Dr. Bird opened his presentation with the thought that “middle school kids are a tough group to connect with.” He told parents that it can be hard for them to remember what happened to them when they were in middle school and how difficult that period of time in your life can be, explaining that middle school is an age where children begin to think abstractly and have their own opinions, thus projecting their own insecurities onto other people—i.e. parents.
“Middle school is where we lose kids psychologically and mentally,” Dr. Bird explained. “It’s a critical time in their lives, so connecting with them is everything.”
He added that there will be plenty of battles with your children, but that some of the time parents must learn to just let things go.
“Even if you’re right, sometimes you have to let it go,” Dr. Bird said. “We can’t win every battle, because we have to put the relationship ahead of being right.”
Dr. Bird continued on to point out four qualities of well-adjusted people: impulse control, problem solving, conscience and empathy, and social understanding. He used several props to demonstrate his points, including Incredible Hulk-like fists, a funny face mask and a tiara and wand. He also referenced his brother-in-law several times throughout the presentation as an example of how not to act.
When talking about problem solving, he told parents to “put the brakes on and stop ourselves from lashing out. Miserable people believe the rest of the world is doing it to them,” he said. “Internal self control is realizing you have a choice, and no one can take away your choice to do what you want in certain circumstances.”
He then went on to explain his five rules on how to stay connected to children:
1. Practice the Behavior You Would Like to See in Others
“Avoid humiliating your children in front of their friends,” Dr. Bird said. “Take the time to meet with them one on one.” He also advised parents to avoid raising their voices, sarcasm and passive-aggressive statements, and losing your temper with their children.
“If you want to teach personal control, you need to be a living example,” Dr. Bird added. “Treat all others in the manner that you wish to be treated.”
2. Become a Guide, Not a Dictator
“The quickest way to create insanity is to mix rewards with punishments,” Dr. Bird said. He used his sister as an example, telling the audience a story about how she one day told her kids they were going on a trip to Disney World, but then threatened to take away the trip every time the kids didn’t do what they were told.
“By the end of the three months, the kids didn’t even want to go to Disney anymore!” Dr. Bird exclaimed.
Dr. Bird also said to never take away or threaten a child with a reward they have earned, citing one of his former students whose mother would rip the pictures he drew whenever she was mad at him, causing him to be scared to take home anything that he was proud of for fear of it being ripped up.
“Guide others through their mistakes,” Dr. Bird said. “Don’t oppress them.”
He also said to avoid covert rules, or rules that are dictated by “today’s mood. ”
“Consistency in rules and approaches provide the greatest sanctuary in an insane world,” he said.
3. Switch from problem focus to solution focus
“When a student misbehaves, focus on the appropriate behavior,” Dr. Bird said.
He said to avoid lists of “thou shalt not” and to use a conducive environment and positive asset search when giving feedback, along with the “sandwich” technique: saying something positive, then critical, then positive again.
4. Join the scientists, not the victimists
“Focus on group behaviors and celebrate group achievements, but don’t use mob mentality to solve your problems,” Dr. Bird said. “Don’t let the late-day meltdown or the one instance ruin the entire day—remember, 90 percent is an A-day.”
He also said to avoid battles.
“The goal of communication is to create understanding, while the goal of a battle is to win.”
5. Grow to become the person you want to be
In his closing, Dr. Bird shared the story of a boy who was always seen smiling no matter what. Day after day, Dr. Bird saw the boy smiling. Finally, he decided to ask the boy why he was always so happy.
“Because,” the boy replied, “It’s fun to be me!”
“Isn’t that such a wise young boy?” Dr. Bird asked the audience. “What a life lesson we can learn from that. People always ask, ‘Do you enjoy your life?’ Really, the question should be, ‘Is it fun to be you?’”
He also reminded parents that there is a difference between a crisis and an inconvenience.
“In every incident that happens, you need to ask yourself: ‘Is this an actual crisis or just an inconvenience?’ Most of the time, it’s just an inconvenience,” Dr. Bird said.
Dr. Bird is the author of two books, “The Jerk Whisperer” and “How to Build a Child’s Character: By Tapping into Your Own.” For more information on the speaker, visit www.docbird.com. The presentation was made possible by a new initiative at Maple Avenue called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). The program is an effort to promote and maximize academic achievement and behavioral competence in the Saratoga Springs City School District. For more information on PBIS, visit www.edline.net/pages/Maple_Avenue_MS.