As a Music Therapy major in college, I had to take quite a few psychology courses. Music can be used therapeutically in many different ways, but one important aspect is its effect on the brain, especially regarding emotions and behavior. As a result of my studies, I have a large arsenal of methods to use in order to change someone's behavior. In my former career, working with developmentally disabled adults, I learned to write and implement very useful, logical goals and objectives, gradually leading a person from inability to mastery.
Behaviorism taught me that behavior can be changed by manipulating the environment. The famous experiments of Ivan Pavlov and B.F.Skinner proved that animals (and, by association, people) reacted in different ways, depending on what happened before or afterward. Pavlov's famous dogs learned to salivate when they heard a ticking metronome, rather than when presented with food, simply by associating the metronome with food. This was called "classical conditioning." Skinner, on the other hand, coined the term "operant behavior," which proved that reinforcing behavior with a pleasurable response would make it more likely to happen again.
Humanism believes that everyone is working toward their best self, as long as their basic needs, according to Abraham Maslow's Heirarchy, are met. It focuses on feelings and emotions. This is where much of the current focus on self-esteem comes from.
It would seem, from using these two philosophies, that rewarding "good" behavior, and making children feel good about themselves, would produce perfect little angels, wouldn't it? So, we spend a lot of time praising our children, telling them how beautiful, intelligent, strong, etc., etc., etc., they are. We give them extra-special attention when they do something extra-good, like chewing with their mouth closed, and we gently remind them when they do something a little bad, such as slug their little sister, that that wasn't very nice. After all, we want to reinforce good behavior, and not damage their self-esteem. Of course, we should never spank them. That might bruise their ego, and cause all sorts of psychoses (you thought I forgot about Freud, didn't you?)
And then you have an eight-year old. I have spent the last while trying to undo some of the damage that these philosophies have wrought. The problem is, that they have been so ingrained into my brain, that it is hard for me to see through the concepts to reality. After so many years of learning and working in agencies for people with disabilities, I have some major unlearning to do. I have to replace all of the political correctness with truth.
The thing that all of these philosophies are missing, is that people are born into sin. I realize that this is not a popular concept. We would like to think that we are all good. After all, aren't babies just adorable? How could something so precious be bad? Well, just leave them alone for a little while, and you will find out how. All of our inclinations are to do "what's best for me." Unfortunately, where adults may realize that there are laws which preclude you from doing everything you want, children have no such concept. Babies see something they want, and they grab it. It doesn't matter if it's candy or poison or their sibling's hair. They have no scruples. This can't be "good!" It's not even good for them! They were given parents to protect them from dangers such as poison, stairs, and electric sockets.
What has happened to my eight-year-old, is that he has realized how bad he really is. And, he's started to feel guilty. We had a long talk last night, something we have done repeatedly since he was able to talk. He was upset because, of all things, he hasn't gotten punished. He poured his heart out, naming all of the things he has done that no-one knew about, from doing cartwheels on the couch, to hiding Legos under his sheets, to lying when asked how his little sister got hurt. He was concerned that he should be getting a hard punishment for all of these things. He even tried to punish himself, by poking himself in the stomach with something sharp. This was pretty scary to me. I'm not sure how he goes from being afraid of telling us because he doesn't want to be punished, to deciding he needs to be punished anyway and trying to do it himself, and I'm not sure how far he could have gone with this if it hadn't all come out. I've gotten a whole new philosophy to consider, however. And a whole new direction. My son has been having emotional "meltdowns" for a while. He has said how bad and worthless he thinks he is. This should be a time for building his self-esteem, right? Tell him how good he is at things. Tell him how much we love him. Give him an extra treat. Tell him he's a good boy. But that doesn't help. The problem is, that he knows he's sinful. He said that the sins build up like water balloons in his head, and when there are too many, they burst. That's when he starts crying and carrying on. He's afraid he will turn into a devil, and take other people down with him.
My heart is broken. It feels like something is pressing on it, squeezing out all of the life. I feel the water balloons popping in my own head. I have failed to protect my son. I have failed to keep the poison away from him. This is going to require major surgery, and I have to start with myself. I have to cut out the methods and philosophies of the world. As useful as they may be with behavior and emotions, they are useless against sin. I need a transfusion of God's word, and God's wisdom. I need to lead my own life in a way that will protect him from the evils of this world. I need to structure his life so that he feels safe, and then we will be able to work together with Jesus to change his heart. I really need to figure all of this out before my daughter joins him in this dark place. Please pray for us all!