How to bulletproof your kids for life VI


Image courtesy of JULIE ELLIOTT-ABSHIRE

What poets say

A poet, a philosopher and the famous Sherlock Holmes were driving together past a field, in which there stood a black sheep, side on.

This being the first sheep they had encountered, the poet was quick to say “All the sheep in this fine land are black!”.

The philosopher, being a shade more discerning, was quick to point out that at least one sheep in this fine land was black.

The mighty Sherlock Holmes, without missing a beat, stated, dead casual like, that at least one sheep in this fine land was black. On at least one side.

Ba boom.

Known for his keen powers of observation, he can also teach us a thing or two about attributions.

Here’s where we’ve got to so far

  1. In Bulletproof kids I, we looked at attributions, and linked them to resilience
  2. In Bulletproof kids II we looked at three sets of attributions with examples
  3. In Bulletproof kids III, we covered feedback and being involved in attributions
  4. In Bulletproof kids IV we played “I wonder” to learn generating alternatives
  5. In Bulletproof kids V we worked on choosing between alternatives by “voting”

You’ll remember we used a voting technique to recognise that alternative attributions each carry weight, it’s just that some have more weight than others and so get more votes. Sometimes though, this can be really difficult, and then we struggle with what to do next.

It’s hard because we’re irrational!

One of the hard things about trying to be rational is that we aren’t very good at it 🙂 !! Most of our decisions are emotionally flavoured (or even entirely emotional) even if we don’t think they are.

Problem is, we are really good at justifying or rationalizing our decisions afterwards. This has the effect of making us seem rational because we can come up with a gazillion reasons for why we made such and such a decision after we’ve made it.

And once we’ve made a decision, we have an investment in defending it, so we come up with “support” for our decision to “prove” that it was reasoned.

We want to get in before then.

The hard part about doing that is that we’re intimately involved with the situation as the actor, so it’s really hard to step away from that and suddenly be the director! How do you engage the rational bit of your brain when the emotional bit is running hot? When we’re talking about attributions, there’s a little trick to this that works extremely well.

Observers vs participants

There’s an old saying which says that the only person who hears both sides of an argument is the neighbor. The point is, naturally, that they are removed from the situation and can be objective. We need to be able to do this ourselves when working with attributions.

Because we can’t actually do it, we need to imagine it. For kids (and, in truth, adults) best to wrap this into a story. You’ll realise that this is just another way of wrapping skill learning into a game.

The benefits of doing this are that it removes us from the immediate situation and allows us to play the role of observer, games are a fun way to learn, and by understanding the game we more quickly understand what we have to do and so make faster gains in the skill. Additionally, remembering a game can be easier than remembering the name of a skill.

Truth sleuth – the objective detective. It’s elementary, my dear Watson

I’d wager that, without even telling you anything more about the game, you’d have a pretty good crack at figuring out what we’re going to do. There’s the power of games.

Whereas “I wonder” is about generating alternatives, “Truth Sleuth” is about helping analyze the alternatives. If voting gets you down to a few choices, “Truth Sleuth” helps by taking “us” out of the picture.

Another way of framing this is to say that we are “externalizing” the issue, which simply means that we are putting it outside ourselves. Now we’re able to view it objectively.

Truth sleuth is simple. Got some attributional choices? Now, grab your personal sleuth kit and get to work.

Note: When I was a kid, we read Sherlock Holmes, but use any character you want that’s relevant for your family. More contemporary detectives are good if they are meaningful to your kids and they can get into the role of being that detective and analyzing what they see.

The object is to be a detective, crime fighter, crime scene investigator, teen detective (etc etc) and figure out what’s happened. By doing this, we are much more brutal in our analysis of what’s caused our situation (as any decent detective would be…) and, thus, the attributions we might subsequently make.

Cracking the case

As an objective detective you want to know what happened, why, and, if relevant, who was responsible. This strikes at the very heart of attributions. Being able to play the role of detective means that we’ll evaluate evidence rationally and draw reasonable conclusions based on the evidence we have.

If we don;t have enough, then we might conclude that we need to find some more, which might mean talking to other people about what’s happened, filling in information gaps, and then making decisions.

Critically, it also means that we’ll discard attributions we might naturally make but which are patently wrong to a third party. The detective has a nose for these things after all.

On balance, kids are then able to identify the most likely attribution or combination of attributions for a given situation, and refine the skill of being able to step outside yourself and view your own situation from the perspective of a third person. It’s an absolutely beneficial skill to develop.

So here’s the take home bit

We’re lousy at decisions. We’re also dishonest with ourselves about our decisions.

Truth sleuth is a great way of helping kids take an independent view of the attributions they make by taking the role of detective on their own case.

By externalizing like this, we can be more objective, and more readily allow other views, seek more evidence, discard wrong choices and make better decisions.

The game makes it easier to remember and the learning faster, especially if the character is meaningful to us.

And when the detective cracks it? Success! And more likely to do it again.

Impressive words to drop into the morning coffee chat

Externalizing, Attributions, Hypothesis Evaluation

Tell me what you’ve seen?

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About brendonbclark

Hi, I’m Brendon, but people usually call me B. I’ve a Masters degree in psychology, postgraduate qualification in mental health, and qualifications in counselling, professional supervision and adult education. I consult, speak and blog. Join me, you can subscribe for free.
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