In Expert Interviews

Nancy Buck on Why Do Children Do What They Do

why do children do what they do


Developmental psychologist, counselor educator, and registered nurse Nancy S. Buck, Ph.D., tackles the tough topics facing today’s families. Dr. Buck earned a Ph.D. in developmental psychology with an emphasis on parenting. She is the founder of Peaceful Parenting Inc which is based on her experiences as an educator, trainer and above all, parent. She has authored two ground-breaking parenting books: Peaceful Parenting, and Why Do Kids Act That Way? The Instruction Manual Parents Needs to Understand Children at Every Age. She Talks to Ciaran Connolly, Co-Founder of about Why Do Children Do What They Do. 

Below is a transcript of the interview on Why Do Children Do What They Do: 

K: I am happy to be with you. I am Doctor Nancy Buck from the United States. I am a developmental psychologist. I am an expert in children’s motivation and behaviour. I am also a parenting coach and author of several books, and mostly I am dedicated to helping adults better understand children; why children do what they do, maybe why some adults do what we do and try to figure out how we get along in a more cooperative peaceful way. My work is entitled Peaceful Parenting. I am also a proud mother of identical twin sons, who are each married to a woman named Julie. Good news, two different women and each of my sons and wives have their own children. So, I have three grandchildren and I am happy to report that I learned this and figured it out.

It is all based on something called Choice Theory Psychology, by a man named doctor William Glasser and I actually happen to know there is a fair bit of enthusiasm and interest in doctor Glasser and his ideas in Ireland, but I learned this before I had children. So, when I had my own children and was blessed to have twins had a momentary thought, and I am kidding when I say this, that I would separate them at birth and raise one A la Glasser idea and one A la behaviorism or Freud or some other idea but obviously I did not do that. I really learned about this idea of internal motivation and Choice Theory Psychology by being a mum and watching these little boys become wonderful young men, become productive responsible loving men and now that part that is really exciting is seeing how each of my sons approaches parenting from the same point of view but of course that is how most parents parent; is as they were parented. Even if we went to a different way, we can’t seem to get out of our own way because it is just what we knew. Anyway, that’s is a little bit about me.

C: Thank you for the insight and it’s great to get your background and really appreciate you coming on to talk to us today about parenting and bullying and how to better raise our children. So, your time is greatly appreciated and what you have touched on there, I am sure we’ll talk about it as we go through in our conversation and you’re talking about good parenting and you are right. I look at my children and can’t help but parent them how I was parented as well and you are right. Maybe the good way is in the good things and the bad things and maybe it’s being conscious about that and if there is things we don’t like, to break the cycle and change them and if there is things that we really thought had major impact on us as children, we want to encourage and make sure we follow through that with our own children, but amazing that you raised a point that your sons follow your guidelines and guidance and parenting just as you did. That’s amazing and interesting to know. We are talking about bulling. Do you think that bullying today is as big an issue as it was maybe five or ten or fifteen years ago? What is your view on this?

K: Bullying has always been part of us. I want to talk about this a little bit. All human beings are born with five psychological needs. The urge for safety and survival and security. We are born with the urge for love and belonging. So, connection. We want to be with other people like us. We are born with the urge for power; that’s the one that gets us in trouble. We are born with the urge for fun, which is really the urge to learn. Again, if you spent any time around children, you know children. All they ever want to do is have fun and, of course, we as adults get annoyed because we have other things we need to do but our children really are teachers to remind us that we always need to have fun and they were also born with the urge for freedom, for choices, for options and we all want to have as much freedom as we have responsible behaviors to handle. When we have more freedom that we can’t handle responsibly, we don’t feel safe and certainly one of the things that’s happening in the United States with our hideous thing with gun control and the rest of the world is looking on thinking what’s going on over there? I ask the same question! At the same time, people want the freedom to have a gun but then there is are we safe with that? So, that is the big picture but it also happens on a regular basis with our children but bullying is really about power. Our urge for power; we want it, we want it our way and we want it our way now and we are born with these urges which we experience literally as an urge to behave but we’re not born knowing how to follow these urges responsibly and respectfully.

So, if you have ever watched a couple of three year olds or one three year old sees the other child has a great toy, she will go over and she’ll grab the toy and if she need to, she will punch you, she will push you down, she will pull your hair; whatever it takes to get the toy and she walks away saying “I won. I won. I got it”. Now, most parents don’t look and say “Oh, good! I have a little girl who is really clear about what she wants”.

We look on horrified thinking “Oh my Gosh! If this is what she is like when she is 3, what’s she going to be like when she is 13? Already she is a bully!” and that is because all of us have this urge to have the world and we want it. So, bullying has always been present. I am actually in the middle of reading a very interesting book about the Wild West in the United States where the white man came in and was bullying the Indians and then the Irish were being bullied and then the Italians were being bullied. I mean, it has just been present. What I think, well and again, I spend more time looking at obviously the United States Congress that’s all about bullying; who is bullying whom and countries. Who is bullying whom? So, it has always been present. We don’t necessarily, when adults are bullying other adults, we don’t call it that but when children are bullying other children, we call it bullying but P.S. it’s the same thing whether you are tall or short. It’s I want you to do what I want you to do and I will do what it takes to get you to do what I want you to do because we are born with this urge for power.

C: Interesting that you bring in adults as well. Now you got me thinking. I am thinking of sports the same thing happens there with referees and football players and athletes and even famous people. When I think of how our media sometimes treats famous people and how they are treated on social networks like Twitter and the other networks, people seem to think it is ok to tweet abuse at these people, and nothing. It’s accepted. It’s a normal part of everyday life. So, you are right. Bullying is inherent in our culture and in our society and in our history. So, I guess the question is do you think it is getting worse or is it the same as it always was? Is it getting more severe because of the methods of bullying now with social media and internet or is it, I guess, [that] we are more aware and more alert of it and actually trying to fix it as a problem? Where do you think we stand then today?

K: The simple answer to your question is yes, but of course yes to which? At the same time, part of it is that you and I can be connected and the reason why we can be connected is because of this unbelievable thing called technology. So, you reached out and asked for people to connect with you and I said I will connect with you. There is no way. If it was 20 years ago, Ciaran, or even 10 years ago, you and I never would have crossed paths unless I when I am in Dublin in October, you happen to be in Dublin and we happen to be at the same pace, but even then. You know, I might bump into you and we might smile at each other but we still didn’t know we had the same interests.

So, the amazingly remarkable thing about the growth in technology is how the world has become a smaller community and how we really are able to connect in the good ways and in the not so good ways. So, children, and again you may be from your own experience, but you know I grew up with kids who, you know, some kids were picking on some of the other kids. I was not, and luckily, was never picked on nor was I a person who picked on others, except for one moment which we can talk about it if you want to or not but I was definitely picked on.

I was bullied but I fought up but at the same time the chances of me being bullied as a young child was pretty much only those in my immediate community and now that’s still probably true for children up through age ten, but now children even at age ten they are going online. They are connecting with people all over, literally, all over the world. Some of the social studies projects that happen here in the primary schools and the elementary schools have to do with actually getting in touch with a child in South Africa so you can learn about their culture. You know, when I was in school, you read the boring social studies book and it didn’t really work.

So, our community is great but around age ten-eleven-twelve, children are demanding and requesting more freedom and with that means they want and do have more access to social media and the good thing, which is also the bad thing, is the anonymous bullying that can occur because of that. So, it might have only occurred in the playground when I was a child and now it occurs in the play ground we call the internet. We are talking about it more, we are addressing it more and I think that’s a good thing because children need to be prepared to figure out how to handle being bullied in a way that doesn’t bully back and that is not easy nor do we want children just to retreat. Again, a story I was working with, middle school, I don’t know what you call your middle school, sixth-seven-eighth graders, but one child reported to an adult that he was being bullied.

Now, this child had been prepared and learning about the possibility that he could be bullied since second grade, so when somebody came and did something that was a little bit over the line, he was ready. This child walked around with a target waiting for somebody to bully him. So, it worked out and the adults luckily intervened and helped him better work it out and the young woman who actually was just being boisterous down the hall and she was a big girl and he had happened to be one of the people she kind of pushed out of the way. She no more targeted him as a bully than she did any of the other things and people that were in her way as she charged down the hall, but he was waiting and prepared for the time he was going to be bullied. So, there is a little bit of that culture. Our awareness is a good thing, however, we’ve got to also think about the whole picture of what this awareness brings.

C: Of course. You are right. It has been prepared but not over the top or making a big a deal out of nothing and I guess that’s back to the definition of what is teasing and playful playing which kids do and of course actually bullying . So, how does a parent then actually educate a child to understand what is really bullying and what is playing in a school environment?

K: Yes because again we might not necessarily call it bullying, but if I tease you in a way that you don’t think is fun or funny, it isn’t meant to connect us but it’s meant to separate us and have me come out the winner and you come out the loser. I certainly would call that a form of bullying. So, part of it is as parents, our job is teach our children responsible and respectful ways to meet their need for power. So, there is 3 kinds of power. One is power over which is bullying. One is power with which you and I are doing right now. We are having a conversation. We are going to share this with a wider audience that is interested. So, that’s power with. We are not going to follow one up and go knock on somebody’s door and say “You heard me. You are not doing what I said and I am going to reprimand you”.

Not so much. It is just we are having a conversation and then power within, it’s teaching children when you are intimidated by another person, how you handle it so you can feel good about yourself and power within happens all the time. I mean, learning to do technology or the first time a toddler learns to stand independently, that the sense of power within but the opportunities are ripe. Every time a child attempts to get what it is that he wants irresponsibly, we have to intervene and teach our child how to get what he wants responsibly and respectfully but the other burden, I don’t know if it the right word, challenge might be a better word, we the adults also need to behave responsibly and respectfully when we are attempting to get what we want and it’s easy when our child wants something we want her to want. Easy. When our child wants something different from we want her to want, now it gets hard and how do we do that? In a responsible and respectful way.

C: And this is the challenge and I guess if a child is being bullied, what advice would you give them? What steps should they take to correct the situation?

N: Ok. So, I just heard an interview on the radio about someone who is doing work on helping children, actually anybody but mostly children-geared towards children, how to handle when they are getting bullied on Facebook and the steps to take and it’s really interesting and it’s geared towards children who are 12-13-14 because they are the primary bulliers (bullies) and bullied (victims) and if parents have access and know their children are on Facebook, I would say investigate that further because it is a pretty clear plan and program but part of what I introduce to the world is what I call My Magical Question and this isn’t just around bullying. Let’s say that you came through the door, you slammed the door, you’re screaming and you are demanding and you are commanding something at me, your mother, so I would ask the magic question.

  1. “Ciaran, what is it that you want, that you are trying to get by screaming?”
  2. “What do you mean what I want. I had a terrible day. I want to be able to do things the way I want to do”
  3. “Ok. So, it sounds that you’re wanting to make sure that you are heard that life is really hard for you”
  4. “That’s right! It is terrible for me”
  5. “So if we can figure out a way to get you what you want more respectfully and more responsibly, are you willing to work it out?”

Now I just said a mouthful and as you heard it, I feel quite confident that you’re thinking “Yes! This makes perfect sense” but what usually happens is that you come in the door bouncing, I will probably say “Ciaran, lower your voice! Be more respectful. You are not in the playground anymore. You need to be respectful of what is happening here. Your sister is asleep in the other room”. I immediately meet your shouting with my own shouting and then I immediately want to change your behavior so I get what I want which is [for] you to calm down. That’s a form of bullying and most parents make the mistake thinking that children’s behavior is the problem; it’s never their problem. It’s the only way they know to get what they want. Think about the little tree year old girl who grabbed the toy; grabbing was not her problem. The problem was there’s this fabulous toy I want and I can’t get it any other way than grabbing. So, we the parents need to sit down first. If you are really bouncing and screaming and I will say “Let’s go in the backyard and give you some opportunity to really pitch a fit so that you are not disturbing and hopefully not disturbing the neighbors either” but now once you have calmed down “Ok, so what is going on? Tell me what happened today. What is it that you want?”. “I am so frustrated, that stupid teacher” or “I am so mad! That kid just doesn’t…”. “Ok, so things didn’t work out the way you want it to work out. How would you handle it?”.

So. we do some problem solving and then probably I will say “So, Ciaran, we need to work out a better plan so when you are frustrated you can come in the door and not drop your verbal bomb? How can we do this differently?” and at that point you will be willing to work it out with me but parents need to be prepared. Just because we made a plan doesn’t mean we’re automatically going to follow it. We have to practice that many times but now let’s say we are in a different situation. You, the child, come to me as your mom and say “Mum, I am being bullied at school I don’t know what to do. There is one kid. He is threatening me. He is spreading rumors about me”.

So, then I would actually sit down and say “If it worked it out the way you want it to work, how would it go?”.  “He would shut up. He would just back off. He would leave me alone”.  “Ok, so how do you think we might go about – so again we might do some problem solving – how do you think we might go about solving that problem? What can you do? Is there something you want me to do?” and parents again need to be careful. If you want to do something and your child may not want you to do it, don’t ask permission. Tell your child “I am going to go in .I am going to see the teacher. I am going to see the principal” because if you ask and they say “No, mum. Don’t do it. You will just make it worse ” now what are you going to do? Are you going to disrespect your child and go in or you are going to say no but in the meantime you are thinking “I need to be in there and I need to be fighting for my child”.

So, you got to be careful. Don’t ask if you don’t want your child to block you. Now, once we get the actual plan for the solution, next time I’d say to a child

  1. “What do you think that he wants that he is trying to get by blocking you, by bullying you, by being mean and cruel?”
  2. “I don’t know. He is just a jerk. Nobody likes him. He doesn’t seem to have any friends”
  3. “Isn’t that funny, Ciarian? I have had the experience were people don’t have friends and one of the ways they try to make friends is to bully them into being a friend. Have you ever seen that with other kids?”

So essentially, once you’ve actually helped your child make a plan, and that’s a process of how it’s going to work out, then you might want to talk to him about the motivation for the bully and what you think the bully wants. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean the child is going to do anything different, however, it might also help him have a little bit more empathy and maybe treat him differently. So, instead of being fearful, he might be more kind and compassionate towards the child who is being the bully. Now, again, maybe he’s only this way in a conversation with you and when he is back at school he is still scared and intimidated.

The one that gets a little harder is when the teacher is the bully or when another adult is the bully, so how are you going to work with your child on helping your child be responsible and respectful and deal with an adult that is being a bully? That is not easy. The process is very much the same. Teaching your child the terms of “Please doesn’t talk to me that way and if you have school rules, in school we treat each other with respect. I would ask you to treat me more respectfully”. So, you might want to teach your child some very specific respectful phrases to say to adults. That doesn’t mean that is going to change the adult at all but, again, part of what you are doing as the parent and as the guidance counsellor is working with this child to help him or her stand up for himself so he has a sense of power within even though he is being intimidated by the other and not to throw gas on the fire to inflame the adult even more although often it does because you are not laying down and that infuriates the adult.

Why Do Children Do What They Do

C: Very interesting and amazing in fact and of course it is again from your years of experience dealing with families and children and helping them through problems like this, I guess, a question that I would ask since you have mentioned an adult being a bully or a teacher being a bully, is it likely that they were actually a bully as a child and actually they continued the cycle through adulthood? Does a bully ever change?

K:  OK so you asked me 3 questions. Yes, it is likely they bullied and this is how they learnt that behavior to be successful in getting what they want but it is also possible that they were bullied and so now they are grown up and tall enough and big enough and in a powerful enough position and that was their model of how people get their way; they are just following what they learned and it’s not often that you see somebody who handles that situation differently and when you do, you may not even say “Oh, isn’t that  interesting? I wonder how I could learn how to do that”, that’s one thing but you could also say that I think that the first step Ciaran is that easier step is go back and look at the moments during the course of the day where you, as a person, attempt to get what you want by being disrespectful and perhaps I wouldn’t go all the way to bullying but trying to control the other person. “Pick up your room. I told you to pick up your room. I am the boss. I am in charge of this house. When you live in your own house, you can keep it as messy as you want but here you need to have a clean room”.

That is bullying. That is not going to damage anybody’s relationship probably but if it is too much, too often, too severe, eventually what happens is children disconnect from us. Siblings, I mean it’s the perfect time if you have brothers and sisters even as adults, to learn how to work it out without one bullying the other, but mostly that’s what we do. You see a couple of kids beating each other up because I want it my way. Now, half of that, not to be necrosius here because one of the things that brothers and sisters do is tease and punch; part of that is how they have fun with each other. At the meantime, when is it going over the line? When is it beyond the pale? When, in fact, is it damaging the relationship? The relationship with the kids as well the person’s internal relationship and you are going to be cautious to looking for that but mostly parents, and I mean that I understand this, you know parenting is the most difficult job we do in our lives and the one for which we receive zero training and most of us are not parenting a hundred percent of the time. Those are called grandparents! You’re not trying to get everyone at the dinner table or dressed and out of the door. You’re not trying to do all these things.

I go out to play with my grandchildren. My job is to play with my grandchildren. It’s fabulous! I will pretty much do whatever they want but they are little still but now when we are parenting, we try to do additional things as well as parenting. So, sometimes it is easier to say “If you are going to argue with kids, just go to the other room. I can’t stand hearing it” rather than “How can we work that in a different way so both you and your brother or you and your sister get what it is that you both want without hurting each other?” but if you take the time to do that, you are really teaching your kids skills that will last a life time and it is easier to bully than it is to work it out peacefully and respectfully and it is not just more effective, it is easier and quicker to say “Do what I say because I said so and if you don’t, I will take away some privileges”. That is just quicker and the best you’ll ever get is compliance which, for some parents, “Please! Give me a little compliance” but for some you really want more than compliance eventually and if you take the time to teach your children a different process, it pays off in the long run. So, they are less likely to be a victim of a bully and they are less likely to bully somebody else. It is just harder to do.

C: Exactly and as you mentioned families today are trying to manage the household and get food on the table. One or both people are working so trying to do all this and then children shouting and screaming in the background. The easy answer is to send people to the room or to react back and I am sure some people listening to this would be shocked to hear that what they are saying or doing actually could be termed as bullying. Actually, it’s probably the right thing to say as we need a jolt like that to make us stop and think that this could be damaging and not helping our children as much as we want and of course at the end of the day, this is what all parents want; the best for their children and we think we are trying to discipline them but actually we are not solving or giving them skills for life. You mentioned the example of the three year old. Of course, I see this myself every day at the moment. When is that you can start or should you start to instill these skills in a child? Is three too young?

K: No.

C: No? Wow.

K: so, I have said that in front of my own children. They are brilliant, remarkable, gentle, kind, loving – basically average people and they say they are average to people because they had an average mother. I started this process with the boys when they were 18 months old but in the 18 month old, I was doing all of it and I was really teaching myself but here is how it goes. The part that is really amazing to me is that we know this when our babies are babies. I am fortunate to have a two month grandson who is just amazing. When a two month old starts crying, nobody says “Knock it off. You are just a spoilt brat. You just want attention”. What we say is “Oh my! He is unhappy. What is going on? Does he need his diaper changed? Does he need to be fed? Does he need to be walked and jostled? Does he need to be rocked?”. We know that his crying is not a problem. His crying to tell us there is something that he wants and our job is to figure it out. I remember so clearly with my own children and I know I am not the only, when they were crying I would say “I wish you could talk. If you only talk and tell me what you want, I would help you get it”. That’s exactly the same thing. It happens for a lifetime but now our children get taller and they get more articulate and they start whining and what do we say? “Knock off your whining!”. We don’t say “Oh! My child is unhappy. His whining is just like it was when he was little. There is something that he wants.

He is trying to get that by whining and my job is to help him figure out another way to get it besides whining”. So, instead of trying to stop the behavior, which is solving our problem, we need to find out from the child’s perspective what is your problem? So, when the boys were little and one would be about to hit his brother, I would grab his arm and I’d say “Paul, what do you want that you’re thinking about hitting your brother to try to get?”. I pretty much know it was the toy but part of it was not just to solve the problem but also to start teaching that process and he would say “That truck” and I would say “If we could figure out another way to help you get the truck without hitting your brother and hurting him, are you willing to work it out?” and of course his answer is “Yes” but again they were regular kids. It’s not like they wanted to learn responsible and respectful. He just wanted the truck. He will do whatever it took to get the truck. So, I would say

  1. “What else could you do”
  2. “I could ask him”
  3. “Go ahead”
  4. “David can I have the truck”?

Now you know what David said? “No”. Suddenly, it’s the best toy in the room. So, what else could you do? So, we went through this enough. I could set the timer when both boys had a toy that both wanted, when the timer ran they’d swap toys. That would be another thing you could ask. Another is, and I learned this “the Tom Sawyer” approach, I learned this by watching them. Paul could go over, he’d pick up another toy and make it look so much fun, so irresistible that David would drop the truck, come over, Paul would hand him the new toy and now the truck was free.

So, Paul would go over and pick up the truck except you know that was not the end of it because two seconds later, David is now back about to hit his brother and I’m going through the same process with David now. In the beginning, I did 99% of the work of saying “What do you want or trying to get by doing this behavior? If we could figure out another way, would you be willing to try it? What else could we do?”. That’s the process. As I said in the beginning, I did most of this but as we did this more and more often, the boys began to get it and I didn’t have to do it. Now, that was around the truck, then it became emptying the dish washer, who gets to sit in the front seat of the car, who is playing the right music or the wrong music. I mean, it goes on and on and on of course because children are born with the urge to get what they want. They are not born with the urge of working that out responsibly and respectfully with other human beings and that gives us a job to do as parents. It’s to teach them and the best time to do it is when your child is misbehaving. That’s when they are most likely to want to learn the new responsible behaviors.

So, I try, I will to do it again, to have you look forward to the next time your child misbehaves so you can try this out and you’ll see it works but I must give a word of caution for parents of teenagers because it works with teenagers but part of what they want is for you to not know what they want. So, if I say “Ciaran, what do you want that you are trying to get by not following the curfew that we agreed to?”. You don’t want me to know so you’re not going to tell me and I know that. So, then I would use the magical statement, “Ciaran, I know there is something that you want and you are trying to get by not following the rules we agreed to. What you may not know is I want to help you get what you want responsibly and respectfully and when you are willing to talk to me about it, we will work it out” and then they will. Not then, not on your time table. They are like cats; they aren’t going to come when you call but eventually they probably will start talking to you about, you know, I want to be able to stay out later or I want to do some things you don’t want me to do and that doesn’t mean this is not permissive parenting.

There are times that your answer is going to be “No, you can’t do that” whether they’re 2 or 12 or 22 but if you say no 1 out of 10 times they won’t like it but they will go along with it but if you say no 9 out of 10 times, they’ll just go ahead and do it without you finding out, hoping you won’t find out, and then we start bullying them and intimidating them into not doing what we don’t want them to do. No parent bullies because we want to be a bully. It’s our natural instinct to try to keep our children safe against all the perils. We try to hold them to keep them safe while they are trying to break free to have more freedom and follow their curiosity. From a parent-child relationship, that’s usually the bullying, if you want to use this word. It’s not that we are trying to be mean or trying to be control freaks or we are trying to be bullies. We just want to keep our children safe and move them along in the right direction. It’s better if we can do it with them rather than trying to externally control them.

Parents and Teachers: Why Do Children Do What They Do

C: Of course. Actually, it’s quite possible that a lot of parents and teachers are not dealing with our children in the right way. The bullies and even the victims, we’re not dealing with them the right way. So, you talk about magical question or magical statement. So, this is where you sit down with someone and you try and find out what they actually want? What is causing them a problem and the alternative way or the easier way that doesn’t cause friction to get that?

K: Not necessarily easier. It is more responsible and respectful. It’s easier to bop somebody over the head and get what you want but it is more responsible and more respectful.

C: Very good and do you find that because you’re dealing with families? Does it work very well?

K: It’s amazing! It’s amazing for at least 2 reasons. So, most parents do say to a child “Why did you do it?”. We ask that all the time and the part that I’ve learned, children around the world answer that question exactly the same way. They shrug their shoulders and say “I don’t know”. So, when you ask this question “What is it you want that you are trying to get by that?”, I really encourage people to write that down, if you need to make a card, write it on your palm, write it on the forehead of your child. It’s not a normal way to talk, it’s an awkward sentence. It’s in asking the question that way that children get it. That’s why I called it ‘magical’ because truly the first time I said this to my kid and they gave me the answer, I was just like “Wow! Cool!” so you’ve got to be careful how to use this awkward statement, “What is it you want you are trying to get by kicking your sister? / What is you want that you are trying to get by screaming at the top of your lungs? / What is you want that you are trying to get by being disrespectful?” and ultimately that becomes a question of self-discipline.

So, parents can ask themselves that question “What is that I want that I am trying to get by screaming at my kid? And if I could figure out another way to do it, would I do it?” and of course the answer is “Yes, I don’t know what else to do. This is all I know. I need to figure out a better way”. Yes, there are sometimes where I would be driving and I’d be screaming at another driver, I ask “What do I want that I’m trying to get by screaming at them? I want them to drive better. Am I willing to consider…? No, this is very satisfying and I can scream at them and they can never hear me”.

There is much likelihood in them changing the way they drive as meeting the man on the moon. Doesn’t always mean you can make a change but that question, children begin to ask it themselves eventually instead of “What is the problem with the behavior?” so many many bullying programs, I will bet most, look at bullying as if bullying is the problem. The behavior is never the problem. There is something that the bully wants that he doesn’t know how to get responsibly and respectfully. So, the way he or she is going about it is by bullying and the way we solve bullying is to help children and P.S. adults learn more respectful and responsible ways of getting what they want instead of bullying. So, the bullying itself is not the problem. It’s being disrespectful (all of the things about it) but if you are trying to change a bully’s bullying behavior without finding out what it is that the child wants, you can spend all our time and energy and you’ll never fix it. They’ll just bully in ways you won’t find out about, that’s all.

C: We’ve talked about young people and we mentioned teens briefly and teens are definitely a bigger challenge for sure. There is are lot more pressure I feel on teenagers now with the social media because they need to be popular, they need to have 200 or 400 friends, they need to have their post liked and shared and commented on. It is a popularity contest but not it is very visible; anyone can look at the scorecard and see how many likes and followers and re-tweets or whatever depending on the social network. So, if a bully wants to be popular, I am thinking of teens again because it feels like in the social spectrum, we believe that people should compete and be popular and the reward should be the most popular person in the school. How can we deal with someone like that? It’s a tricky one.

K: A great question. The answer is quick but the process isn’t. To get there, it’s a process. Let’s say I have Sara who is coming to see me and she has been cyberbullying, she has been one of the mean girls, she has got her little posy of friends and they are strutting their stuff and getting a certain amount of status that way and so she is referred to me as the school counselor. First, I’d start to find out if she’s at least the willing to talk to me, that she is not going to diss or be disrespectful to me though that doesn’t happen immediately. She doesn’t sit down and immediately say “I hear you’re wonderful. I can’t wait to talk to you”.  You know she is going to be in her defensive closed position and my job is to create an environment where I am not challenging her, I am not trying to change her ways. I’m just saying “Look, Sara. I am here. I talk to kids. Sometimes I talk with kids about the problems that they are having that they want to talk to me about, often I talk to them about problems other people are having with them. You fall in the second category but the last thing in the world that I want to do is change your ways. What I want to do is help you learn how your ways can be seen by everybody as being powerful and worthy of respect”. Now, as most sullen teenagers, she is sitting there either looking down at her feet or she has crossed her arms.

She has have given me every bit of body language that she can to say “I am not listening to you, lady. You have no impact on me” but I spend my time and I might see her for 10-15 minutes the first time and 10-15 minutes the next but I can guarantee you that words are getting in. Again, dealing with cats; they don’t come when you call but that doesn’t mean they don’t hear what is going on and eventually, hopefully she might start looking at me. Ok, so that’s the process. The idea is not hard, it’s the process of getting there that is hard because children are either closed in protection or open for growth and learning and in my job, she comes in closed, she knows she didn’t come knocking on my door. Somebody sent her there so she is totally in protection and defensive. My job is to slowly create an environment where she begins to sit and feel safe enough with me to open up.

Then ultimately what I want to do is to talk to her about how successful she is presently being in getting all sorts of power and respect because she is but then I might start talking to her about greater power and more responsible power, “How would you go about doing that, Sara? You could be one of the leaders, not the leader of the mean girls at school, but one of the leaders in your class and in this whole school. I bet you kind of know that, Sara, and what I want to do is help you learn how to get there but that means you are going to need to maybe change a few things and be a little bit more responsible and respectful to all people”. This is a technique, process, I used a lot. “I want you to go be an investigator (depending on what TV shows, I might use a current popular investigator). I want you to notice who are the leaders in the school? Who are the leaders in a bad way and who are the leaders in the positive way? And how they are different? I don’t mean the leaders who are the nerds or another whom the kids think is a jerk.

I am talking about the leader that everybody likes. How does that kid behave? I want you to get curious and then the next time you come, I want you to tell me some of the things you noticed”. So, essentially we are teaching this child how to take her skill, she does have the skill, of gaining some power but helping her learn how to do that in a more responsible and respectful way. It will give her not only a greater sense of power within, but it will also give her a sense of love and belonging. She will love herself better because right now she knows she is powerful but she also knows she is mean and she wants to see herself differently. I am counting on that anyway, and pretty much it does work. You do the same thing with all the other bullies who are bullying depending on the situation and the circumstances. You know, if it’s my neighbor, I am not doing that with my neighbor, I don’t have that kind of relationship with my neighbor, but I can say to my neighbor “Please don’t treat me that way. Please don’t do things that way. I ask that you offer me greater respect”. So, again what I said earlier, teach the kids some words and phrases they can use, to ask for, create the boundary, to say “You are over the line. Back off a little” and how can I say that to you in a respectful way and that is not a skill most people have.

C: From my own experience, I mean my mindset, I can see teachers in the class and some children are being disruptive and the teacher snaps and tells him to be quiet and stop distracting the entire class. I guess in the school environment with a 20 to 30 children in a class, it can be very tough to follow through and put something like this into practice but again our children spend so much of their life in the school environment and I guess it is very important and what you are telling us actually is in place in these situations. So, how do school actually do this? Do they do it? Do they try or this is when you come in and help them?

K: They actually do it and there is actually a couple of people in Ireland, I know there’s a couple of people in Dublin but beyond that I can’t tell you, I know there are people beyond the borders of Dublin who are working in schools and are working with the entire school population in this direction. I will email you the resource for that. I am pretty sure it’s, William Glasser Institute Ireland, where you can find out more about the school kinds of things but in addition there is WGI which is William Glasser International. So, these kinds of ideas are happening literally around the world but again, you are right. In school it is harder for a couple of reasons.

I have a greater investment in wanting to make sure my kids are going to turn out well. I also have a longer term relationship. Come the end of the school year, they are still in my life but in schools you have more kids and perhaps less of an investment and the reality is there are so many kids in the class liked better than others and the one kid who is that kid who is attempting to bully back who knows “This teachers hates it when I do this so I am going to do it. I am not going to do it every day but I am going to do it strategically because I know it will drive her crazy and watch how I can make her jump”. So, a relatively simple idea that actually a fair number of educators do, at the beginning of the school term, you sit down and talk about what are the classroom environment rules of how we are going to treat each other, how can we be with each other in this class room in a responsible and respectful way? You have a conversation about it.

 Now, again, with third graders this goes over like a charm. With kids who are over fourteen this doesn’t go over so well but it can. Usually in the beginning of the term and they’re not pushing you yet but you start creating the expectations including if you are disruptive, how do you want me to handle it? If I am being respectful and responsible because you are disrupting learning for every other kid in the class. So, do you want me to ignore it? How many times are you going to do this? What are the steps that you would like me to do? Do you want me to scream at you? Do you want me to come over and put my hand on your shoulder? Do you want me to kick you out? Do you want me to humiliate you? I mean truly, and again most experienced teachers and that means they have been in a classroom more than a year, they can tell you what the kinds of things they will expect children will do in the class that is disruptive.

So, let’s talk about it at the very beginning of the term. So, when a kid is disruptive, you already have a list of rules somewhere in the class, “Ok. I am invoking number 2. We all agreed this is what I am going to do. I’m invoking number 2 on you, kiddo, and if you keep it up I am going to go to 2A-2B-2C”. That doesn’t mean that kids will suddenly say “Oh, well, I am all good” unless they are third graders but at least you’ve begun to establish the process of how you are going to work it out. Now, if it didn’t work, you do what you normally would do and then a couple of days later you say “I’m putting the lesson aside until we can work this out. We need to solve this problem together children. This is our learning environment, we’re with each other all day long. I want it to be a respectful place where you are able to feel safe, connected, learning, having some laughs and feeling like you have some choices and what you need to have in place for that to happen. So, you solve the problem, it may be solved it may not be.

If it’s not, then you have the meeting again but you are not going to have it day after day after day. You need to have some moments where there is something nice going on and there are learning so you’re not having a continual argument but it also means you don’t give up. One of the things that happens is most adults give up sooner than children and the kids are counting on that. If I keep annoying you, eventually you are going to stop being nice to me and you are going to be mean and I can start to say “You are the meanest teacher in the school. I won” but if you don’t fall back on that, if you hang in longer, eventually the kid will say “Hey, this guy really means it. I’d better figure out how to work it out with him”. It is kind of amazing.

C: Talking about children, how would you identify the warning signs that you’d see in a child that has been bullied?  Is there things that a parent should be looking out for?

K: Well, yes and no. Part of it is, again as I said I am a developmental psychologist, so I created a road map of what you can expect for children and kids go through periods of what I call cooperative periods where they have a greater urge for love and fun and then they go through competitive periods where they have greater urges for power and freedom and the one that typically most of us know are terrible twos. A two year old is not about love and fun. They are about me, my way, you are not the boss of me and I am in charge. So, when a kid is in a competitive phase, they are going to be more commanding and demanding of greater power and greater freedom which can look like bullying but it is just part of the normal development. What we need to do when our kids are in the competitive phase is help them learn how to make them meet those urges for power and freedom responsibly and respectfully. Again, I can tell you my oldest grandson he is right there now.

He is three and a half years old and he pushes and pushes and he will crash into his uncle. Sometimes his uncle would pick him up and play with him but sometimes he is with his little baby girl and now back off there Mr. Malakai. Of course, I look at him through the grandmother’s eyes but he is not a bully. He is just a little boy practising a little bit more power and freedom. “What’s up with all this squishy mushy stuff? I want to be a big guy. I want to be a hero” but if you have a kid that you continually all you hear about is the battles he is in, the confrontations he is in at school with friends, in extracurricular with the coach and this is going on now for more than 6 months, maybe more than nine months, maybe we are into the second year.

Now you’ve got to think about that. You’ve got a kid who is not able to meet his needs satisfactorily. He is using bullying in an attempt to meet his needs for safety, love, power, fun and freedom and we need to help this child learn more effective behaviors to get all of his needs met other than using those behaviors. Your kids will probably be more power-demanding with parents than they are with other adults and that is usually an indication of a kid who is just normal. You know the parent who says “He gets along with grandma, he gets along with the teacher, with the religious educator but he gives me a hard time”, perfect! You are doing a perfect job there because they are practising power and freedom and know that you love them enough you are not going to kick them out of the house. With the other people, they don’t feel quite so safe so they won’t do that but if you have a kid who is very compliant with you and but is confrontational with everybody else, now you’ve got a kid [about] whom you may wonder is having more difficulty than you realize. He is only good at home but every place else, people are struggling with him.

C: You’ve given us a great insight into ideal parenting and some very good insights into bullying that I’ve never thought about. Anyone who is watching us or reading the transcript, if they wanted to find out more about what you preach and practice or the magical question or even only talk to you, is there some where we can send them to reach you?

K: Yes , thank you for asking. I do encourage people to reach out as you can tell. My passion is working with parents to better understand their children and themselves so that they can carry on this journey with the loving intention that becomes the loving practice. We all go into parenting with great ideas and then not everyday end up the way we wanted it to end and that’s true whether you are doing peaceful parenting or not. I have also written several books you can find access to those books through my website. The latest is How To Be A Great Parent and you can get that through your local book store even there in Ireland. You don’t have to go to the states and Amazon carries it as well and I have just started a coaching program. So, if people want to have an ongoing relationship with me, I am happy to engage in that.

The part that makes it difficult that you and I started this conversation talking about is it’s hard. The only parenting we know is how it was done for us. I am one of the lucky ones. I liked my parents, I think they did an awesome job, they liked each other they liked us, I really learned about advocating for children and from a child’s perspective not just the adults from my mother.

That was part of her point of view of the world and yet there were some things I wanted to do differently and if you don’t know what else to do, often what happens is you know you want to do it differently, you fall back on exactly what you said you never wanted to do. So, coaching can be really helpful to help parents figure out how to do it differently instead of the same old. I am about to release a DVD series. It’s three and half hours of me talking with some additional ideas. You can take it in slower bits. I haven’t yet but I am going to get pieces of that on YouTube as well.

So, people also can find Peaceful Parenting Inc. on Facebook page and like that. I send out little thoughtful ideas almost everyday. I invite people to please connect with me because I want to learn more about what it is that you are doing and I want to learn out how I can be helpful to all of you.

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