It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

The Window (A Need to Control Something)

My wife and I recently took two of our grandchildren on a flight to visit our daughter and two more grandkids in Idaho. It was one of those regional jets (SMALL), and we were to be cramped in there all the way from Houston to our connection in Salt Lake City.

One of the grandkids, Jake, had never flown before. Guess whom he sat with?To say he was nervous would be an understatement. But he did just fine.

He did something interesting. (Poor boy; how many kids have to fly for the first time with the added burden of sitting next to a grandparent who is also a psychologist?) After we were in the air, he would raise the little window next to him, look out, then close it. He did this over and over again.

My first thought was he was made more anxious by what he saw when the window was open, so he closed it. (I can’t imagine why he would be anxious about flying in an enclosed aluminum tube loaded with fuel, going five hundred miles per hour, six miles up.)

As I thought about it, a different reason came to me. The little window was the ONLY thing he could control. Regarding everything else, he was totally dependent. He couldn’t even get out of his seat unless the little light allowed it. So he worked that little window for the whole trip.

At first it irritated me a bit. But when I realized that it was bothering no one else on that airplane, I became fine with it.

Don’t we ALL need something we can control in times of stress and uncertainty? Whatever it is might not make a big difference in the total outcome of situations and circumstances, but it does help us tolerate an uncomfortable experience.

Dr. Viktor Frankl (Austrian psychiatrist and author of “Man’s Search for Meaning”) realized this very thing when he, a Jew, was thrust into the Nazi death camps of World War II. In the experience of daily not knowing if he would live or die, he realized he still had complete control over one thing–how he would interpret it all. From that, the whole existential movement in psychiatry grew. The attachment of meaning to live’s experiences (Dr. Frankl called it Logotherapy) clearly  makes a difference in physical and psychological survival and thrival.

We all need to feel like we can control something, even if it’s a little window headed for Salt Lake.

James Sutton, Psychologist

July 18, 2009 Posted by | adversity, Difficult Child, family, Inspirational, Parents | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The “Forever” Pause

Here’s a tip for child service professionals who find themselves faced with trying to get a difficult youngster to talk to them.


Here’s a great strategy to use when you’re engaged in an activity with a youngster that requires taking turns. I’ve used it many times with youngsters who tend to be overly reticent. I simply pause when it’s my turn, then I pose a question or make a comment or observation. I don’t complete my turn until I get a response.

The best of counseling and therapy happens in the pauses anyway, those reflective moments of insight and understanding.

I remember visiting with a young man as we played a game of pool. (When given the option to sit and talk or “do something” and talk, “do something” always wins.) He got a little more caught up in the game than in the therapy.

Rather than redirect him verbally, I used the game to my advantage. At my turn, I started to take a shot, then pulled the stick back. I paused and reflected on what we had been discussing.  With a confused and questioning look on my face (not at all difficult for me), I asked him something:


John, I just now was wondering what you might have been thinking when your stepmom said that to you. Do you think she was angry at you, or was she actually angry at your father?


Then I waited (The “Forever” Pause). The easiest way for John to keep the game going was to answer my question. Oh, there was pressure for him to respond, but it didn’t seem contrived or full of manipulation. It was more spontaneous, and it “fit” in the moment. On balance, this approach has been a very effective strategy for encouraging youngster to interact. It can be used with most any game or activity that requires players to take turns.

By the way, did you notice the “Splitting the Universe” in my question to John? (We covered that in last month’s Digest; it’s a great tool.) I gave him a menu of only two items, and went from there. Had I asked, “What do you believe she was thinking, John?” he likely would have said, “I don’t know.”


(For 59 other interventions and problem-solving approaches with young people, check out Dr. Sutton’s book, 60 Ways to Reach a Difficult and Defiant Child. Just a couple of these ideas can enhance greatly your work and success with difficult and defiant youngsters. The book is immediately downloadable in pdf format. For more no-obligation information and options for immediate download, CLICK HERE.)


James Sutton, Psychologist

The Defiance Doctor

July 7, 2009 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, Parents | , , , , , , | Leave a comment