Years ago a friend, ex-military friend termed the phrase 'it follows down the lead' while we were chatting about the power of learned behaviours & the strength of environment variables, particularly inherited from parenting, role modelling & the environmental influences on our behaviour. It is widely known behavioural analysis is successful and effective across organisms, with books such as Amy Sutherland's recount of her experience as a journalist when applying basic behaviour change techniques to saving her marriage in 'What Shamu taught me about a happy marriage' and how 'humans' can learn a few things from the function of our behaviour. There are always choices, its just that many don't like the choices they have. A good starting point may be, what is the result you are trying to achieve? However this can be challenging & bit hard to see the winning post if all you are focussed on is the first few steps, everything will seem hard. Where do you want to end up? What is the behaviour you want to see? In informal discussions, it is useful to ask the question, what is result you are wanting, describing the alternate behaviour can be easier at times than trying to describe a specific target behaviour when so much is going on & may have been for some time. It won't be easy, behaviour's can persist & tackling the steps to replacing the behaviour with a more socially appropriate behaviour, can take time & persistence. It's also creating an awareness of how the behaviour of others may influence you & how you influence the behaviour of others. It's a recognition which provides an opportunity & insight into behaviours that are having a negative impact on your health, wellbeing, life, career, success or reaching goals you desire to achieve. It can be intriguing - why we do what we do, how behaviours develop in the first place e.g. to escape & avoid (to survive, avoid pain or suffering?), to gain something (tangibles, attention), for sensory stimulation (because it feels good). Having spent many years supporting individuals who may not be aware of just how much they can change the behaviours they have adopted, completely unaware how over long periods of time, survival as a key factor in their adapting to their environment, they have adopted behaviours which are neither helpful or a positive influence on their life, however these behaviours have served a function & worked, despite the unhelpful long term outcomes e.g. substance abuse. It's far easier to focus on or 'blame' others. Yes, others influence behaviour, however, you can do something about how you respond, there is no doubt trauma is an incredibly powerful significance in the lives of many & over time, some may develop unhelpful responses to anything which reminds or persists about that trauma from even years prior. There are an awful lot of factors which come into play, cultural expectations, norms in your home or your community or beliefs & if you strip all those layers back, every single one, underneath is you, your choices. For some trauma has resulted in so much out of your control, providing choices, opportunities to choose now, can be extremely powerful & an alternate behaviour rather than responding with violence or self harm. You may have developed, even perfected a default response under times of stress, fear, anxiety, when someone threatens your ability to control what is going on in your life. These can include many escape and avoid behaviours. If you think about it, why would anyone, having learned already how much something hurts or upsets, continue to put themselves in harms way, when a new experience is familiar & before you are consciously even aware of what is happening, you might be already escaping & avoiding further suffering. It makes sense to remove the pain before it occurs, to avoid suffering, to switch off, tune out, do something which removes the focus on what is going on. Some may do that with over spending, shopping, drugs, substances, project onto others, so many different ways of responding - here's the thing - your behaviour tells your story, learning about your own behaviour, unhelpful behaviours, is incredibly revealing & insightful.
Behaviours develop & begin in early childhood, shaped by experience, exposure to events, role modelling & maybe it was the best your primary caregivers could do at the time, maybe they didn't have any resources or knowledge to be the change you needed. If only there were more opportunities for new parents to learn how powerful their behaviour influences & shapes their children's behaviour, more challenges could be avoided. You however, can be that change. You can choose to change your behaviour, be the rock in the wheel that keeps spinning on inter-generational abuse & trauma, you can say I'm going to do something about this & I maybe not be able to change the past, I can do something about my future, my behaviour right here, right now. If you don't have the resources or know where to start, seek professional support. It follows down the lead. You are a leader. It's a powerful reminder to parents & primary caregivers how powerful is the day to day interactions we have, the words we use, the behaviour we role model, how we solve problems, how we step up to challenges, overcome obstacles, how we communicate with each other under stress. These are all lessons & opportunities for children to learn from parenting. As I learn more, I can & have the opportunity to do more. As a parent, a woman, an individual, to change my behaviour, to improve; I learn from my adult children every single day, they have unique perspectives I don't have & if I am open to their experiences, I can learn from all those around me, how my decisions, ideas, thoughts, my behaviour, impacts on their own. It doesn't always result in a different decision, towels don't belong on the bathroom floor, dishes need washing, school work is to be done to avoid long term outcomes. However, validating, acknowledging & listening is a powerful relationship tool, builds understanding, compassion & respect between individuals, can help shape how we respond to the discomfort others feel about our choices. If it is to be, then it is up to me.
With a knowledge of motivating operations, establishing operations, changing behaviour is not manipulation or magic, it requires consent, it needs understanding & cooperation, to be people focussed, centred on the individual needs of each person, what works best for one, is certainly not the case for others. It is why any behaviour change program must be individualised, not a cut-out prop up version, like a behaviour 101 curriculum. Individualised by understanding the data underpinning why the behaviour is occurring, the environmental influences on the behaviour, the taking of observations, spending time with individuals to have a clear, concise understanding of the behaviour.
It doesn't mean you can't learn about behaviour, the why, how, when & what happens as a result. The more you learn, the more choices you may have & changes you can make.
So back to the 'follow down the lead'. Sometimes children are referred, actually a lot of the time, for behaviours to change; everything from sleep patterns, toileting, to behaviours in the middle of shopping centres or when the parent refuses an object, money or something the child wants right then, right now.
The thing is, it's not the children who have the power to just flick the switch & change their behaviour. A great deal of time is spent with fantastic programs, hard working therapists, who try their best, although, without the parent changing their reinforcement, doing something about the behaviour the child learned from, history is more likely to repeat itself.
This is the same for adults, how we relate to each other.
Even good intentions, can result in strengthening a behaviour, making it stronger & more likely to occur in the future.
To change a behaviour, to see it stop, eradicate it, you might need to change the variables in the environment in which it occurs. As a parent, you may need to adjust, modify & change how you are responding, what you have taught, teaching, the lessons you pass on, if you really want this change to occur.
So think about it - visualise it - what is the replacement behaviour you want to see? Would like to see? What does the future ahead look like for your child & their behaviour? For your behaviour?
It is not easy stuff to be responsible for the impact you have had on others, particularly when the impact hasn't been a positive one.
However you can do something now.
You can change it & improve the outcomes.
It starts with you.
We can all be the change we want to see in our world.