So, I was thinking about my past pets today – specifically, Juan Pablo. Chameleons are interesting creatures. Did you know they can completely change colors in less than 20 seconds? They can also blend into their environment entirely, hiding among the foliage. It is an amazing survival instinct – one many students possess. [Do you remember those wonderful middle/high school years?] In children and teens I often see survival behaviors triggered by fear: fear of failure and fear of embarrassment. And when stressed, we often say or do things we shouldn’t. I believe this to be true of all individuals, no matter the age.
- First, we need to adjust our perspective. People do the best they are able, given the skills at their disposal. Children and teens survive the only way they know how. This doesn’t excuse their inappropriate behaviors, but it helps us better understand them.
- Second, to the best of our ability, we should talk to kids about behavior concerns privately. I know peers influence behaviors greatly, which is why I did my best to get my boys away from their brothers before talking with them about their choices.
- Lastly, we need to be patient. Adults make mistakes all the time, despite the fact we have had many more years to learn how to behave than the children with whom we work. Developmentally, our kiddos are still trying to figure out how to get their needs met appropriately and this process takes time – around age 25, if the maturation of our prefrontal cortex is any indication.
I never had to talk with Juan Pablo about his behavior, though he did puff up and hiss at me once or twice when I startled him. However, I discovered if I just left him alone for a bit, he usually calmed down, at which time we were able to once again share a bonding moment. No matter the animal, I’ve found this strategy has served me well over a variety of settings in my life.