Updated: Sep 9, 2020
I would like to say that this was born out of a deep altruistic desire to provide the best tools and resources to already weary parents looking to lovingly structure their time with their precious kiddos. Or that I am just naturally overflowing with crafty, creative ideas and have stores of ribbon, buttons, and supplies at my ready to Etsy my therapist-wares. But I’ll be embarrassingly honest and tell you that I was thinking about myself first and don’t even know how to locate Etsy, or how to pull myself away from Netflix long enough to google “how to be creative” in order to come up with something to sell. Truth is, I crated these nifty little cards as a life saver for me and knew that if they were saving my sanity at the end of the day, then maybe, just maybe, they (or at least the concrete understanding of what they stood for) could save you, too.
Here is the thing that precious and wonderful children from hard places (a.k.a. children with developmental/complex/attachment trauma) seem to have in common: their insatiable need to structure (a.k.a control) everything. And I completely understand why. Don’t we all? Never underestimate the power of fear. Yes, some people like to call them “bossy” and some people get annoyed with how much they can interrupt, or correct, or constantly need to be the first in line. (Okay, I’ll admit we all fall into that “some people” category sometimes and I say that as someone who was one of those “bossy” kids. Ouch.) But the truth is, they are groping around desperately trying to find safety and security in some maladaptive ways and they need help. Lucky for them, brilliant Karyn Purvis and David Cross, with their creation of TBRI and the Correcting Principles: Structured Engagement, helped with the idea of asking, “Who’s the Boss?”
It is simple: a basic 3”x5” notecard, on one side you colorfully write the word ‘BOSS’ and on the other you make two columns with basic lists of what the child is and is not the boss of. I keep these lists very simple knowing I could never cover everything that will get tested. For example, I am the boss of my: hands, feet, mouth, thoughts, feelings, wants, shoes, office. I am NOT the boss of your: hands, feet, shoes, thoughts, feelings, mouth, wants. I never say I am the boss of my body because I am not the boss of my body. If I were the boss of my body then I would never get sick (and also grow a few more inches because I am tired of kids being thrilled with being taller than me by age 12). I then play a game with them to demonstrate their proficiency of understanding of the use of the cards. I point to easy things and ask “Who is the boss of ____?” and celebrate when they get it correct, increasingly making it more difficult and more personal. Then we laminate the cards, which is really the most exciting part of the whole experience for them, which tells me I spent too much on all my trainings, and I hand child and parent a “Boss Card” and off they go to test them out.
It is a simple way to help a child understand and align a boundary. It answers the question of what they are in charge of and what they are not in charge of, where the lines of where they end and begin are drawn. Boundaries 101. Beautiful. And when the very dignity of your personhood has been violated from the moment you stepped foot on this earth, the idea of boundaries will elude you completely. So making it concrete and receptive is enormously helpful. After five hours a day spent with beautiful and precious children, and being constantly corrected in how I said a word, what I said, when I said it, being interrupted and then being ignored or being treated like I hadn’t said anything at all, I had to come up with a streamlined way to communicate the “boundary of the airspace”. It is easy to understand the boundaries around my physical stuff or my physical person, and theirs. But what about the boundaries around the air and words attached to me? What about the preciousness and value that those hold, too? They need to know that when they cried it mattered. Even if no one came. Even if someone told them the cry was wrong. The cry mattered. The voice mattered. It held worth and weight. And still does. And I communicate that by demonstrating to them now that I can say that word they just corrected by saying kindly, “I get to be the boss of how I say things, and you can be the boss of how you say things.” I also can just flash the card and say it in few words and sometimes, at the end of a long day, I need simple, quick, easy ways to stick to my engaging structure and save us both a long boring lecture. And yes, I use this on my teenager at home. And yes, he hates it as much as you can imagine a teenager hating it. But, it works. And the laminator did NOT impress him AT ALL so I guess I will have to stick with the trainings. Until next time…