You can learn more from kids about human nature than you’ll ever learn from a legal battle or a mediator. I’m going to show you how that works by discussing a concept called “ignore, then scream.”
My eldest child had an issue when our son came home from the hospital. The first thing she wanted to do was ignore his presence. Eventually she had to realize our son was a part of the family, and he wasn’t going to go away anytime soon. This put a dilemma in her head. She had to figure out a way to stop his vocalizations when he started talking, so she started screaming whenever our son decided to “find his voice.”
It was very clear what our daughter had in mind, on reflection. She didn’t have the means to articulate how she felt about our son speaking so she took the tack of screaming to make him be quiet. Our son decided to use that and start getting louder, ramping up every single time he wanted to antagonize her. It was a destructive cycle, and we needed to break it.
One attempt was first pointing out the behavior and telling our daughter what she was doing. “He’s just talking. You can say “Hi Baby.” That wasn’t exactly effective. I didn’t really understand why until something from the head Professional Opportunist, James Brown, had taught me during our first conversation. Our meeting today reinforced this.
First, my daughter was not in a position to really understand why she thought my son “talking” was a bad thing, nor did she have a means of articulating this. Our kids are growing continually and developing their language centers. They don’t bust out of the gate speaking English in full. This means when kids speak, the largest method of their communication comes from the non-verbal world. Non-verbal communication requires not just a projection of that communication “message.” You also have to look at how the child reacts, and watch for your response to their actions.
The best example I can give you here is to discuss how you handle the screaming. Eventually the behavior became less about the screams and more about learning why we reacted in a negative fashion to the screams. It was an attention seeking behavior, and it had to be treated as such if one would ever see this behavior resolved. How you resolve that behavior would largely determine how the kids would view interactions from there.
If you treat the behavior as something that’s negative, you run the risk of getting negative attention from the child and watching your child develop a pattern of negative attention seeking behavior. Simply yelling at the child or giving them a spanking won’t fix it. The best method we found for dealing with the screaming was to trivialize it. Make the behavior inconsequential and silly, and then the child will eventually shape that behavior pattern into the better realm of “This is a silly behavior that doesn’t get me what I want. It’s probably better if I modify this to get the desired result.” Consequentially, you have to take the child and reward the good behaviors with abject praise. That was how we conquered the “ignore, then scream.”
How does this apply to family law? Simple. When divorce litigants get started in the process, they apply the “ignore, then scream” approach to litigation. They don’t want to think about their respective conflict, or the problems that conflict brings. They want to make sure they get their voice heard the most. At the most basic stage, when they have an inkling their voice may be silenced in a conflict, the first response will be a “scream.” They will respond, and the response will be loud and harsh. That isn’t going to benefit anyone who doesn’t recognize the response, so here are a few tips for the conflict resolution professional to help them get to a place where they can “squelch the scream.”
Recognize the “ignore, then scream.”
You’re going to see this as soon as you apply the thought pattern to family law. When you recognize it the best course of action is to say to yourself “I see this for what it is, I realize it’s an “ignore then scream” and I’m going to make a positive approach to dealing with this because I don’t want bad behavior from one of my clients who is attempting to negatively seek attention from me.” That approach will give you the ability to proceed forward from a place of confidence.
Trivialize the behavior with a certain level of caution.
You don’t want your clients thinking you believe their approach to be silly, no matter how much you may see it to be that. However, there’s ways to direct the conversation elsewhere so you can shape the behaviors in a method advantageous to you. Try Jerry Interventions, or another similar pattern interrupt when you see the negative behaviors occur. That will allow you to make the behavior seem “silly” without actually telling someone “You shouldn’t do that. It’s kind of silly.” Better to keep the business than reject it.
Add in a laugh.
Spot a point where you can inject a little humor into the communication. Usually people who are going through divorces or child custody battles are so focused on the “Ignore then scream” approach they can’t take a couple minutes to just focus on something positive. If you give someone a positive focus to approach the scenario with “relaxed confidence,” you’ve taken hold of the dialogue and you’ve gotten a positive focus for your clients without ever revealing your hand.
There’s three tips to dealing with the “ignore, then scream” approach for your family law client. All learned from child behavior.