During my previous job as a conductor, one of my duties was to help to train the new summer camp staff (we were lucky to have a lot of returning as well as regular staff members which made things a lot easier). Usually we only had 1 to 2 days training allocated for that. During which we were trying to cover a whole lot of topics: safety of clients, centres policies, basic facilitation, awareness of movements, expectation of conductive assistants and conductors, daily routines, details of children, set-up, being motivating and more.
One point of the training was how to fast track building a relationship with the child. This is a pretty hard skill to learn but makes all the difference in a CE summer camp setting, which relies on the good help of home trained CE assistance.
We discussed that having the right kind of expectations on the kids is important to get the kids to work for them. We told them that looking at their current and former aims as well as watching the conductor and senior assistants would give them a pretty good idea on what to expect of the child. We told them that its important to keep the children safe and that we would show them how to do that without over-helping them. We told them to have fun with them especially in the in-between times of the program. We told them how important realistic feedback is to those children and their self-awareness. We also told them that those kids are great kids, but that they get a lot of praise for things they have little control over like their smile, their cuteness, their eyes and their pure existence. And they had to be really careful with that, as we did not want them to cuddle the children all day long. It was their job to teach the child, to be fair and realistic with their feedback. We wanted them to look deeper to see the child’s personality in all its facets and talk with them and to them age-appropriately. We tried to teach them about Hari's intelligent love.
One of my favourite quotes about intelligent love is the one by Chas McGuigan : “You think you are giving a child love by cuddling it all the time, but are you creating more dependence? If you just push it away a bit, encourage it, teach it to do things, you are loving it with a capital L.'”
That’s why I disagree with the statement on feedback of one of my fellow conductors. (I disagreed with some more points in her blog, which I would like to discuss some other time):
Personally I like to give positive feedback to the kids all the time, even if they couldn’t do their best. To give an example, when a child cannot perform a task perfectly, I try to encourage him by saying next time; if you try to do your best a bit more, it will work. And I also tell him he did another task well.
What she says in her blogs comes from a good place and it made me think about it all day, which is definitely a positive thing. But it seems to be very controversial to what I tried and still trying to teach my conductive assistance and parents alike over the years.
I too, would rather give positive feedback to my kids and adult client all the time, but this is not always possible or even desirable. Being positive is great but feedback is all about reflecting reality. Do not get me wrong, I do always look for something positive to point - how small that might be. But that is just it, the task don’t have to be carried out perfectly, however they needs to show that they are intentional trying to accomplish the task at hand.
Most of the time my children and adult clients do try their best, in fact they try so hard that they forget to breath and/or they trigger unwanted movements (e.g. spasticity, tremors, over movements) and more. Telling them to just try a bit harder next time and it will work is not just unhelpful but leads to a continuing the circle of failure. If we let this happen, we are failing as teachers, because we simply don’t teach. A better way is to acknowledge that they are trying hard but although give suggestions how to change what they are doing e.g. breath, relax, fix other body parts etc. . We have been taught that letting our clients fail is not an option, that if we plan for something and we ask our clients to do it, we better make sure that it is completed successful, which by the way does not mean it has to be completed perfectly.
If you are not realistic, how can you teach appropriate behavioral responses? Some children and adults with movement disorders have behavior problems partly due to inappropriate feedback in their upbringing and daily life. You have to understand that this inappropriate feedback is because they love them and want to protect them from failing.
One of the moms I worked with told me the other week that she used to praise her 17-year-old daughter for anything she does, even if she didn’t really do what she was asked to do.
That meant she had a hard time following instructions correctly as well as showing some inappropriate behavior as everything she did was “right”. She said she changed this when she saw me working with her daughter. Every time she didn’t get I would tell her nice try, but try again until she got it and then gave her lots of praise. Sometimes I gave her some hand over hand help if she didn’t get it after a couple of tries (still making her initiate it), so I would not frustrate her. But she still had to be active during the process and initiate the right movement. This way she understood what was expected of her and was even more excited when she finished it. We also worked on reinforcing good behavior when she waited for her turn, used her voice instead of pushing people to get attention. My client is very different now, she learned a lot of different skills during a very short span of time and mostly has to do that the feedback has become more appropriate. Appropriate feedback has become a vital teaching tool to boost my clients learning and is part of her conductive upbringing at home.
The children and adults I worked with, always appreciated receiving realistic feedback. This way they know they can trust you, no matter what happens. This trust is the magic ingredient that builds the interpersonal relationship between the conductor (conductive assistant) and the client. The client can trust the feedback of the conductor because they know its real and not blinded by kindness. This is how we can expect our clients to try new and sometimes rather scary tasks because they can trust us. It’s a successful way of short-cutting building a good working relationship with my clients as well as their families.
Chas McGuigan note on intelligent love: