When my son Sawyer was in first grade, his habit of incessant pretending, and of exploding when anyone asked him to stop pretending, had become so problematic that he was receiving six to seven timeouts a day in school. As the situation at school worsened, my wife and I began a practice at home called “joining.” The idea is simple: Instead of telling Sawyer to stop pretending and join us, we started pretending and joined him. Within two days we received an email from his special education teacher declaring, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it!” After seven days he was down to one time out a week. This is a very dramatic story, but what is most dramatic is what we didn’t do. We didn’t give him drugs, or change his diet, or give him vitamins. All we did was join him in whatever he was doing, no matter how unusual.
So what happened? Why would Sawyer’s behavior at school change so dramatically when school remained exactly the same? He was still being asked to stop pretending and do class work. Why would his parents pretending with him at home change his behavior in the classroom?
What changed in Sawyer was the only thing that ever changes in anyone: his perception. When we pretended with him, for the first time in his life this thing that he did nearly all day long wasn’t wrong. For the first time in his life, he was a leader. Somehow, this changed his perception of what it meant to be asked to stop pretending, even at school.
If this experience was at all life changing for Sawyer, I believe it was doubly so for me. It would not be possible from that point forward to perceive another human being as wrong. I would try, of course, but always there was the memory Sawyer, whose behavior could hardly have looked more wrong. I began then to understand the words, “A miracle is a shift in perception.” Life seems miraculous when things appear from nowhere. So it is with perception. One moment your child and you and all the wretched world are broken, and the very next moment, as if a puff of smoke has cleared, the world is whole again.
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.