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Monday, June 21 2021

Changing Behaviour - To What?

In the previous Newsletters we have discussed the problems students who have suffered abuse and neglect.  In fact, the purpose of our work is to not only have teachers understand the origins of dysfunctional behaviour but also how to help change that behaviour.  Of course, there is a history of ‘behaviour modification’ programs offered to schools but rarely, if ever do we see any consideration of the ethical question ‘what sort of behaviour’ do we want our children to develop and for what purpose?  


The short answer is for them to be empowered, to take personal control and responsibility for their lives.  However, for a system-wide approach there is a more ethical consideration, we require a more specified statement such as that found in the second principle of ‘The Declaration of the Rights of the Child’.  It reads:

The child shall enjoy special protection, and shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity. In the enactment of laws for this purpose, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.


This is a ‘motherhood’ statement, like those that the core of all declarations from bureaucratic organizations.  No one should argue with this sentiment but in the most developed societies the abused kids referred to in this work are not enjoying ‘special protection’ etc.  So, the teacher is faced with the bigger question - how can we achieve this ideal and what are the qualities we need to develop in order for these children to take their rightful place in society.  The hard work is not the statement, it’s how do we teach the kids so as adults they can demand these rights?


In our day-to-day teaching of modern curriculum, the manner in which we can reach the desired education outcomes is relatively easy.  If I want the children to learn about solving simultaneous equations I look at the skills required to achieve this, gather the resources supplied by the Department and teach them the skills.  Then to confirm I have succeeded I test the students and move on.  It’s a shame the Department doesn’t adopt this approach to address the disruptive behaviours that follow damaged kids.  In reality, as far as behaviour modification is concerned teachers are being asked to change the very sense of self of another individual, their student and this process raises lots of complex issues.


In the first instance what rights do I have to ‘modify’ any child’s behaviour?  I’m a teacher not the child’s parent and I’m not a professional health care worker, I should not have to consider this question and defer to the child’s parent, psychiatrist or psychologist.  However, the reality for so many teachers and students is that the parents are so often the creators of the disability.  The other ‘reality’ is for most of these abused students access to a professional health care worker such as a psychiatrist is a dream.  So, teachers are forced into confronting the ethical issue and attempt to change their behaviour to empower these damaged students.


Of course, we are teachers and we cannot turn our backs on these kids.  So now, the question what ‘educational outcomes’ do I want my ‘behaviour altering activities’ to achieve?  This puzzle has occupied my interest for a long time and challenges my philosophy of all education.  Sure, I want my students to be the best they can be and support others while they are doing the same but how do I define a person’s best?  So, I turned to the philosophers who have long asked the same question.


In a western tradition any philosophical examination will invariably lead us back to the big three Greeks, Socrates, Plato and the holy-ghost, Aristotle.  When it came to this question, what is it to be an optimal human Aristotle integrated his teacher’s work and produced the doctrine of eudaimonia - a life of excellence, living with ethical wisdom and virtue.  He made the case, to achieve a happy life you had to study philosophy and have an involvement in the community through political activity. 


In current times the leaders in this field of philosophy include Carl Rogers, who describes the characteristics of a fully functional person, Abraham Maslow whose famous pyramid of needs culminates in the self-actualized person and Erich Fromm’s work on personal growth through being instead of doing; all these plus many others have addressed the question I ask of myself.  The various answers will overwhelm any investigation but there have been a few successful attempts to distil these descriptions into manageable forms.  These are discussed below.


The first, and currently most popular intervention is Positive Psychology.  This evolved from attempts to aggregate and rationalise the factors all these studies identified as leading to a life of satisfaction.  Using empirical data Positive Psychology studied how our activities impacted on our lives at all levels, physical, psycho/social or intellectual.  The common conclusion in the field is that to experience the ‘good life’ you must be engaged in meaningful activities.  These various factors were distilled to leave us with the following characteristics of strength:


  1. Wisdom and Knowledge – This includes creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perceptivity and innovation
  2. Courage – Including bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality and zest
  3. Humanity – With love, kindness and social intelligence
  4. Justice – With citizenship, fairness, and leadership
  5. Temperance – The characteristics of humility, forgiveness, mercy, prudence and self-control
  6. Transcendence – The appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope and spirituality

Another well-known effort to rationalise the factors that contribute to a positive life comes from work by the American Psychologist Ken Sheldon.  He carried out analysis on what makes an ‘optimal’ human by examining our evolutionary journey, our personalities and traits, the construction of our identity, social relations and cultural membership.

Sheldon’s categorisation are as follows:

  1. Strive to Balance Basic Needs – This includes autonomy, competence, relatedness, security and self-esteem
  2. Set and Make Efficient Progress Towards Self-Concordant Goals – These goals are those that have an intrinsic quality and support the person’s self-concept reflecting Winnicott’s idea of ‘true self’
  3. Choose Your Goals and Social Roles Wisely - Goals that are driven by or rely on external factors such a fame, popularity or wealth do nothing to contribute to a person’s positive identity.  The goals must advance personal growth and positive relationships at both the intimate and community level
  4. Strive Towards Personal Integration – The goals must be compatible with each other and support our basic needs.  They must also combine with our fundamental personality
  5. Work Towards Modifying Problematic Aspects of Yourself and the World – Have the ability to identify your weaknesses and problems within the world and include these in your goals.  Build on your character strengths and learn to self-evaluate your strategies for change.
  6. Take Responsibility for Goals and Choices – Take an intentional attitude towards life.  Align your desired sense of self with your goals and refer to this affiliation when making important decisions about your future.
  7. Listen to Your Organismic Valuing Process (OVP) and be Prepared to Change if Necessary – The OVP comes from the work of Carl Rogers where the goals are selected based on our sense of self.  We are to take an internalized attitude towards life.  If we do this we increase our trust in our ability to know what is good for us and abandon those that work against our true self.
  8. Transcend Yourself – The more we forget about ourselves and give our energy to a valued cause or another person the more human, self-actualized we become.

There are many other models easily found from a simple search and I have consumed these eventually to arrive at four broad characteristics that will prepare children for acceptance and access to their communities.  These are:

  • Sense of Self
  • Relatedness
  • Autonomy
  • Aspirations – Purpose

These are the hallmarks of all successful people!

Posted by: AT 07:16 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, June 15 2021

Hidden Types of Abuse

There is a well-recognised link between childhood abuse and the consequential physical and psychological injury that occurs.  Throughout these Newsletters we have consistently linked this early abuse with its resulting post-traumatic stress with the dysfunctional behaviours displayed in class.

In the general literature and in the education department’s communication regarding child protection the categories are, physical, psychological, emotional, and sexual.  However, the difference between psychological abuse and emotional abuse is arbitrary and for this paper we will describe the latter together.  I contend there are two additional forms of child abuse that is not recognised by any authority and these also have a long-lasting effect on the child’s development.

Before discussing these hidden assaults on children a quick summary of the acknowledged forms of abuse is presented below.


This is the use of intentional force against a child’s body or an unwanted invasion of their physical space.  It can be:

  • Hitting
  • Holding Down
  • Exaggerated Tickling
  • Pulling Hair
  • Twisting Ear
  • Etc.

In historical terms hitting a child has been an acceptable form of discipline and we still hear ignorant teachers lamenting the fact that corporal punishment has disappeared in contemporary societies.   It remains the point that hitting is abuse and the only lesson learned by the child is if you want to get someone to do what you require it is appropriate to hit him or her to achieve this outcome.

Psychological/Emotional Abuse

This is a form of abuse where the child’s psychological boundaries are violated.  This can take the form of non-accidental verbal or symbolic actions that are likely to result in significant psychological or emotional harm.   Forms of emotional abuse are:

  • Attacking the worth of the child by rejecting them, terrorising or isolating them.
  • Telling the child that they are stupid, un-loveable or unwanted.
  • Being overly harsh in criticising the child.
  • Punishing the child when they become emotional – don’t be a baby, etc. or when they show no emotion when it would be appropriate to do so.
  • When the love of a parent is conditional on their behaviour (I will love you if …)


This form of abuse is considered, by some to be more damaging as there is no ‘evidence’ it happened and abusers do not see the damage done.  This is particularly so if the perpetrator is an addict or has a mental illness.  They don’t see the bruises.

Sexual Abuse

This abuse is when an adult or older adolescent uses the child for their sexual gratification or for financial profit of the person committing the act.  This can include:

  • Unwanted touching or penetration of the sexual organs.
  • Adults exposing their own genitals to a child.
  • Exposure to inappropriate sexual experiences or information (i.e. Pornography).

Sexual abuse is a silent destroyer of too many young children in our society especially with the easy availability of pornography on the Internet.

Now we come to the hidden forms of abuse.  These rarely get coverage in the general literature but are equally as likely to expose the child to toxic levels of stress.  These are:

Spiritual Abuse  

One type of spiritual abuse that occurs is when the parents put themselves above the child.  The child must ‘worship’ the parent.  A contrary form of spiritual abuse occurs when the parents put the child above themselves.  The child becomes the focus of their devotion, they can do no wrong.  These children never learn to take responsibility.  In the first instance the parent knows best and you just do as you’re told.  In the latter form the parent will not see any faults in the child’s behaviour and so they never get the natural consequences when they make a wrong choice.


This form of abuse is becoming more and more prevalent in modern society, many parents are loathed to correct their children’s inappropriate behaviour possibly through advice about ‘killing their spirit’.  Perhaps, it is the idea that kids must ‘find their own way’.  Despite the reason, the lack of teaching children ethical principles has resulted in a loss of once valued traditional forms of etiquette and communal responsibility.


About one percent of the general population have been so affected by this child-centred attention they meet the criteria for a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, that is they display at least five of the following nine traits:

  • Has grandiose sense of self-importance.
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  • Believes he/she is special and unique.
  • Requires excessive admiration.
  • Has strong sense of entitlement.
  • Is interpersonally exploitative.
  • Lacks empathy, is unwilling to recognise or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
  • Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her.
  • Shows arrogance, haughty behaviours and attitudes.

The second form of spiritual abuse occurs when ‘religions’ teach that God will punish sinners and all are condemned unless they conform to some dogma.  People who work with children brought up in some cults attest to the damage done through this form of abuse but it would be a brave politician who would underline the damage done when adherence to the word of any god is criticized.

Intellectual Abuse   

This occurs when a child is placed in a situation where they are asked to perform a task they are developmentally incapable of successfully achieving.  An example is when a child is given a glass of milk to drink before they have developed the motor skills required for this task.  When they fail they are either labelled as useless by the parent or confirm to themselves the belief that they are at fault because they failed.


Education departments are loathed to acknowledge this type of abuse but it happens all the time, whenever a student is asked do an exam on work they have never been shown or are just incapable of doing they are being abused!


Intellectual abuse also occurs when a significant other compares one child’s performance against another child implying one is better than the other.  Education departments never like to rank their students, do they?  This would be abusive.

Posted by: AT 05:44 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, June 07 2021


Followers of my writing understand the four characteristics I believe should be nurtured in our children.  These are a healthy sense of self, the ability to relate to others appropriately, develop a sense of autonomy and finally to have a purpose in life.  In this Newsletter I want to discuss the subtlety of purpose especially for the kids whose history leads them to believe their life has no purpose (see Newsletter Creating Purpose - 12 February 2018)!


A healthy life is one that has a purpose, a direction.  If you examine people who you would consider successful and content you would see individuals involved in a range of endeavours.  These activities extend from working in large corporations, making million dollar deals to those who have dedicated their life to a political ideal.  Others have devoted their life to a particular sport or recreation and others who work with charities helping those less fortunate than their self.  The list is endless but there is a commonality and that is they have an intrinsic motivation that drives their behaviour.  These successful people have aligned their life’s purpose with their distinct sense of who they are. 


In the best of situations, we can work in jobs that are directly related to our intrinsic goals.  For the children coming from a disadvantaged base it is unlikely that they will have in the first instance the ability to work in an area that captures their imagination.


This is the problem; how do you get these children who think they are worthless to even attempt to plan for such a future.  This can be achieved by not only using short term goals to engage them, in the first instance and to encourage them to always strive for excellence in the tasks you set them.


One problem that must be addressed is that in the early stages of change there is a significant amount of negativity that is part of their sense of shame.  These children have a default position of failure and we are asking them to attempt something that they may well find very threatening.  This can be overcome providing them with the key pillars of any successful classroom, structure, expectations and healthy relationships – no surprises here!


A technique to help students engage with learning, I learned from a colleague and friend Randall Clinch provides a useful description of our approach to classwork.  His approach divides the motives for undertaking effort into four categories.  In the first instance Randall spoke of a negative cycle that could be initiated when undertaking a challenge.  These are the negative traps we can fall into if we do not approach work with the best of motives:

  • Excitement – This is the feeling of excitement when we choose not to attend to our work.  Instead of attending school we may decide to truant and that can be accompanied with a sense of excitement.  There is a sense of danger the first time we take such a risk.   But excitement is a short-term feeling feedback that you are doing ‘the wrong thing’ and can help motivate you not to truant.  

However, the more you truant the less excitement is experienced and the easier it is to ‘do the wrong thing’. 

  • Hardness – This is a feeling we experience when we have to do something we are made to do, something we don't want to do or something we think we can't do. This is prevalent in all classrooms where teachers insist on the students doing their work.  It can also be a problem when we start a new job.  Everyone experiences some apprehension when they are placed in an unfamiliar setting.
  • Guilt – Guilt is closely associated with shame so there is no surprise that these children can be victims of this emotion.  We feel guilt when we know the work we have done is not our best effort.  If the task we have been set is not engaging then it is tempting to just put in a minimal effort.  What our students need to know is that most jobs are boring especially at the start.  Some jobs, such as production line work will be boring and it is hard to remain enthusiastic about it.
  • Frustration – This is the final trap we can fall into if we fail to take a positive attitude into our work.  Frustration comes after we complete a task and as we look back we recognize that our actions have not met our expectations.  The task is finished and we have to submit something that will produce a sense of shame.  The redeeming factor, if there is such a thing is this is healthy shame.

The alternate to these negative outcomes from not putting in our best effort are given below. 

  • Excitement – This is the feeling that comes from the expectation of an activity that holds an element of fear. For a pleasing life we need a bit of excitement.  It is important on a personal level and explains the popularity of ‘dangerous’ carnival rides such as the roller coaster.  And it’s no surprise teenagers are particularly attracted to ‘excitement’ but of all the motivators the satisfaction excitement provides is very short lived.  The ‘excitement’ of an activity soon abates and we require either other activities or we need to take even more risks.

Excitement is no motivator for long term success in work.

  • Enjoyment – This is the ideal motivator for any vocation.  Going to work to do something you enjoy makes life easy.  It is the ideal way to earn your income.  But as I have pointed out the number of people who have the privilege of working at what they love is small and usually for those who have had an equally privileged developmental childhood.
  • Reward – This is working ‘for the money’.  There is nothing wrong for doing this as long as it is in a way that doesn’t clash with your deep sense of worth.  It may be possible to make a great deal of money selling scam products, the market place is full of such schemes.  Unless your intrinsic sense of ethics and personal qualities gives you to believe that taking advantage of other’s gullibility is part of life’s competition, working in such occupations will clash with your intrinsic drives.

However honest work will provide support for your sense of self and the resources to support your real goals.

  • Satisfaction – This is the best type of work.  This is when you work in such a way as to improve your own talents and experiences in a way that will increase the professional skills you possess.  Along with improvement of your ‘self’, there is a great deal of fulfilment in undertaking work that improves the lives of others.  This can be providing things like new roads, fixing cars, working in the service industry and making someone’s experience special because you treated them well.

The fact remains that school work is often threatening for these kids but it can be very boring for all kids.  Unless we make a concerted effort the easy path is into those outlined in the negative outcomes.  It takes a special quality to naturally have enthusiasm for the mundane.  However, this doesn’t mean you have to be downhearted about the work you have to do.  The four positive approaches can help anyone to remain actively engaged in any task.

Posted by: AT 10:55 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance

ABN 64 372 518 772


The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

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