This is either going to be a well-received post or I'm going to get a lot of hate mail. But, this needs to be discussed, so I'm diving in. You know I'm very blunt about how I say things. I'm not going to sugar coat this. Parents who let their child stop whatever it is they are being asked to do just because the kid decides to throw a temper tantrum or a meltdown are being manipulated by the child. The parent decides that the crying fit, the throwing the body on the ground, or trying to throw themselves off the horse, means that the child is being pushed too hard and I am being mean to their child because I won't let the kid throw themselves off the horse. Or, let the kid get out of doing what I asked simply because the kid, who was cooperating and being successful one minute, decides they aren't going to cooperate the next minute. I wish I understood what switch a child throws in their brain when they do that. I'd be a millionaire.
When this happens, the kid can exhibit a number of behaviors on the horse. They will begin by fake crying, screaming, and yelling and that may progress behavior that irritates the horse. Now, you think, how do you know that kid is fake crying? I'll tell you how. Because real crying has a palpable energy to it that tells the adult when the emotion is real. Fake crying has an energy that feels like manipulation. The fake cry kid has learned that if he/she cries, they can get out of doing whatever the adult wants.. OOOR, even better, get exactly what they want. In my experience, a kid throws a tantrum because they don't want to try something they've never done. They are uncomfortable. From my view, when a kid throws a tantrum, we are getting somewhere. We are making progress. If I can get that the parent, the volunteers, and the kid to not give in to the tantrum, I've taught the kid that they can push past the discomfort to be successful. When I get to the point of that temper tantrum, I know we are about to make a breakthrough with that kid.
But, this requires that the parent be ok with their own discomfort around watching their kid being pushed through a temper tantrum. Parents who cave to fake crying are the ones who will let the kid quit. What does that teach the kid? It reinforces the manipulative behavior. How is that helpful to the kid? This is very interesting to me. It does not register with these parents that I pushed the kid through the fake temper tantrum and got a successful outcome. The parent is so upset by the kid's outbursts that they focus on that, rather than the fact that the kid just had a breakthrough and accomplished something. They also don't see that when the kid is not allowed to quit, they go on to make even bigger accomplishments pretty fast.
I usually end up learning a lot from a fake temper tantrum. And the child's response to me changes. I learn what makes the kid tick. I begin to understand how to recognize the signs of when I need to change up what I am asking the kid to do or how I am asking the kid to do something. I teach the kid that they can do something they didn't think they could. Lack of self-confidence is oftentimes the cause of the fake temper tantrum. When that kid figures out they just did something they were afraid to try, their whole demeanor changes. They become more willing to try new activities and the tantrums decrease dramatically. A boost to self-confidence does wonders. Also, that kid LOVES me. Why? Because they feel safe. They know I have created a safe space for them. They can push the boundaries and I will not get mad. I will not give in. I will reinforce their ability to do something by themselves as much as possible. I will have confidence in them that they can do what I asked. If the parent is willing to watch and learn, they can take that example home and try it for themselves.
I get the kid for a hour once a week. The parent is 24/7/365. I understand that it isn't easy for a parent who has no boundaries for themselves to create boundaries for their kid and maintain those boundaries every second of the day. The parent who has the hardest time is the parent who is not capable of establishing boundaries in their own life. They can't do it for themselves and they won't do it with or for their children. Watching the kid respond positively to boundaries can make the parent feel bad about their own parenting skills at some level. They often get upset and pull their kids out of the program. I feel bad for those kids because they are usually making really good progress and want to be there.
The progress that a child makes with the horses always translates to progress at home if the parent is willing to learn how to maintain the lessons at home. When I get a parent who sees that the kid survived being pushed through a temper tantrum and that positive behaviors are a result, they are willing to learn how to set boundaries at home. This often has a ripple effect in how they deal with other issues in their lives. That ultimately has a healthy impact on the whole family. Is it easy to do? No. It takes a lot of patience and Practice, Practice, Practice. I love to hear how the parent was able to take what their kid learned at "horse therapy" and apply it to a situation for themselves. Now, we're getting somewhere. The kid begins to feel safe at home and disruptive behaviors begin to decrease in frequency and severity. That was the goal of putting the kid in "horse therapy" the whole time.