But the hard truth is that often we have only ourselves to blame for ending up stranded in the middle of the desert. Let me share with you a situation that illustrates how we get into these dilemmas.Getting Lost
It was at a school site filling in for the therapist who was on her break when my student decided to throw a tantrum. Bad decision #1 was to tell her to stop and to try to bring her to her desk. I should have just paused and waited for Anny to calm down or try to help her deescalate and choose a better coping strategy, or both. Bad decision #2 was to get upset. If one is determined to manage such behaviors effectively, it is best to stay calm and in control of your own emotions. Every decision later on is made easier by remaining calm.
The student in question became louder and physical (i.e. hitting, pushing, throwing objects at people, etc.). She raised her bet. Everybody, including the teacher, stepped back leaving me alone with the problem and feeling judged by them. I should have joined them and stepped back too. Instead, I called, which in this case means “I’m going to show her who’s the boss.” Bad decision #3. I was now doing what I always advise against: Engaging in a power struggle. Yeah, not smart.And just like that, I was in “No Man’s Land.”
Fortunately, Anny gave off tell-tales that tipped the balance of my decision when she screamed she wanted the computer. On that basis, I finally found my way out. “First let’s go to your desk to finish your work and then you can play in the computer.” She complied. The magic “First…then…” Or Grandma’s Rule: First you eat your vegetables and then you can have ice-cream. I was saved by her overacting. If not for that, I honestly don’t know what I would have done because I had let myself lose control of the situation from all my bad decisions.
I got lucky to have been shown a way out of the wilderness. That’s not going to happen every time. Usually we just have to make a guess as to which way to go. It’s much, much better to avoid getting lost in the first place.The Way to No Man’s Land
If you want to get yourself into uncharted territory deep in a behavior management hand, with no idea how to find your way back to safety, I can tell you exactly how to do it. Start by getting upset and losing your cool. Proceed up Bad Position Avenue. Take a left on overreacting and trying to show you are the boss, which quickly turns into Power Struggle Road. Keep going past the flashing yellow warning lights, without pausing to consider what they’re warning you about.
When you get where you were headed, don’t stop, but instead veer off in a new direction, maybe taking Forcing Street or Reckless Boulevard. Keep going past the edge of town, until your car is bogged down by deep desert sand, with no guideposts in sight.But when you get there, don’t call me asking for directions. I don’t know how to get you out of No Man’s Land. I’m only an expert at how to get there.