How many times have we wanted to tell someone who’s doing something that we feel is wrong or bad for them to “just STOP IT!”? Of course if we did, they typically would look at us like we’re crazy and think to themselves “why should I listen to you?” or “easier said than done.”
One of my all-time favorite examples of this is from the old Bob Newhart Show — the episode in which Bob thought he had perfected the five-minute therapy session. (Check it out here and get ready to laugh, or search “Bob Newhart-Stop It” on Google or YouTube.)
If only it were that easy! The things our children do that are wrong (or potentially harmful to them) may be outside of their understanding, or they may simply wish to be defiant and say they just “don’t care.” And often for us adults, we know what we’re doing is wrong or harmful, but for many reasons we’re just not able to Stop It!
If we want to help someone else change a behavior — whether it be a child, an adolescent (these are the most challenging if you didn’t already notice) or an adult — we first have to understand what function the behavior serves and why it is occurring. Sticking with 1970s and 80s TV theme, it’s time to be Columbo!
Once we have more insight into what drives or maintains the behavior, we may have more success at helping someone change it. We may have to help them find another way, help them find a replacement, or help them learn self-control. While the “Stop It” approach may be a good business model for your local therapist, it usually doesn’t work well for the rest of us.