My song today is ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’. This song was composed by Cole Porter and was first sung in the 1934 Broadway musical ‘Anything Goes’, and then in the 1936 film version. Originally sung by Ethel Merman, it has been covered by dozens of prominent performers, including Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.
This song reminds me of my training days when I was studying ‘Behaviour Modification Methods’ at Manchester University on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of each week. On Thursday and Friday, we would observe top Clinical Psychologists in a Rochdale Hospital alongside their patients. We were essentially observing various Behaviour Modification methods being practised by the Clinical Psychologists in situ. During our hospital placement each week there would be one day devoted to the observation of our mentors and the other day would be devoted to lectures and role-play practice of given situations. This was a two-year course for a Diploma in ‘Advanced Social Work Methods’.
One afternoon, the lecturing Clinical Psychologist gave us a situation to discuss in different groups. He told us that the situation had really occurred and was not a fabricated scenario and that he had been the psychologist who had dealt with it.
The lecturing Clinical Psychologist told us about a seven-year-old boy who had been a patient of his for six-months. He had been asked to assess the boy by the Educational Psychologist of the boy’s former school, from which he had been expelled for violent and disruptive behaviour. The boy would apparently display aggressive behaviour every time he did not get his own way. The seven-year-old had already attended two different schools since he first started at First School at the age of 5 years, and following repeated discipline warnings, each school had expelled him because of his violent behaviour displayed against other school pupils. At his last school, the boy also kicked a teacher in the shins after she had tried to prevent him from hitting another child in her classroom.
The 7-year-old aggressive boy had been a reluctant visitor to see the Clinical Psychologist that morning and had already thrown a tantrum after his mother insisted that he accompany her to keep their appointment at the Hospital Clinic. The boy and his mother arrived at the Clinic and took their seats in a plush waiting area. They were half an hour late for their scheduled appointment due to the boy’s tantrums at home before they set off. Another younger boy aged 5 years was also waiting to see the Clinical Psychologist. They were on time for their appointment so the older boy’s mother was told that they would now be behind the younger boy.
As the aggressive boy was being dragged into the waiting area and plonked on a seat by his frustrated mother, the younger boy was merrily rocking away on a large wooden rocking horse nearby. The 7-year-old boy saw him and decided he wanted to ride the horse also. Before his mother realised what her son was doing, the aggressive boy approached the younger boy on the rocking horse and demanded in a loud menacing voice, “Get off the horse. I want to get on, now!” The younger boy refused and appealed to his mother nearby to stop the 7-year-old boy from bullying him.
Having had his demand ignored, the aggressive older boy pulled the younger boy off the rocking horse forcefully, kicked him on the floor and mounted the horse. The younger boy started crying and the Clinical Psychologist came out of his office to assess what all the racket was about. The mother of the 5-year-old boy, whose son was in tears, related her version of events to the Clinical Psychologist as the mother to the 7-year-old was repeatedly asking her disobedient son to get off the rocking horse and return to his seat beside her. She also told her son to apologise to the young boy he had just assaulted. Her son retorted angrily that he would not, and he continued to rock on. His mother was most apologetic to the other boy, the boy’s mother, and the Clinical Psychologist nearby.
“Leave it to me,” said the Clinical Psychologist as he walked across to the aggressive boy on the rocking horse, and after pausing the movement of the rocking horse he brought it to an abrupt halt. The aggressive 7-year-old became frustrated and was just about to yell some abuse at the psychologist when he heard a whooshing ‘hush’ from the mouth of the Clinical Psychologist who was commanding quietness. The Clinical Psychologist then approached the aggressive boy and whispered quietly in his ear.
Seconds later, the boy dismounted the rocking horse, and quietly gave the five-year-old boy he had kicked a reluctant apology, “Sorry for kicking you.” The aggressive boy also apologised to the boy’s mother and went to sit down beside his own mother. Until he was called into the Clinical Psychologist’s office for his assessment interview later that morning, we were told that he was as quiet as a mouse and did not utter one word.
The lecturer had grabbed our attention, retained it throughout his tale, and he had also gained our admiration into the bargain. Naturally, his students wanted to learn this highly effective Behaviour Modification method that had proved so successful. He paused, smiled, and told us what he had whispered in the 7-year-old aggressive boy’s ear:
“Little boy, I am three times your size and I eat brats like you for breakfast. I am going to silently count to ten, and when I get to ten, you will have got off the rocking horse and apologised to the boy and his mother. If you have not apologised properly to each of them, I will drag you off the horse myself and give you the biggest kicking you have ever had. Now, do you understand?”
That day’s teaching was to emphasise that sometimes the best dish to serve is one of clear and unambiguous punishment. He also pointed out that occasionally, a ‘rewarding’ dish is best suited to bring about desired behavioural change than one of ‘punishment’. Also, we were told that a combination of properly sequenced ‘punishment and reward’ can both change the inappropriate behaviour of an individual as well as reinforce that the changed behaviour remains more permanent. We were also left in no doubt that when one tries to meet force with force in a battle of wills, the winner may appear to be the person who is prepared to exercise the most/greatest force of the two, but such a display of force will only produce a ‘temporary response of compliance’ by the initial aggressor. Unless the 7-year-old boy had been taught otherwise by the Clinical Psychologist in their later sessions, he would have been left with the clear and erroneous impression that aggressive force is the best way to get one’s way!
During later years of my life when I held many assemblies in Yorkshire schools on the subject of bullying, I remembered the lecture by the Rochdale Clinical Psychologist. I reminded the children meeting aggression with more aggression only makes matters worse. I told them that most bullies in life have often been bullied themselves by aggressive parents, and that love and understanding has a better chance of quelling the aggression of another person than giving them back more aggression than they give you.
Love and peace