Whatever a man does he must do first in his mind. Albert Szent-Gijorgyi.
One of the most troubling problems hyperactive children have is they don’t think before they act. For instance, when asked to find their way out of a maze, hyperactive children typically charge ahead, cut corners, enter blind alleys, and even draw lines through everything to get out. In contrast, reflective children tend to take their time, and stop and check all their options before deciding which route to take.
Donald Meichenbaum in his book Cognitive Behavior Modification, (1977) suggested that hyperactive children are more impulsive because they are not as good at talking to themselves as other children. He developed a technique teaching hyperactive children the steps children normally go through in acquiring internalized speech.
- An adult model performs a task while talking to himself out loud.
- The child performs the same task by following the model’s instructions.
- The child performs the task while instructing himself aloud.
- The child whispers the instructions to himself while doing the task.
- The child does the task by thinking through the steps.
The adult goes through several problem-solving processes while doing the task: (a) identifying the problem–“What do I have to do? Get to the exit of the maze”; (b) focusing attention–“How do I do it? Carefully, without entering any blind alleys or going over any lines”; (c) self-reinforcement–“What do I say when I do it right? I deserve some credit, I haven’t touched any lines so far”; (d) coping with frustration and failure–“What do I say when I make a mistake? I can’t expect to be perfect right off the bat. At least I’m getting better.”
Self-instructional training has improved hyperactive children’s ability to do multiple-choice tasks, read, pay attention, and control their impulses.
It’s Not For Every Child
Self-instructional training is not recommended for some children. Firstly, if children do not understand the words they are using in their self-instructions, they will not know what they are telling themselves to do. For this reason it may not be suitable for younger or mentally handicapped children.
Secondly, children must have the ability to do what they are instructing themselves to do. This may mean practising the desired actions before starting their self-instructions.
Thirdly, you must ensure that children follow through on what they are telling themselves to do. Saying does not always equal doing. For instance, a hyperactive child may be saying to himself, “I have to look at my paper, and stay between the lines,” as he’s gazing out the window.
This approach, lastly, is not recommended with children who already think too much about what they are doing, anxious or compulsive children for example, as well as those who already are competent in doing a task, and find the self-instructional process interferes with their performance.