Bob Ditter is a well-respected child therapist and one of the United States’ most highly regarded consultants to camps regarding child development. Bob has been a friend and resource to the Coleman family for two decades. Ask anyone in the world of camp to name the top experts in the field and chances are good you will hear Bob’s name. He is a regular presenter at national and regional camp conferences and writes “In the Trenches,” one of the most widely read features in Camping Magazine. Over the years he has conducted staff training at Coleman Country and has developed techniques for our exclusive use.
One of Bob’s signature methods of motivating positive behavior in children is a technique called “Drop the Rope.” In addition to being at camp during orientation, Bob visits during the summer and is “on call” for our senior staff as a sounding board and guide. His expert knowledge regarding children, and his firsthand experience at camp, serve as solid support for the values we strive to nurture and uphold.
by Bob Ditter
A common mistake people make with children is getting into a power struggle with them. In his insightful book, It’s Not Fair! (Farrar, Straus & Girous, 1995), Anthony Wolf describes how children have a grown up, coping, reasonable side and a tantrum-throwing, regressed, “baby-self” which just loves to snare or hook adults into a power struggle. When children regress, it feeds their sense of power to get an adult overreacting and drawn into a battle. Better, says Wolf, to switch into our “business-like, firm, but detached” parenting or counseling mode and not escalate.
To make this point more visually, I often use a piece of rope or line in a simple demonstration. I might role-play cleaning up at camp. When the “child” is asked to help clean up, he might refuse, saying something provocative that a child might say, like, “My parents don’t pay for me to clean up!” Then I throw the rope. Most adults make the mistake of unconsciously picking up the rope – meaning they begin to escalate with the child, growing angrier, more threatened and therefore more threatening, all to little avail. (The child, meanwhile, is getting a secret rush out of being able to command all of this power.) Visualizing the rope helps us grownups to remember to “drop the rope!”
The only way I know of to win a “tug-of-war” with a child who is angling for a battle is to drop the rope.