Boots on the table, chocolate on the walls

„The primary reason to write an essay is so that the writer can formulate and organize an informed, coherent and sophisticated set of ideas about something important.” – Jordan B. Peterson

I don’t have children myself, but two of my close friends have two girls, one is six, one is eight. I usually get along with children just fine, but in the past year the younger one challenged me repeatedly, worried me, left me speechless. Usually I’m quick to withdraw myself from conflict. Nonviolent Communication or highway. But when you agreed to babysit for two hours there’s no way to exit. So that was the last straw, three weeks ago. Her kind of attacks and disobedience were completely new to me. I might even say: Shocking.

My first step to find back to my own psychological high ground was to talk to a friend who has a degree in Social Sciences and works as a counsellor in a school. This helped. Furthermore I decided to dig up some supporting background knowledge. I knew that we have that somewhere in the Internet, I just never looked it up before. As I found out, we have that since 1980, since the publication of Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.

After an hour of googling and watching random videos on Youtube, testimonials from wide-eyed parents (or parents with tired faces and black rings under their eyes), I finally found some great clues in a mini-debate between Ross W. Greene and Jordan B. Peterson, the title was „Oppositional Defiant Disorder”.

Jordan B. Peterson used the following as his opening statement: „I think it’s a form of dominance display. Human beings are social animals and they’re interested in climbing up dominance hierarchies. That is partly why children test and kids with Oppositional Defiant Disorder are more dominant and more aggressive and often more emotional and so they show increased rates of defiant behaviour. They are testing limits more constantly and they tend also to be more explosive in their aim so it’s harder for them to control it.”

In contrast Ross W. Greene had a very different view and opened like this: „I don’t view it as an issue of dominance at all. I find that these kids are lacking skills in some very crucial domains such as flexibility, adaptability, frustration tolerance, problem-solving. So it’s a very different point of view. Challenging behaviour is the byproduct of lacking in crucial cognitive skills, not an attempt to be dominant.”

I found Ross W. Greene’s explanation highly humane, and a good explanation. And I found Jordan B. Peterson’s view made sense when regarded as the symptom, not a byproduct. A symptom of lacking in crucial cognitive skills and the inability to handle the stress and pressure that comes with it.

For my friends’ child, the six year old girl, I’ve seen her lacking in cognitive and motor skills even much earlier: when she was two years old she already presented with poor skills in balance, walking, proprioception, object handling and manipulation, and with difficulties to understand simple requests. I’ve never seen a child fall and cry that often. Run at speeds much too high for her abilities and then twist her ankle or stumble and fall despite the floor being perfectly flat. And only after that came delays in language development, and only after that lack in the skills Ross W. Greene mentioned, and the boxes she would tick in an ODD assessment. To me her challenges in early childhood were obvious, but she always looked very healthy and strong, and one could easily overlook and discard all that as „All children test limits”, and „All children learn at their own speed”, and „Development milestones are not in a fixed order.” The final wake up call was when her parents were called to a teacher-parents conversation at her school last week. Again, I guess. But this time they started to make plans to support her Special Education Needs. From what I’ve seen already, I think things are going to get better now. I’m very happy to see that.

To me the whole story is helpful for my own learning and understanding the world. Also, it helps me to locate my own professional expertise in the greater scheme of things. Also, I added six books to my reading list: three from Ross W. Greene, and three from Jordan B. Peterson.  Not that I have time to read them all, but putting items on my reading list is very reassuring, emotionally satisfying. Oh, and I found one more gem: Jordan B. Peterson’s Essay Writing Guide. 24 pages. Free Download. Smart.