Who’s in control?

Yesterday at Sparks Roundtable, the kids and I talked about control. I told them this story:

Lori and I were on a day hike during one of the Glenhaven Colorado backpacking trips with the boys. We had Zeke, our big white lab with us on this particular trip. We were right at timberline, around 12,400 feet, just above a steep talus slope that ended with a 120 foot drop. A varmint ran out from under a rock and Zeke gave chase down the slope. The loose rock and gravel begin to landslide down toward the cliff. “Zeke, stay!” I yelled. Zeke froze, but continued to slide with the loose rock until he was about three feet from the edge.  He sat there trembling as I carefully made my way down to him. I have to tell you my heart was racing as I neared him and could see the drop off clearly. I got a hold of his collar, and he and I carefully made our way back up to where Lori knelt, praying for our safety!

I asked the kids, “Who was in control in that situation?” “You were.” They replied. “Why was I able to control Zeke?” I asked. “You trained him,” one student said. Another said, “He trusted you.” One boy asked why I took my dog on the trip at all. He was concerned that I had put my dog in danger. That was certainly never my intention! We concluded that the only way I could control Zeke was if he gave me control.

smiling boyI asked the kids what things they have control over in their life. Their answers were things like attitude, actions, behavior, and speech. On boy said you control how you react. “Have you ever had someone come up behind you and surprise you? Did you turn around quickly and hit them; even if not on purpose?” I asked. Pretty much all of them said yes. So we then got to talk about the difference between reacting and responding. We concluded that when you are in control, you can respond rather than react to situations. Responding, like Zeke knowing to stay, takes training and practice. I encouraged them to practice responding rather than reacting the next time a difficult situation presents itself.

When given the opportunity, most of these kids can work out the answer to the many problems they face. They really need three things from us:

  1. Guidance in processing the information
  2. Opportunities to practice doing the right things
  3. Encouragement so they know they have done the right thing

When we teach kids self control, we no longer feel the need to ‘control’ their behavior. Just as we teach them, we respond, rather than react to their behavior, modeling the traits we are helping to build in them.

John Cunningham
Executive Director
johnc@ghyr.org