Parents Q&A

Every Tuesday at Woolley Wood School parents have the opportunity to attend an intensive interaction training session.  Having worked with parents on a number of occasions I have found that there are a few questions that keeping coming up and I thought that it might be of benefit to write a blog post detailing the questions and my answers:
My son started to do naughty things to see if we would copy him.  What should I do?
We need a responsive approach like intensive interaction because our habit as human beings can be to lead, direct and strive for goals.  This habit often gets in the way of seeing and accepting things as they actually are.  When we think that a behaviour is naughty we first have to ask ourselves a few questions.  Why is this a ‘naughty’ behaviour and what will the consequences be if the child continues or if I join in?  After all, this behaviour is what the child finds enjoyable and meaningful and having to say “no” all the time isn’t the best strategy for developing positive relationships.
This question related to a situation where the child was pulling all the clothes out of a drawer and throwing them on the floor.  Clearly the parent was thinking that they would have to tidy them all up afterwards which, depending on how much energy the mother had, could well have been the final straw.  When we question ourselves about this however we might find that we have drawn the boundaries arbitrarily and that in this situation throwing things on the floor might not be so bad after all. So we have to question our definition ‘naughty’ and whether the behaviour is so’ naughty’ that we have to deny the child’s behaviour and stop it.
The parent in question just joined in and reported that she actually really enjoyed herself and felt quite liberated, enjoying her son’s company in a new way for over an hour.  After playing with the drawer the child then tried to flush all the clothes down the toilet and the mother said she had to call it a day there.  Of course we have to draw the line somewhere and this will be different for different people in different situations.   In the above example, the mothers relaxing of her ‘rules’ with the clothes afforded her a new kind of interaction with her son…
What do I do if my son/daughter starts doing something dangerous? Do I have to join in with that behaviour too?
The short answer is no, you don’t have to join in with behaviour that you think might be dangerous.  There is a time for being responsive and a time for leading and directing.  Is it a good time for joining in if you are crossing the road with your child and he/she starts to dance in the middle of the road when there is a car coming?  Or if they pick up a sharp knife? Clearly not.  It seems that our habit is to lead and direct and then choose to be responsive at certain times (this misconception leads school to only do intensive interaction at set times).  I think that this is the wrong way round.  I teach the people on my course to become responsive first and then choose when to lead.  This means that you are mindful and available for responsive interaction all the time and then you decide to lead at certain times, for example when you cross the road or when you chop the vegetables.
I have found that a common misunderstanding among trainees is that they think will have to be responsive all the time. As a parent this is simply impossible.  The role of parent is full of times when we have to stop the child doing what they want to, for their safety or health or because we want to teach new behaviours.  One parent explained to me last week that they spent a year and a half showing their son how to hold a spoon.  And now he can feed himself.  So we don’t have to be responsive all the time.  I do however think that being responsive should be our ‘default setting’ and then we should mindfully choose to lead and direct when needed.  I accept that this is easier said than done :0)
These sort of ‘what if’ questions usually come up right at the beginning after the first explanation or video.  Intensive interaction is an approach, one of many in fact, that may be of benefit to your child.  There is a time for leading and teaching (how is a child going to learn sign language for example) but for the fundamentals of communication we need to work responsively to create a ‘social playground’ for a child to investigate and explore, much like they would do with a physical playground.  So to begin with we can add intensive interaction to our repertoire and find a time of day to try it out.
My knees hurt from crawling/jumping/kneeling/chasing (delete as appropriate).  I can’t keep doing this, what can I do?
While you might not be in control of the child’s behaviour and (with a responsive approach like ‘Do What You See’ you are going to have to follow that behaviour) you are in control of the environment.  Part of the art of intensive interaction is how the practitioner creates an environment within which the child can do whatever they want and the resulting behaviour is acceptable for the practitioner, the environment and any other children.  For example, if you decided to take the child to a room full of shelves of priceless cut glass family heirlooms, you would probably not feel like ‘Doing What You See’ and you would have to stop affirming and validating the child’s behaviour as you stop them destroying the priceless objects.  Similarly if you took your child to a posh a la carte silver service restaurant you would probably be telling them to sit still and be quiet much more than if you took them to a noisy child friendly cafe.  You have chosen an environment where it is much more likely that you are going to have to lead and direct.  If however you took a child to a soft play room with nothing but cushioned surfaces and no objects then it is likely that you could Do What You See without restraint.
So the choice of environment can affect how much we feel we can respond, affirm and validate a child’s behaviour, an attitude that is central to intensive interaction.  To one of the parents who asked the above question I asked whether she could keep the interaction in carpeted rooms, perhaps by using a stair gate to keep the interaction upstairs.  If the stairs are free to be used and we don’t want a child to use them then we have to block the child’s behaviour but if the stairs are inaccessible then the child may work it our for himself.
For more information about ‘Do What You See’, a simple starting point for intensive interaction, click here

2 Replies to “Parents Q&A”

  1. Great post Matthew.
    Might also be worthwhile sharing with parents that the response can be same but different. Daniel Stern’s work on affect attunement that the recasting (responding) behaviour can use different modalities from the initiating behaviour and still be received as attunement. So body movements can be attuned to using face or sounds – it is the qualities such as speed, duration, intensity the caring the shared feeling, not a mechanical repetition of the person’s behaviour. Recast the underlying feeling, not just the physical behaviour…
    Love reading your stuff Matthew

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