Why people don’t change – even when we ask nicely.

A common vexing theme emerged from a recent conversation with TA (technical assistance) colleagues.

(A side bar about our fields’ ridiculous – or telling –  inability to hone in on a common-sense descriptive job title. Last I counted there were 17 names for people who were doing the same job – “improving” child care. I propose Mediaries – “those who bring help and knowledge to others”. Prometheus brought fire to mankind as a mediary.)

Sometimes its hard to just pick one soapbox at a time.

So we were talking about how fruitless it is when people assume we can make child care teachers and/or directors change their behavior.  Non-field people are perplexed when we cannot produce the results that are expected.  It seems so much easier than it is.   It reminded me of what we already know about behavior being an expression of values, identity and emotions. If a child care provider is doing just fine – by her definition – then why on earth is she going to subject herself to the stress and work of making changes? I love using the medical pain chart as my change-o-meter.

here is how to read this chart for medical purposes, italics are for righting child care purposes.

—0-1: Very little or barely noticeable pain.

I love my kids and my kids love me.

—2-3: Pain is present, but you may have to stop and think about it to really tell if it is there or gone. You seem just fairly comfortable.

If someone asks me I remember how hard my job is and how little I get paid.

—4-5: You now notice your pain, perhaps at rest or during activity. It may interfere with your activities. Level “4“ is the level at which it is a good idea to start introducing some avenues of relief.

Now my children are sick and I dont have paid sick days. How in the world will I pay my bills?

6-7: Your pain is distracting you, but you may —be able to focus on something else rather than the pain for a short period of time. You may be “gritting your teeth” to carry out activities.

Back at work pretending those three unpaid days at home with my children didnt happen because I cant do anything about it. But Johnnny is on my last nerve in this class today. I am going to tell his mother she has to start having consequences at home for his bad behavior! And these kids dont listen at clean up anymore and I dont get paid enough to clean up this mess. (This would be a very good time to call in a TA – I mean, a mediary.)

8-9: Your pain may be severe enough that it makes you stop in the middle of an activity, or not be able to complete it at all. It is difficult to think of anything else but your pain at this level. You may be uncomfortable even during rest or quiet times

I am so frustrated with my co-workers and director – we need to talk! I think I will bring this up with my assistant at naptime and on the playground. And maybe on Facebook.  This place is just unfair.

—10: Your pain is now the worst you can imagine. It is important to remember that the best way to treat the pain is to stay ahead of its increasing intensity, and to maintain a regular schedule of pain relief. Do not wait for Level “10” before you discuss options with your healthcare provider.

Quitting or firing is imminent.

Final thought – what stage of pain do you want YOUR child’s teacher to be in?  This is about the professional adult work environment, social and economic justice AND the welfare of young children.


Basically, if we show up at the child care home or center and they are at a pain level of 3-5 they have no reason to let us in the door. Unless we are bringing incentives or a threat, we cannot be surprised when they are not enthusiastic about our advice! What’s a mediary to do? Look for the underlying stress/discomfort and target our initial efforts to relieve that. Thats how we build those relationships that move the rest of the “righting” forward. If we are lucky and the stars and planets are aligned

Why people don’t change – even when we ask nicely.

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