Rethinking the Stubborn Child (and Big Person too)

Golden Painting

I didn't have to coerce my Eldest into looking at this painting (above), or making observations about it. She freely made meaning and shared. She was happy when I took a picture and gave me advice on how best to capture the image.

That was Saturday.

Enter Monday, and the tackling of an assignment given by her teacher (from the 2-day enrichment program she attends weekly). Suddenly, my Eldest has morphed into a "stubborn child," who's giving me 10 reasons why this is a dumb assignment she shouldn't have to do.

Or, maybe something else is happening.

Reading Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, I have several theories about the source of this "stubbornness."

First, let's consider the parameters of an "optimal experience" (as discussed in Flow):

"... a sense that one's skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand, in a goal-directed, rule-bound action system that provides clear clues to how well one is performing. Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems. Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted." (p. 71)

Based on this definition, I might redefine what's going on in my daughter. Rather than seeing it as rebelliousness, laziness, or stubbornness (the common evaluations from authority figures in such a situation), I might instead consider that the assignment is (at least from her perspective):

1. too hard (her skills aren't nearly complex enough yet)
2. too easy (her skills are much more complex than needed)
3. lacking in clear goals
4. lacking in clear rules for how to approach it
5. lacking a built-in feedback system for knowing when "success" has been reached

With this alternate view in mind, I sat down with my daughter and did a little digging. I searched to understand why she was feeling angry. I focused my questions around the five possibilities above.

What I discovered was that, in a sense, all of these variables were at play. It took us about a half an hour to hash things out, and we finally landed on a solution that now has her upstairs in a "flow state."

Are you feeling "stubborn, lazy, or rebellious" (or is your child, or employee)? Maybe some very valid issues are blocking the flow.

Golden Building painting, photo by L.L. Barkat.

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Blogger Kathleen said...

This gave me willies. I rarely experienced flow when I was younger, because of those 5 things. Investing in your child by investigating / rethinking....
Fortunate child. Well done.

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I love the idea of Flow - and paid close attention when I was experiencing it (I WANT MORE MORE MORE!)but it's true that there is the opposite of flow - and to identify and break down what causes that resistance is key to overcoming it and getting to the other side.

Very worthwhile information here.
Not just for kids, but for adults too!

6:02 PM  

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