Three-Fold Plan for Understanding Children’s Behaviour (Part 1): Working with the Will

Article Written by and Copyright to Jennifer McCormack, 2007, 2010.

This is the first part of a series of three posts about a three-fold model for understanding and working with your child’s behaviour at home- I wrote it some time ago when my eldest child was still a toddler .. he is six years old now but in re-reading this article I find it still relevant. It is far too long to read all at once in a blog so I’ve broken it into three pieces: the Will, The Feeling, The Thinking. The first part of this series focuses on working with the child’s physical impulses and willingness to participate – Jennifer

In one of my moments of parental desperation, I brought out my Goddess oracle cards and asked “What is the best approach to work positively with my child’s behaviour?” I pondered this question as I shuffled the pack, and as each card came forth I couldn’t help but laugh at myself: there is nothing like the oracle cards to tell you stuff you already know, but just needed reminding about. The message couldn’t be clearer: be fair, be firm, be creative. This was great – it was affirming, but the problem was that I felt that I was doing this already. I wanted a magic answer! So I stuck the cards up in my kitchen where I could see them, and thought about them for a few days. The cards, as they are drawn from the pack, represent the past, the present and the future, and it reminded me of the three-fold nature that is worked with so closely in schools that work with the ideas of Anthroposophy*. I realised that of course I could adapt this to use this in my home. It isn’t going to work so well that I can sort out all my child’s issues. Children need to go through challenges: that’s part of growing up. It is also part of learning how to be a parent. I can, however, use this to understand my children better, to help make those challenges smoother, and to meet them with preparation and grace.

What is the three-fold?

The ‘three-fold’ sounds quite mystical at first, as it refers to the relationship between the physical, the soul and the spirit. We could also look at this as our body, emotions and mind; or, as you may have heard often in relation to Anthroposophy – the ‘willing’, ‘feeling’ and ‘thinking’. When contemplating the three-fold nature of things we can delve quite deeply into the meaning behind things, however it also has some very practical applications and ways of helping understand our relationships in the world. On reflection I realised that most of my days at home with my child naturally tend to fall into this pattern. We have dynamic, busy mornings getting things organised (thinking); reflective, creative times of play in the middle of the day (feeling) and active, practical afternoons (willing). This is part of our rhythmic daily life. Let’s now look at this three-foldness in terms of behaviour.

The Will – Pre-emptive strategies

The Will force is more than our physical actions: it is also the intention and purpose behind our physical actions. When we look at children’s will force, we are looking to see children who are able to follow through on instructions, show initiative, complete jobs that have been started, help others when required and who are also able to maintain some control over impulsive behaviour. Generally speaking, this isn’t too much to ask of the primary school child, but for young children … well that is a different story! Young children need adults to assist them by showing them what to do, by planning ahead to avoid certain situations, and by understanding each child’s ability’s and needs. Working with children’s will forces requires preparation and in terms of managing children’s behaviour, understanding of and respect for children’s will forces is evident in what we do BEFORE any kind behaviour occurs (appropriate or otherwise).

The Will is all about the physical. It is all the hard work we put into our parenting to help support our children. Our children know nothing about how much work this is until they become parents themselves! The thing about the Pre-Emptive stage of this three-fold plan is that it is on-going. We just can’t set up a nice room, make up some nice rules, and tell our children to be nice, and then expect it to all stay together day after day. This is stuff we have to work at maintaining all the time, even when other things are going on. It is about being consistent, and the best way to do that is to keep things simple. Don’t make up a heap for rules for your children to remember. The amount of rules you have can grow with your child’s age. Keep it simple.

More than rules, the Pre-Emptive strategies you put in place for your home must include research into your child’s development. A good understanding of appropriate expectations and skills for each age level contribute to healthy expectations for behaviour that don’t over stretch your children. Read parenting books, talk to other parents, attend parenting classes. Always strive to update your information because as your children grow older they move through a new phase, requiring a new understanding, and new approaches to behaviour! It doesn’t get easier as they grow older: just different!

Making a Plan:

How can you plan to avoid inappropriate behaviour and encourage your child to learn positive, caring and socially acceptable behaviour?

–          Organisation of the day and week: a consistent, flowing rhythm gives predictability for children, allowing them to feel secure in knowing what comes next.

–          Set boundaries: very clear and consistent age-appropriate expectations of conduct and consequences that follow on. They must be fair to the whole family.

–          Model appropriate conduct, language, movements, moods, problem solving, social skills, technical skills (self-help, cleaning, craft, etc). Show your children what you would like them to do by doing it yourself, daily.

–          Bring beauty into your home environment: think about home organisation, a clear place for everything and a clear use for everything. De-clutter. Clear out your child’s room so that it remains a tranquil, peaceful space. Involve your child (from a young age) in home duties such as cleaning, pack-up and organisation tasks. These are a given and should not require payment or reward!

–          Memorise strategies: have songs, stories and games up your sleeve for certain times, for example: stories to tell when travelling in the car, and songs to carry children through to bath and bedtime.

–          Put aside special time to spend with each other. Use verbal storytelling, games and reading to deepen your relationship. Tell them stories about your own childhood.

–          Maintain healthy diets, plenty of exercise and early bedtimes with your family. Sleep often makes the difference between a happy child (and parent!) and a nightmare. Buy food that is ‘health-full’, and don’t buy the stuff you don’t want them to eat. Practice healthy body images by example. Look after yourself, and love yourself, as well as your family!

–          Minimise television and media exposure. Make firm decisions about what children can watch, and when the family watches television. Stick to it. It is possible to live without it.

–          Understand your child – learn about what point they can get to before they ‘lose it’. Know what makes them over-stimulated or unwell. Know their likes and dislikes. Learn about their temperament and their constitution. Read about expectations of your child’s age level and how to work with them in an imaginative way. Don’t be afraid to go home early from events if your child is showing signs of not coping. Be firm about nap times, and plan your day around your family needs.

* Anthroposophy literally translates to “the wisdom of humankind” and is a philosophy pioneered by Dr Rudolf Steiner. Anthroposophy is a spiritual science: the study, understanding and application of the full human developmental spectrum in relation to the world and cosmos. It is very interesting!


2 thoughts on “Three-Fold Plan for Understanding Children’s Behaviour (Part 1): Working with the Will

  1. Hi good and interesting post.. looking forward to see the remaining parts… Can you list the parenting magazines that you refer to in general. thanks!

    • Hello Kausar,
      yes, it is on its way! Motherhood and the daily challenges of being with young children has prevented me from continuing the writing. Sometime soon though – keep checking in!

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