The author of Raising Lions, Joe Newman, answers some questions about his book and about working with children who have behavioral challenges. Raising Lions was previously reviewed here on Parenting Squad.

How can educators and parents help encourage administrators and school boards to provide such training for staff who work with challenging students?

Below are three concrete reasons that administrators and school boards should be training staff in my methods.

  • Children with behavior problems can be transformed in a fraction of the time than using conventional methods that rely primarily on the use of accommodations. So those who already receive behavior services will need them for shorter periods of time. This avoids unduly stigmatizing these students and unwarranted draining of local school budgets.
     
  • Classroom management could be done more effectively — meaning there would be less time dealing with difficult behavior and more instructional time. So overall student achievement would rise.
     
  • Proactively training kindergarten and first grade teachers to use my methods would result in a great reduction in number of children who needed behavior services to begin with. Many of the children I see would never had needed any behavior services had their kindergarten and first grade teachers been given training in my methods and support from their administrations in the first place. Instead, by the time I'm called in, behavior specialists have to be trained to reverse the patterns of behavior and enabling accommodations that have already set a precedent.

I'm available for training and consulting with administrators and schools who want to implement my methods.

What is your answer to those who feel that physical interaction with students of any kind is aversive and inappropriate?

I would ask them if they are willing to medicate a child who might not need it. The fact is, our children are paying the price for the shift in our child-rearing that has become conflict, consequence, and contact averse. Our children are more empowered than ever before so they are much more likely to challenge the boundaries, physically if necessary, that we set for them. At the same time, we expect our children to respond to talking and reasoning alone. When they don't respond to these, and more and more children aren't responding, we determine they must be neurologically disordered and in need of medication.

I say it's time to take responsibility for what we've created and stop blaming our children for being more willful and willing to challenge us. This means we must sometimes physically hold a child to let them know a boundary is serious. Ironically, the sooner we follow through, without judgment, on enforcing the boundaries we set, the less need there will be for physical intervention, the more self-control our children will develop, the more they'll respect the boundaries we set, and the less children will be unnecessarily medicated.

What resources are available to help parents and educators set up a plan for children at home and at school? Best practices in education call for setting up supports for students, such as setting up a specific routine and modifying the environment for a child in order to help them succeed, but you point out in your book that unlimited accommodations do not help students improve their behavior.

While I'm a big fan of curricular accommodations, I'm a huge critic of behavior accommodations.

In other words I think every effort should be made to provide lessons and opportunities for learning that appeal to a wide variety of different learners. I once created a game called the Super Spelling Game that required children run around the class and find teammates who had the other letters to finish their word as they competed against the other half of the class. I wanted children who were gifted socially (the very talkative children) to be able to put their skills to use in a subject that typically required them to sit still and be quiet.

On the other hand, I think it's counterproductive and a slippery slope to create behavior accommodations before we've seen how these behaviors can be changed through creating new motivators.

For instance, if a child is having difficulty sitting still while doing math, an open-minded teacher would either ignore the squirming so long as it wasn't distracting others, or allow the student to stand and work during math. But what I often see is children who are being disruptive and the "specialist" will insist that the child needs to go and run around outside because they can't sit still. Consequently, the child learns that whenever faced with something they prefer not to do they can be disruptive and won't be held accountable for it (they get to go out and play).

In what ways are your methods compatible with positive behavior supports for children?

I think many positive behavior supports are compatible with the approach I'm advocating. For instance, when praise is specific, sincere and warranted, it is an important practice to use with our children. I believe in creating as many natural, positive motivators as possible for children and I often work with teachers and parents to create lessons and activities that will allow children to discover their unique gifts. But I think it's a mistake to create rewards for things that by their nature are intrinsically rewarding. This create materialistic children who only what to do things because you'll give them something.

Having said that, I believe that the daily work of life and school are interesting and rewarding activities in and of themselves. I try to include children in the joys of cooking, cleaning, shopping, chores, building and repairs around the home. It drives me crazy when I see children at a picnic or BBQ whining, and sometimes yelling, at their parents "I'm bored!" as if it's their parents responsibility to constantly entertain them. Unfortunately, many of these parents then drop whatever they're doing and get busy trying to create something amusing for their children. Children need to learn how to entertain themselves.

My stepdaughter made the mistake of telling her grandmother "I'm bored!" and was promptly given a bucket of soapy water and a scrub brush and directed to a floor that needed cleaning.