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COMBINING THEORY AND PRACTICE

We do not know if being a parent becomes easier or it is getting harder every single day. One of the biggest problems I observe when working with parents and children is that theory and practice do not always fit well. The uniqueness of every child, every parent, every family and every developmental process directly eliminates uniform information. On the other hand, “Our child is like this, we have nothing to do!” is not the best thing to say and pass the problems.

To share some of the most terrifying questions I hear from parents when I was working in kindergartens in Turkey, I heard such things:

– If I get my child’s name tattooed, will his self-confidence grow further?

– … (Inner voice: Oh, that’s a great idea! While all the children are perished and devastated because they do not have their names tattooed, yours will take his self-confidence from this and fly ahead to sky!)

– I’m in traffic, 10 minutes late. Would my child suffer from a trauma?

– … (Inner voice: Extremely! Indeed, life support unit will be required! Her respiration will also stop in a few seconds. We’re going to the nearest hospital, you be there right away!)

– My son doesn’t want to come to school in the morning. Would you mind if you don’t put any rules on ours?

– … (Inner voice: Wow! How could this not come to our minds? For a moment, we thought we were an educational institution to teach healthy boundaries and so forth…)

Ididn’t give these answers to these questions, of course! Somewhere there was another concern making them ask those:

“Am I a good enough parent?”

Whenever we focused on this main issue, the blocks were being removed. When we talked about the anxiety, fear, and appropriateness of their action, the family became more clearly able to see the truth of the work.

Parents also need to be heard, understood, cared for, to know that they are sufficient, to recognize confusions and to be informed in a constructive way. It is not that they are not able to distinguish between healthy boundaries and rules from compelling, cruel restrictions! They just need to know it…

This is a world where some parents still find it legitimate to beat their children to death to teach appropriate behavior, and where some parents almost beat themselves with the overwhelming anxiety of possibly causing a harm to their kids. These two extremes exist in this country, in this city, in this neighborhood, on both ends of the same street, even in the same family. So, everyone’s concern is not the same, everyone’s fear is not the same. But everyone is alike in terms of having a concern.

So, what are we gonna do? Isn’t there a formula that we can handle every issue? Isn’t there a general perspective where we can relate to every detail? And can’t there be an explanation that makes this both globally and locally in the world? On top of that, regardless of time, space, age, gender, and taking into account the interpersonal difference, isn’t there an approach that can still accept that everyone is unique?

Sure. There really is. Sustainable Good Parenting approach leans its back to one of such theories. Because as Kurt Lewin, a social psychologist who had an important place in the history of psychology, said in 1945,

There is nothing more practical than a good theory!

Three Basic Psychological Needs and Autonomous Motivation

During my training in psychology, I have seen dozens and even hundreds of theories to explain human behavior. Some explained a very specific situation. And some were meta-theories that could make more general explanations. Not because one is better than the other; this is because we sometimes need more generalizable information to explain and address things in human life. Edward Deci is a world-renowned psychologist who has been researching human motivation, development and well-being since the 1970s. In trying to explain human behavior, he sees that classical approaches are stuck somewhere. When a behavior is rewarded or punished, the child is supposed to do what the authority thinks is learned. And, when the authority turns around saying “Oh, it’s worked, he’s learned not to do it anymore”, the kids are doing the banned behaviorsecretly, or not doing the promoted behavior at all.

The child looks sleepy, butrefuses to go to bed and fall asleep. The child knows he will fail in class, butdoesn’t study harder, for example. Or, for example, the child does whatever it takesto be called “a very good kid”: either for the fear of punishment, or to achieve that award that was promised. But then again, similar or other mental health problems appear. Types of behavioral disorders, issues of externalizing or internalizing, anxious or fearful problems, feelings of worthlessness, learned helplessness, depression and much more … We could foresee that those“bad kids” can have such problems but what happens to those “good kids” that they still cannot live out a fulfilling life?

I mean, contrary to popular belief, sometimes being able to do is not enough. And sometimes doing something is not enough to be psychologically well… Deci, then throws the idea:

Not with a carrot or a stick! Motivation is not measured by quantity, but by quality. Not all motivations are equal. It is either a controlled motivation or autonomous. If it is a controlled one, the behavior change will not persist. However, if it comes from within, an autonomous socialization process can be sustained.

Later, his student, clinical psychologist Richard Ryan joined to social psychologist Edward Deci. They call it Self-Determination Theory, exploring what supports and hinders autonomous motivation. In every experiment and research, they find that human autonomy is an existential and organismic tendency and is shaped by emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Not just with children and parents; the same findings are obtained from many populations. With teachers and students; coaches and athletes; therapists and clients; managers and employees; with doctors and patients; spouses, friends, friends, supporters, groups, associations, nations, countries are tested in every aspect of the theory. In the meantime, they ask the following question:

But how can autonomy be sustained, and one can be autonomously motivated?

As a plant, to grow and develop, needs sun, water and soil; human beings also has basic psychological needs to grow further. These three needs are called autonomy, competence and relatedness. For the last 40 years, Deci and Ryan have revealed hundreds of studies that we all need these three ingredients. They trained dozens, hundreds of students and continue to investigate whether these needs and autonomous motivation are valid in many parts of the world. Edward Deci continues to write as emeritus professor at the University of Rochester. Richard Ryan, after retiring from the University of Rochester, is still pursuing self-determination research at the Australian Catholic University and is working to develop theory-based interventions across of the world. I met them through articles I read during my masters and doctorate studies. I approached them to work together, admiring the practices of being able to look holistically, to link phenomens and situations, and to explain the dynamic mechanism between causes and consequences through basic psychological needs for all areas of human life. They accepted; I went to Rochester, with them I learnt what is working and not working in human life. In Rochester, we are still investigating the explanations that this theory brings to different situations in different living spaces. Still being culturally sensitive, this theory provides universal explanations to human life across many countries, including Turkey.The scientific research of Self-determinationTheory is still going on in Turkey by many scholars.Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, nosource is available for those outside the academia to read. Although the theory is not only concerned with child development, as far as we know, the philosophy of Sustainable Good Parenting was the first Turkish example to present these scientific findings and perspectives for community reach, through parenting for now.

From a scientific point of view, Self-Management Theory is a meta-theory which has social, developmental and clinical implications and is used in many fields. Accordingly, there are three basic psychological needs that can be called the nutrients of effective human functioning and these are the prerequisites for the development of people’s personality and cognitive structures with well-being. Let me sum it up. The need for autonomy includes perceptions that a person’s behavior is self-aligning and spontaneous (ie, not controlled by an external agent). The need for relatednessexpresses the feelings of being loved and belongingness with meaningful others reciprocally. The need for competence tells about the experiences of producing the desired effects effectively and reaching the results.

Going back to the analogy above; whatthe sun, fertile soil and good water arefor a plant, autonomy, relatedness and competence are sovaluable for the individual. Thus, their psychological energies come to replenishment, and they have a reason for self-motivated behavior. According to theory, autonomy is considered both as a need, as a desired motivation quality, and as a personality trait that directs the individual. Thus, autonomy is the desire to initiate and regulate one’s experiences and behaviors on their own, and to find their behavior compatible with an integrated self-perception and coherent values. It is the freedom and ability to make all internal and external call for actions to become part of yourself both functionally and self-selectively. Yet, it is not that kind of a freedom to do whatever one wants to do.

That is to say, autonomy is not independence or separation, but a volition and willingness. Because many behaviors can be reluctantly exhibited. Therefore, autonomy is still a need in both collectivist and individualist cultures. The idea that the West does not need a relationship and that the East does not need freedom is misleading, in this respect. Of course, there are many differences between cultures; however, there are many differences within the cultures themselves. Moreover, that any two cultures differ on average, in regard to the importance of relationships or in the promotion of autonomy they value, it does not change the fact that meaningful and mutual relations with free will are good for both cultures. It is important that the child participate in family rituals because the child feels belonging, safe and competent. However, what these rituals are may vary from family to family or from culture to culture.

However, the needs that are not really met will not disappear. They are substituted elsewhere. For example, children who are very suppressed about food or very restricted in terms of what they eat may try to provide the autonomy they lose here, in another way in somewhere else. This may even be an obsession that sometimes replaces the complete locus of control. Or, when the need for protection, care, caring and reciprocal bonding cannot be met in a healthy way, the child may develop risky friendships that can satisfy this belonging, especially during adolescence. And s/he might substitute his needs by being involved in dangerous gangs. Children who feel that they cannot achieve anything in real life and that they are incompetent no matter what they do, can be buried in video games as the area they find most capable. So they can at least try to validate their competence through another channel. As you can see, the need is not lost; however, if they are not met properly and do not receive appropriate support, they may turn into destructive actions instead of constructive ways. Having said this, do not go to the other end of fear; because the other end is not healthy too. For example, just because your child is curious to play the violin, the next day it doesn’t require you to stack up the assorted violins in front of him/her and put the best teachers in line and take lessons. Because nowthis is another control mechanism that dulls intrinsic motivation. His/her willingness to do it on his own remained in his crop. Unless s/he becomes the virtuoso of the violin, s/he may be afraid to disappoint you greatly and may not even want to try that violin. The enthusiasm of discovery has been replaced by the guiltiness of potential failure due to control.

Sustainable Good Parenting aims to present such universal and local examples, adapting it to the Self-management Theory.

Ozge Kantas Yorulmazlar
Social Psychologist, Ph.D. | Psychodramatist | Motivation researcher | Organizational & individual wellbeing supporter
Rochester, New York

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