Outcomes Offered

■ Habit control

■ Broader behavioral repertoire

■ Empowerment

Natalie had a habit. It doesn't matter what sort ofhabit it was because I guess we all get into habits of different types. Some bite their finger nails, eat too much junk food, don't eat enough, pick their noses in public, burp at the dinner table, or do other things that other people may not like. So you can imagine any sort of habit you might want for Natalie. Is wasn't so much what the habit was but rather what happened that was more important.

I asked Natalie what she wanted to be when she was an adult. She didn't need any time to think. Her reply came quickly: "A policewoman. I want to ride on one of those big white horses like policewomen do."

"And what will you do as a policewoman riding on a big white horse?" I asked.

"I'll go to football matches and other places where there are big crowds. I'll ride around making sure everyone does everything right."

"Yes," I said, "this is really what a policewoman's job is about, isn't it—helping to keep control. Have you started to practice the things you need to do to be a policewoman?"

"Mom has promised to give me horse-riding lessons as a Christmas present," answered Natalie.

"But there are other things you might need to do as well," I suggested. "Let's imagine that you wanted to help an elderly person across a busy road. What would you do?"

Natalie stood up proudly, extended an arm, the palm of her hand raised to face the imaginary traffic; she called out in a firm voice, "Stop." She stood there waiting for the imagined elderly person to cross the street and then waved the traffic on.

"Good," I said. "I think you will make a good policewoman. A lot of good police work is learning how to stop things, isn't it? You need to stop the traffic. You might need to stop a robber burgling a house or robbing a bank. You might need to stop someone painting graffiti on a wall, or stop people fighting.

"I wonder how you can practice your police voice, 'Stop.' Maybe that old habit of yours that we've been working on is a starting point. When you do it, perhaps you can stand up, put your hand up like you did for the imaginary traffic, and call out 'Stop' in a firm, police-like voice."

I continued, "Perhaps we ought to explain to Mom that you're practicing how to be a policewoman. Sometimes parents get a little worried when kids start doing things differently. She might not understand what's going on and think, I should never have taken Natalie to see that psychologist— she really is going crazy now. Would you like me to explain or would you rather explain to her yourself?"

When I saw Natalie the next week she told me she had been practicing her policewoman's skills of making her habit stop, and that it was going pretty well.

I asked her to imagine she was helping that elderly person across the street just as she had done the week before. She stood up proudly, extended her arm to the full, her palm facing the imaginary traffic, and called out, "Stop!" Her voice was firmer and stronger. She waited until the imaginary person had crossed the imaginary road and then waved the imaginary traffic on.

"I waved the traffic on," she said, looking a little puzzled.

"So, what else do policewomen do to exercise control as well as stopping some things that happen?"

She smiled. "They start things happening too. I started the traffic flowing again."

"Exactly," I said. "A good police officer wants to stop a bad thing from happening so that more good things can start. Some police officers focus primarily on starting the good things. They run police youth clubs, do community programs, and set up neighborhood watch schemes. At times they can help to stop what they don't want to happen by starting what they do want to happen."

The next week, Natalie proudly announced, "I've kept practicing being a policewoman. I can tell my habit to stop and I can do something different when it feels like it's going to happen."

"What have you done?" I asked.

"Those times when I thought the habit was about to happen I'd say 'Stop,' then go and talk to Mom, take Toby—my dog—for a walk, phone a friend for a chat, or go and play a game on the computer."

"I think you're going to make a wonderful policewoman," I said. "Ifyou keep your training going like this, the only other thing you need to do is learn how to make a horse stop and go in the direction you want it to."

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