taxied around the tarmac for 20 minutes before returning. Amazing!
However, not all of the families capitalized on this experience as much as they might have. For example, one parent was quoted as saying, “”I’m really glad we had this experience because I know he’s not quite ready for the real thing yet.”
Yet, a Brain Highways perspective would not have automatically jumped to that conclusion. Rather, we would ponder what else we might practice to “prepare” the child, especially since the experience now gave us specific information in terms of what to anticipate. Or some parents said that the fellow passengers and workers were too nice—that these people are often not so supportive during real travel. Then why not include those variables during this hands-on role-playing?
The parents could have additionally role-played many times (at home) a simulation of what was going to happen once at the airport, which then would have increased the chances of the practice run going even more smoothly for the child.
Of course, there are never guarantees when it comes to kids—and that is true for all kids, not just those with autism. And yes, plane rides are especially challenging because once in the air, there really is no way to just leave.
But here, too, we can anticipate what we may not be able to control and, therefore, still have a ready-to-go plan. For example, I used to travel on business flights with my eldest when she was a baby, when I’d have to fly somewhere for the day to do a presentation. As part of those contracts, whoever was hiring me would agree that I could bring my baby, as well as someone else to watch her while I was actually at the conference or workshop. That way, I wouldn’t be gone from my daughter for the entire day and evening.
Well, I gotta tell you. Stink-eye takes on a whole new meaning when you enter a passenger cabin with a small baby, and it’s filled with business professionals who are intending to work during the entire flight.
Since I fully anticipated that reaction, what did I do? Well, I was proactive. As soon as I was seated, I’d turn to everyone in my vicinity and share that I, too, really hoped my baby was going to be quiet the entire flight—and that’s how she usually was. But if she did start to cry, I’d be more than happy to buy anyone around me a drink to offset that stress.
And then I’d get smiles instead of stink-eyes.
So no, we don’t have to enter situations with dread and conviction that it’s going to be awful, no matter what. Rather, we can use our cortex to “see the bigger picture” and then plan accordingly.
And just having that kind of mindset already increases the odds that we do circumvent what we would have otherwise dreaded. That’s because a positive perspective gives a very different subconscious message than one that expects the worst.
Actually, that statement might be worth reading twice . . . since it applies to so, so many areas of our life.
I’m often asked what I think an ideal classroom would look like. So, here it goes.
THE ROOM ENVIRONMENT
Here are a few simple ways to know if your child is learning in an ideal educational environment:
Okay, so maybe you’re thinking that ideal classroom is not really feasible or within your child’s reach. Well, if you believe that, then you’re probably right.
But look at that list. The overwhelming majority of those ideas don’t require spending a dime or passing any legislation.
That’s because the ideal classroom simply begins with the mindset of . . . why not? Why not desire that kind of environment for our kids? Why not explore whether one or two or three or more of those ideas are already happening in a classroom in our school? Why not expect to send our kids to a learning environment where they thrive and truly discover the joy of learning?
I’ve met many people who think being skeptical is part of their innate personality. In fact, I often hear pride in their voice when they say, “Well, you know I am a skeptic”—as though ongoing skepticism was a true part of their DNA.
Yet, when I hear someone claim to be a skeptic, I actually hear that as a red flag of an underdeveloped pons—even though it’s unlikely the person has ever made this connection.
Why would I make such a claim? Well, first of all, people with an underdeveloped pons are still wired to be in a hyper-vigilant state—which means they’re always on the look-out for a possible threat and danger. Such people are also more likely to react (before pondering and reflecting on whatever is happening), have distorted fears, and resist change.
So, a person who’s automatically skeptical about anything new and different is acting as though everything “out there” is always suspect. That’s why they need to be so wary, right?
Of course, that kind of distorted thinking then infers that the rest of us—those who do not view ourselves as skeptics—are all naïve. In other words, skeptics must think they’re somewhat superior to others since they’re ensuring that they’ll never be deceived (since they’re automatically skeptical) while the rest of us are just sitting ducks for all the con artists and liars and thieves in the world. Yet, it’s that distorted fear of being duped that fuels their skepticism in the first place.
Well, then how do people with a well-organized brain process information about anything new and different? First, they’re open to hearing it without judgment. After all, there is no danger or threat in doing that. If warranted, they seek additional information.
Next, they reflect on what they’ve learned in order to decide whether the information resonates with their prior experiences. They then consider, based on what their intuition tells them, if whatever they’re exploring might be a “fit” for them or not. If they conclude the information has not been persuasive, then they’re done—but not necessarily because they think whatever they’re exploring is nefarious. Simply, they’ve decided that whatever they were pondering was not congruent with how they think is best to move forward—again, for them.
That’s because a person with a well-organized brain remains open to the possibility that others may still benefit greatly from whatever they did not choose for themselves. In other words, when looking at the bigger picture (another sign of a well-organized brain), not everything in life is a one-size-fits-all deal.
When people with a well-organized brain decide that information they’ve been exploring resonates with them, they now have the confidence to give whatever a whirl (i.e. act on it)—and they do so without being particularly attached to the outcome. They’ll engage with curiosity, rather than a “you need to prove it to me” mindset.
In fact, people with a well-organized mind “get” that having faith is actually an action, rather than a thought—and that we all (including the skeptics) act on faith every day. For example, none of us know with absolutely certainty that the sun will rise tomorrow.
And yet, we act today as though that were already true. If we didn’t have that faith, we’d spend today very differently.
Okay, suppose we move forward on something, but it does not actually turn out as we hoped. Well, that’s hardly a reason to now doubt everything else in the future. In fact, those kinds of experiences create a better organized brain because they become rich opportunities to “wrap myelin” (a great outcome in the brain that results from a little struggle) that then helps us to learn how to tweak our analysis skills. But skeptics miss out on all that—and a whole lot more.
Now, I realize that skeptics, by their very nature, will likely dismiss the possibility that their skepticism might be in any way related to incomplete lower brain development. They may even feel it necessary to defend a universal need for skepticism or cast doubt on my own credibility since I’m the one suggesting that they may have incomplete lower brain development.
But from my vantage point, those reactions would just underscore my original perception that such responses come more from the pons rather than the cortex. Simply, if we were responding in our cortex, we’d be open to learning more about pons development before making a decision on whether the information was valid or not.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not judging those who identify themselves as skeptics. They can view the world any way they choose—for as long as they like. Truly.
I only present the possibility of a connection between skepticism and incomplete lower brain development because I honestly think it’s a much nicer world when we’re functioning in it with a well-organized brain. So if even just one skeptic decides to learn more about lower brain development after reading this post . . . then I’m good.
(Shelley Saban, who is currently participating in the Brain Highways program with her son, is our guest blogger.)
Everything I do in life has to be researched . . . from buying the best hammock to choosing care for my children. I ask questions. I search the internet. I seek referrals. When I first heard about Brain Highways, I discounted it. I didn’t even research it. That was four years ago.
Back then, I was on a mission to find what was “wrong” with my son. When he was 4, the school district and behavioral clinic at Children’s Hospital concluded that he had ADHD (the combined type).
I was relieved; I finally had a diagnosis that I could work with. My husband and I immediately decided that we’d go to behavioral counseling to find strategies that would work with our son. We went for several months and developed numerous behavioral charts—all to no avail. We also went for a year to occupational therapy.
After seeing little improvement, the counselor suggested we medicate. The school suggested we medicate. All roads pointed to medicate.
I wasn’t a big fan of medicating, but I had also heard many stories of children who came to be themselves when the medication worked. However, I had also heard of kids who turned into zombies.
After much debate, we took the plunge and tried stimulant medication. Not one stimulant medication, mind you. No, we had to try about four different ones, at various doses. One medication did make him act like a zombie; another one made him hyper and emotional. But then one medication made him just right, or so we thought.
Over the course of the next six months, we were hooked on the meds. We were afraid to stop them because the rebound effect was so intense. However, even on the medication, our son was pretty emotional, and he would still have a meltdown if things didn’t go according to schedule. But, at least, he was now manageable.
At the same time, we went to a homoeopathist to try and get our son a remedy that would help ease the side effects of the medication. It seemed to do him some good.
So, that summer we took a trip to Israel and bravely decided to see what it might be like to stop the medication. It was scary because we couldn’t remember what lay beneath.
Well, it turned out my sweet boy was there! The one who was a crying mess for the past six months was gone. I had my baby back, and I felt so lucky. We continued with the homeopathy since we thought that was still working for him.
My son entered kindergarten with a 504 plan and was doing okay. He was still pretty hyper, but his degree of movement was acceptable for kindergarten. First grade also went without incident. But once he hit second grade, everything seemed to unwind.
Our first parent teacher conference was a terrible one. While the teacher had good intentions, she suggested that he needed medication, noting that she had never seen a child with ADHD as bad as his.
Once again, I spun into action trying to find a cure. I called the psychiatrist that the teacher recommended, who asked for a $3000 retainer for six sessions. Next, I went to an integrative doctor who did allergy tests on him and discovered that my son is gluten intolerant. Gluten was out.
At that time, I also started paying attention to the ADHD boards and going to the support meetings. It was in an email from those groups that someone mentioned Brain Highways.
I remembered hearing about them four years prior, but were they any good? I wrote to the mother who wrote the email, and she highly recommended it.
When I looked at the website and saw the videos, I started to get excited. I called my husband over and said, “That’s our son!” The entertaining videos (who star prior Brain Highways participants) clearly showed the connection between incomplete lower brain development and behavior. It was as though they were talking about my son! The resemblance between the behaviors noted in the videos and my son was uncanny.
So, I reserved a spot for one of Brain Highways’ (free) Sunday screening sessions. We decided to take my daughter (who was our perfect angel) along to see what they’d say about her. Turns out she can improve her brain efficiency, too (which is something that probably applies to all of us).
The program seemed interesting enough. I thought that I could definitely make the commitment to go for eight weeks. How bad could that be? Eight weeks of creeping and crawling and then I’m done? Well, not really.
First, there are two eight-week classes (but that’s it—after that, the parents know how to continue on their own) to learn how to facilitate your child’s brain. Second, I didn’t quite do the math. Since it takes the average person 150-300 hours of doing the actual brain work in order to be done, that comes out to more like 10 to 15 months (if figuring chronological time) when doing the work for 30 minutes a day.
Actually, I’m glad I didn’t do the math since, truthfully, I don’t know if I would have enrolled. But my husband and I took a leap of faith, and we thought, “We have nothing to lose. Let’s try it out.”
My son, surprisingly, wasn’t that resistant to creeping and crawling, and he LOVED going to the Brain Highways Center. I mean, his face just beams when he’s there. I figure it’s because he’s getting all the input his brain needs—and that happens without my son ever having to find his own compensations.
The staff is also amazing; they make the kids feel so confident. I’ve learned that has a lot to do with the kinds of subconscious messages we send. The Brain Highways staff really believes that each child is a champion when they walk in the door—even though they don’t have all their highways yet in place. And so, the kids immediately respond as champions when they’re at the center.
For me, it took six weeks until I saw some minor changes. Of course, the six week reference is misleading in that my son had only completed about 18 hours of the floor work at that time.
Although I still had doubts, we pressed on.
At Week 7, I responded on a course questionnaire that I didn’t feel I was seeing enough changes to warrant doing the second class. I was skeptical that I would see many more changes.
However, the day after I answered the questionnaire, I had an IEP meeting at my son’s school. Unsolicited, the principal told me that she noticed a real change in my son. Specifically, he seemed more present, and he was making much more eye contact. Not only did his teacher agree, but she additionally noted that his body seemed much calmer. In the past, she would see him flailing in line, but now he was walking in line with the other kids.
So, others were seeing significant changes! Well, I knew, right then, that I was signing up for the midbrain course.
It didn’t stop there. I also received unsolicited feedback from his soccer carpool, telling me that my son was now much more focused, and he needed little prompting to get ready (which was a great improvement from last season).
Then my brother, who lives in Arizona, came to visit and was floored. He couldn’t believe the changes that he saw. He told me that he couldn’t believe how someone could NOT do Brain Highways. That’s the truth.
So, I’ve come to learn that we, as parents, are often the last to see those first significant changes. Maybe, it’s similar to not noticing that the person we live with has lost weight, while others immediately “see” it.
After our third month in the Brain Highways program (my son now had done about 40 hours of the brain work), the teacher noted that he was doing much better in class. Yet, he was still having trouble in the pull-out program.
However, by the fourth month of the program (now he’d completed about 55 hours of the brain work), he was successful in every environment in school!
The speech pathologist’s recent report also underscored documented changes in this area, as well. The results significantly differ from when my son was assessed eight months ago (with the same tests).
For example, in the section where he’s evaluated for his interactions with peers and adults, he leaped from “sometimes” (bypassing the next ranking of “usually) to the “almost always” column in just about every area. In the part of the assessment that ranked his ability to show “consideration for another individual’s personal space,” he catapulted from “rarely” to “almost always.”
Eight months ago, this assessment concluded that my son had social/emotional deficits. But today (with those 55 hours of floor work completed), the current assessment states that my son has social/emotional competence!
It gets better. The summary of this recent clinical report concluded that my son’s “overall performances on standardized assessments were in the average to above average range” and . . . “at this time, does not qualify for speech and language services.”
And what about the ADHD? Well, before starting Brain Highways, that clinical report (eight months ago) stated that my son was on task 53% of time. The recent report states he’s on task 97% of the time!
The teacher says he’s like a different person.
But I know he’s not. He is actually the person that he always was. It’s just now, with more highways in place, the world can more easily see who he really is as they finally meet my real son. That, too, is an underlying theme at Brain Highways.
So, I wanted to share my story because, maybe, if I had read something like this four years ago, I wouldn’t have waited so long to find out more. I also wanted people to truly process that brain organization is not magic (it’s work, though it can also be fun)—and it does not happen instantly.
But the brain can truly change. And when it does, it’s almost unbelievable. Yet, once you’ve experienced this, it becomes an undeniable truth— one you just want to share with everyone, with the hope that more families will discover this reality for themselves.
Not that long ago words such as texting, apps, and Google weren’t even part of our everyday language. But now, people talk as though such words have always been around.
I recently realized that Brain Highways families and staff also use certain phrases as though they were commonplace. Such references are often linked to what’s actually happening in the brain.
However, those who are not part of the Brain Highways classes probably have no idea what such phrases mean. So, I thought it might be helpful to not only translate our terminology, but to also encourage others to maybe adopt some of these phrases into their vocabulary, as well.
Here are some of our most common Brain Highways phrases:
1. “She’s in her pons right now.”
Translation: People don’t respond logically or with reason when they are “in their pons” (the primitive part of the brain.) Instead, they most likely react with angst or anger or withdrawal. So noting that a person is “in their pons” serves as a signal to wait until that person returns to the cortex before engaging in further interaction.
2. “He’s in his baby brain.”
Translation: This is a variation of saying that someone is “in his pons” since this is the part of the brain that was supposed to develop during the first few months of life (i.e. when we were a baby). Younger kids tend to identify more with references to their “baby brain” than to their pons.
3. “She’s so ponsy.”
Translation: This reference is used when a person reacts more often in her pons than not. In such case, noting that someone is “ponsy” is now describing more of a character trait than noting a temporary state of mind.
4. “I’m really midbrain-stuck that you forgot my birthday.”
Translation: When the midbrain is not fully developed, we often keep dwelling on a thought. So, noting this serves as a signal that someone is having trouble “letting go” of something that happened or something they’d like to happen.
5. “You’ll like how I took care of business today.”
Translation: Taking care of business is a cortex approach where we express our needs, while also remaining cognizant and addressing what others may need in order to reach a solution. Asking for clarification and acknowledging why someone may want something that is conflicting with our personal needs is part of this process.
6. “I don’t think that’s the true problem, so follow the fear.”
Translation: We often make conclusions and decisions without realizing that some level of fear has played a role in our response. So, when we “follow the fear,” we’re exploring that connection.
7. “I’m going to shine the spotlight on myself because I did forget to tell you about our refund policy.”
Translation: When we “shine the spotlight,” that’s where we look in terms of who’s accepting responsibility. Moreover, if we’re hoping to move forward on something, we soon realize that if we shine the spotlight on ourselves (i.e. What can I do to change the situation?), we’re more likely to bring about a positive change, rather than if we just hope and wait for someone else to do something.
8. “When I heard that my son’s teacher left a message to call, I caught myself time traveling.”
Translation: As soon as we start to think about whatever happened in the past or begin to worry about what may happen in the future, we’ve left the present and are now . . . time traveling.
9. “As soon as I realized that I was time traveling, I told myself to drop the story.”
Translation: Since we cannot change whatever story we’re recalling from the past, and we can’t really know if the story we’re creating about the future will even happen, such thoughts only distract us from the present situation. So, “dropping the story” is a quick reminder of that.
10. “I’m going to slip-n-slide that thought.”
Translation: While we don’t have control over what others say to us, we can decide whether we allow negative thoughts to enter our brain. To avoid that from happening, we can visualize a slip-n-slide running across our forehead. Then, as soon as we hear something we don’t want going in our brain, we can just “slip-n-slide” that thought.
11. “I wrapped a lot of myelin today.”
Translation: Myelination is a term that describes the process of forming a myelin sheath around a nerve to allow nerve impulses to move more quickly. We actually wrap the most myelin when we’re learning something new, working at our edge, and when we make mistakes (if we learn from them). So references to “wrapping a lot of myelin” mean we’ve been learning new information or can be something we say before telling someone how we messed up.
12. “I think you’re playing an old tape.”
Translation: Our subconscious is a storehouse of all memories. So, when something negative happens in the present, this can trigger a memory of a prior, similar bad experience. In such case, that “old tape”—and all the unproductive emotions that were stored with that experience—are now playing, once again. This then only amplifies the negativity already associated with the current situation. However, awareness that this is happening can help put the current situation in perspective.
13. “Let’s rewind the tape.”
Translation: Sometimes we act (or react) in a way that we wished was different. In such case, when we refer to rewinding the tape, we’re saying let’s go back and start again—from the point the interaction went south—and do it the way we’d actually wish we had the first time.
14. “I’m adopting a researcher’s mentality.”
Translation: When a researcher begins to gather information, he’s not attached to the outcome. Rather, the mindset is more one of curiosity. So, the reference to adopting a researcher’s mentality is a reminder to be open-minded when exploring a different approach or learning new information.
When we review these Brain Highways phrases, we note a definite theme. Namely, this way of talking could be viewed as reminders of how the brain works, and how we can then apply such knowledge by using certain phrases that, in turn, guide us to act in a positive way.
With that in mind, note whether you do any time traveling, get midbrain stuck, or are in your pons today. Or, challenge yourself to wrap a lot of myelin, adopt a researcher’s mentality, drop the story, slip-n-slide negative thoughts, rewind the tape, and take care of business today.
See . . . adding just a few new words to your vocabulary may even greatly change your day!
(Heather Olson, a program facilitator at Brain Highways, is our guest blogger for this post.)
At Brain Highways, we teach the families something we call “taking care of business.” When we take care of business, it results in the polar opposite of feeling like a victim.
So, of course, I have also been teaching Tegan, my 5-year old son, how to take care of business.
This recently came to light with an 8-year-old in our neighborhood (who we’ll call Z for the purpose of this post) who has bullied many kids in the neighborhood, including Tegan. Yet, this very same child was also the one who helped my son learn to ride his bike for the first time—which was most likely a glimpse of who that child really is.
However, about a month after that act of kindness, Tegan started to cry as I was putting him to bed one night. He said that he didn’t want to play with Z any more.
When I asked why, he couldn’t really articulate a reason. I assured Tegan that he didn’t have to play with Z, even without a reason (noting to myself that I could clearly come up with many).
But the next time Z came to the door, Tegan was all up for playing—as though he had completely forgotten the prior sadness and angst from interacting with this child.
Yet, last week when I called home to say I was just leaving the Brain Highways Center, my husband told me there had been another incident with Tegan and Z. That day, Z had pushed Tegan off his bike. Tegan hadn’t responded. He had just gotten back up and kept riding. But then Z told my husband that Tegan had called him an idiot.
Tegan had tried to stand up for himself. He kept telling my husband, “No, I didn’t. Z, you called me an idiot.” My husband said that Tegan was devastated and desperate for him to believe that Z did the name-calling.
Tegan has never lied to us about anything, so there was no way we didn’t trust him on this.
When I arrived home, Tegan was so cute. He quickly pulled me into his room and shut the door. He wanted privacy as he told me what happened.
Tegan really couldn’t understand why Z would push him off the bike or lie.
I asked a lot of questions. For example, how did Tegan feel about all this? He said that he was mad at Z. I responded that, unfortunately, there are lots of people– of all ages–like Z. I shared that I thought there must be something missing in Z’s heart for him to act that way.
So, with that in mind, I suggested that we might be more sad than mad at Z. However, I pointed out that while we don’t have the power to change Z, we can decide how we want to respond. For example, we don’t have to spend time with people who say and do things that are hurtful to us.
It was such a sweet, honest conversation. At the end, we role-played (which is part of the taking-care-of-business approach) what Tegan could do if Z asked him to play.
Tegan immediately felt empowered. It was as though a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. And I too, felt empowered for having helped him behind the scenes (another primary component of taking care of business).
Tegan actually wanted to go over to Z’s house—right then–and tell him what he had practiced saying. At first I thought, “Wow, now that’s really taking care of business!” (In truth, that probably would have been even more courageous than what I would even do.)
But, I was uncertain and concerned how Tegan’s taking care of business approach would be perceived by Z’s dad. But most importantly, this was between Tegan and Z. So, I nixed that plan.
Actually, I wasn’t even sure that Tegan would ever have a chance to talk to Z because my husband admitted that he “kinda laid into Z” that night.
But it turns out . . . my husband’s response had little impact on Z. Sure enough, Z came by the next afternoon to see if Tegan wanted to play.
As soon as Tegan knew Z was at the front door, he immediately jumped off the couch, excited, waving me away from the door, saying, “Mom, I got this.”
He didn’t want anyone listening to the upcoming conversation, so he actually stepped outside–and closed the door behind him!
I confess that my own heart was pounding loudly as I pressed my ear as firmly as possible to try and hear what was being said.
Tegan was clearly nervous with his delivery as he said that he didn’t want to play with Z any more. When Z asked why, Tegan responded that he didn’t like being pushed off his bike.
Then I heard Z say, “But I won’t do that again” to which Tegan replied, “But how do I know?”
Z answered, “But I won’t.” To which Tegan answered, once again, “But how do I know?”
(This was feedback to me that we didn’t role-play enough the part about not being able to trust Z and how Z might earn back that trust.)
When Tegan came back inside, I asked how it went. He looked like a kid . . . who had just taken care of business! There was confidence radiating from his entire being.
Since then, we’ve role played a few more ideas of how Tegan might respond if Z returns, but so far, he has not.
I do feel badly for Z. Everyone in the neighborhood talks about him, and no one believes that his or her kids are safe around him.
So, I’m thinking that the next round of taking care of business will be to brainstorm with Tegan what Z may be needing and wanting.
That too, is part of taking care of business. Namely, we’re most likely to get our needs met when we also understand what others want and need. My guess is . . . Z hasn’t yet experienced what a true friendship feels like and doesn’t know how to go about connecting with others in a way that results in positive interactions.
But since we’re not mind readers (as part of the taking care of business approach), we often ask the other person questions to get more clarification. For example, Tegan might ask Z: Do you want to be friends with me?
If Z says, yes, then Tegan could follow with: You know, I really liked when you helped me ride my bike, and I felt like we were friends then. But I didn’t feel like we were friends when you pushed me off my bike and called me an idiot. So, can we make some rules about how friends act when they’re with each other—and then, can we stick to those rules?
Of course, there are no guarantees of a specific outcome when we take care of business—and that’s never even the goal. Rather, it’s to shine the spotlight on ourselves, deciding what we might do in order to move forward in undesirable situations—while also keeping in the forefront of our mind that the person who has upset us is also needing and wanting something.
So, I’ll make a prediction: I’m thinking that there will be a situation in the very near future where Tegan will be the one prompting my husband or me to take care of business. That’s because at 5-years-old, Tegan is already way, way ahead of the game.