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The newborn infant arrives with no assumptions and very few skills.  Sucking, grasping, crying and pooping pretty much cover the talents of a newborn.  During the first weeks, months and years of it’s life, the infant has direct experience of the immediate environment that makes up its world.  Since the young infant has no ability to think in the classic sense, this experience is simply channeled into its awareness as “experience”.  (Since thinking is not part of the repertoire of a young child, it is always unfair to criticize a young child for not “thinking before you act”.)

In the initial weeks, months and years of its life, the child is learning what kind of world it lives in through direct experience.  A healthy child born into a family of mature responsible adults who are ready, willing and able to meet the incessant demands of an infant learns that the world is tolerant, nurturing, gentle and loving.  A child born into an impaired family may learn that the world is harsh, unpredictable, hostile and unforgiving. 

As the child gets older, it continues to learn.  The child learns how to tell which shoe goes on which foot and whether the pants zipper goes in the front or the back or the side.  He/she learns (by trial and error) how to hold a glass of liquid without spilling.  The child also learns what to expect when errors are made.  The child learns whether an error means that he is a learning newcomer who isn’t expected to be perfect or that he/she is a foolish idiot.  In some worlds (families) mistakes are seen as occasions to receive punishment while in other worlds (families) mistakes are seen as learning opportunities and accepted as normal for a young growing child.

These things and countless others are all encountered by a child before he/she achieves the ability for high level abstract thinking.  All that learning simply becomes part of the child’s awareness of the world.

As the child does begin to develop rudimentary abilities to think and reason, there is much more to learn.  The child learns to talk and walk and tie his shoes.  As these behaviors are learned and then repeated innumerable times,  they become automatic and no longer require our conscious attention.  Over time, they become unconscious.  Our unconscious is like a big storage room where we file all the behaviors that we’ve learned by heart.  When the situation comes up that requires that behavior, it is called up and delivered from our unconscious file room automatically.  That is why, when driving, we see tail lights come on in the car in front of us and we have our foot on the brake before our conscious brain even registers what is happening.

When you get up in the morning and put on your shoes you tie them without conscious thought.  It’s automatic!

By the time we reach adulthood, the majority of our day to day behaviors have become automatic (unconscious).  The only time that we need to use our conscious brain is when confronted by a new situation for which we may not have yet developed a satisfactory response.

If life is working to our general satisfaction, there may be no real need to examine the effectiveness of our unconsciousness.  However, if we are troubled by the turns our lives take or the roads we seem to be traveling down, then it may make sense to examine unconscious programming. The unconscious can be re-programmed.  It tends to take time and can be somewhat uncomfortable, but it is doable.  The problem is that the re-programming can only be done from the conscious and we are only in the conscious for brief periods of time.  In a sense, when we are behaving consciously, our unconscious is constantly looking for a chance to step in and take over for us.  It is our loyal and faithful servant.

Fortunately, there are techniques we can use to assist us in re-programming.  The hard part is to become conscious about whatever behavior we wish to change.  Several years ago I worked with a family that consisted of a single parent Dad and his sixteen and thirteen year old daughters.  I made weekly house calls and we held a family meeting at each session.  At one such meeting Dad reported that he was at his wits end regarding his thirteen year old daughter.  He stated that his morning chores included getting himself ready for work, preparing his lunch and fixing breakfast for all three of them.  Invariably, his daughter would enter the kitchen and in a very whiny voice she would insist that he brush and braid her hair.  This typically occurred while he had a frying pan in his hand.  I invited him to respond to her next such request as follows:  “Either change the tone of your voice now or return to your room until you can. Either choice is okay with me.”  I asked the daughter if she could work with that and she said she could.  When I returned one week later, both father and daughter reported that mornings were much more pleasant since they had used the new behavior.

I congratulated them both on their success and we went on to other business.  The following week when I arrived, I asked them again how the mornings were going.  Father said that the mornings were horrible and that his younger daughter was about to drive him crazy with her whining.  When I asked if he was still using the program that we had agreed on, he said that he had completely forgotten about it and mornings were back to being stressfully chaotic.  He agreed to return to the program that had been so successful before.  The third week I again asked about the mornings and he again said they had been horrible.  Once more he had forgotten to use the program that had been so successful before.  After inquiring for two or three more weeks and hearing that he’d forgotten each time, I stopped asking.  I don’t know that he ever did use that successful program again. He could not remain conscious of the behavior he wished to change.

Now I would do one thing different.  In order to help my current clients remain conscious of the behavior they wish to change I write down the new response and suggest the person hangs it on his or her bedroom or bathroom mirror where he/she would see it in the morning. The most important tool in re-programming is to bring the new behavior pattern to consciousness.  Next you must find a way to keep it conscious.  Notes or pictures posted prominently on a desk, mirror or computer are a good step toward any desired behavior transformation

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The newborn infant arrives with no assumptions and very few skills.  Sucking, grasping, crying and pooping pretty much cover the talents of a newborn.  During the first weeks, months and years of it’s life, the infant has direct experience of the immediate environment that makes up its world.  Since the young infant has no ability to think in the classic sense, this experience is simply channeled into its awareness as “experience”.  (Since thinking is not part of the repertoire of a young child, it is always unfair to criticize a young child for not “thinking before you act”.) 

In the initial weeks, months and years of its life, the child is learning what kind of world it lives in through direct experience.  A healthy child born into a family of mature responsible adults who are ready, willing and able to meet the incessant demands of an infant learns that the world is tolerant, nurturing, gentle and loving.  A child born into an impaired family may learn that the world is harsh, unpredictable, hostile and unforgiving.  

As the child gets older, it continues to learn.  The child learns how to tell which shoe goes on which foot and whether the pants zipper goes in the front or the back or the side.  He/she learns (by trial and error) how to hold a glass of liquid without spilling.  The child also learns what to expect when errors are made.  The child learns whether an error means that he is a learning newcomer who isn’t expected to be perfect or that he/she is a foolish idiot.  In some worlds (families) mistakes are seen as occasions to receive punishment while in other worlds (families) mistakes are seen as learning opportunities and accepted as normal for a young growing child.

These things and countless others are all encountered by a child before he/she achieves the ability for high level abstract thinking.  
All that learning simply becomes part of the child’s awareness of the world.

As the child does begin to develop rudimentary abilities to think and reason, there is much more to learn.  The child learns to talk and walk and tie his shoes.  As these behaviors are learned and then repeated innumerable times,  they become automatic and no longer require our conscious attention.  Over time, they become unconscious.  Our unconscious is like a big storage room where we file all the behaviors that we’ve learned by heart.  When the situation comes up that requires that behavior, it is called up and delivered from our unconscious file room automatically.  That is why, when driving, we see tail lights come on in the car in front of us and we have our foot on the brake before our conscious brain even registers what is happening.

When you get up in the morning and put on your shoes you tie them without conscious thought.  It’s automatic!  

By the time we reach adulthood, the majority of our day to day behaviors  have become automatic (unconscious).  The only time that we need to use our conscious brain is when confronted by a new situation for which we may not have yet developed a satisfactory response.

If life is working to our general satisfaction, there may be no real need to examine the effectiveness of our unconsciousness.  However, if we are troubled by the turns our lives take or the roads we seem to be traveling down, then it may make sense to examine unconscious programming. The unconscious can be re-programmed.  It tends to take time and can be somewhat uncomfortable, but it is doable.  The problem is that the re-programming can only be done from the conscious and we are only in the conscious for brief periods of time.  In a sense, when we are behaving consciously, our unconscious is constantly looking for a chance to step in and take over for us.  It is our loyal and faithful servant. 

Fortunately, there are techniques we can use to assist us in re-programming.  The hard part is to become conscious about whatever behavior we wish to change.  Several years ago I worked with a family that consisted of a single parent Dad and his sixteen and thirteen year old daughters.  I made weekly house calls and we held a family meeting at each session.  At one such meeting Dad reported that he was at his wits end regarding his thirteen year old daughter.  He stated that his morning chores included getting himself ready for work, preparing his lunch and fixing breakfast for all three of them.  Invariably, his daughter would enter the kitchen and in a very whiny voice she would insist that he brush and braid her hair.  This typically occurred while he had a frying pan in his hand.  I invited him to respond to her next such request as follows:  “Either change the tone of your voice now or return to your room until you can. Either choice is okay with me.”  I asked the daughter if she could work with that and she said she could.  When I returned one week later, both father and daughter reported that mornings were much more pleasant since they had used the new behavior. 

I congratulated them both on their success and we went on to other business.  The following week when I arrived, I asked them again how the mornings were going.  Father said that the mornings were horrible and that his younger daughter was about to drive him crazy with her whining.  When I asked if he was still using the program that we had agreed on, he said that he had completely forgotten about it and mornings were back to being stressfully chaotic.  He agreed to return to the program that had been so successful before.  The third week I again asked about the mornings and he again said they had been horrible.  Once more he had forgotten to use the program that had been so successful before.  After inquiring for two or three more weeks and hearing that he’d forgotten each time, I stopped asking.  I don’t know that he ever did use that successful program again. He could not remain conscious of the behavior he wished to change.

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1. PLEASURE PRINCIPLE-- All people always act in ways intended to bring less pain and more pleasure.      

2.    During the first five years of a child’s life parents are almost totally in charge of the consequences of their child’s behavior.  Behavior that brings negative consequences tends to get discontinued while behavior that brings positive consequences tends to be repeated.

3.    Disciplined parents responding thoughtfully to their children’s behavior are able to shape that behavior.

4.    Parental inconsistency, lack of parental teamwork and emotion based reactive behavior undermine attempts at getting compliant behavior.

5.    It is as important to teach children how to think as it is to teach how to act!  For instance,    “This is too hard.  I’m stupid!”  could become “ This is challenging so  I will ask for help!”

6.    Children focus on relatively short-term goals.  Adults can focus on short term or long term goals.  As we age and gain in wisdom, our choices reflect greater maturity.

7.    Although we aren’t in charge of what the world brings us, we are in charge of how we respond to what the world brings us.  Such responses can be informed choices or automatic reactions.  This is very important!

8.    Parental responses to misbehavior that do not uphold the child’s basic sense of value and worth will not lead to healthy future behavior!

9.    Behaviors that enhance the quality of life get repeated.  That’s healthy human nature.

 

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Consequences are instructive!  They teach!  All behaviors have consequences.  Have you ever hit your thumb with a hammer?  The pain is a consequence!

Punishment can be divisive and polarizing.  Punishment is the intentional infliction of pain and/or distress.  It builds resentment and does not encourage cooperation.

Most of what we learn we learn by making mistakes.

 

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Imagine that a child asked you to take him to ride on a roller coaster and you agreed to do that.  The child would likely be very happy.  Now picture you taking that child to an amusement park and getting in line to buy the admission.  The child might fuss a little about the wait but you could explain that the waiting is part of what has to be done in order to ride the roller coaster.  Now you are in the park and you both walk to the roller coaster that can be seen from afar.  The child is probably getting excited and is quite eager to ride.  There is a sign that states that there is a 90 minute wait in line.  At this point the child might have become rather upset and fussy because he WANTS TO RIDE THE ROLLER COASTER.  You might be tempted to say,” Look, you are the one that wanted to ride the roller coaster.  I have already ridden the roller coaster several times and have no need for further rides.  I am indulging you by investing the time and money and effort to give you this experience that you wanted and I don’t want to hear any more fussing and complaining.  Amusement parks are not all rides and fun and excitement.  Waiting in line is part of the deal.  There can be no roller coaster if you are not willing to wait in line.”

Now the child has to make a decision.  He hadn’t necessarily realized that waiting was part of the deal.  How could he have known if no one had thought to tell him ahead of time?  Knowing ahead of time what hardships may be involved in an undertaking allows us to be prepared and removes the element of unpleasant surprise.  Knowing about the wait, we might still choose to ride.  Not knowing can take much of the pleasure out of the experience when we are finally confronted with the unpleasant reality of the wait.

Although a great many of life’s blessing and opportunities may include periods of unpleasantness, they are less apt to derail us or sidetrack us if we know about them ahead of time.  People that climb mountains or go on long hikes know ahead of time that there will be periods of discomfort and that simply becomes part of the over-all experience.

The greatest adventure and the most thrilling ride we’ll ever take is life.  But for those of us who haven’t been told about the waiting and the occasional unpleasantness, the difficult times can be misinterpreted to mean that we aren’t doing it right or that somehow we are not worthy of a better experience.  That would not be true.  Even Mother Theresa may have had to wait at the pearly gates for St. Peter to fetch the key.

 

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  • Charles Gustafson, MFT
    Lic.# 5983
    599 S. Barranca, Suite 224
    Covina, CA 91723
  • 626-966-2662
    Email: charles@cgmft.com
  •  

Get In Touch

  • 599 S. Barranca, Suite 224
    Covina, CA 91723
  • 626-966-2662
  • charles@cgmft.com