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Choice as an alternative to ultimatums

‘Choice is a powerful alternative to punishment.  If the person’s behaviour challenges you, help him to find more desirable ways to express the needs underlying the behaviours. Instead of ultimatums, give choices (e.g. “Bill, I know you’re upset.  What  would help? Would you like to go for a walk? Or take a ride? You need a chance to calm down.)”’ David Pityonak (2014)

Pityonak makes this statement on his webpage where he asks us to explore 10 things we can do (http://www.options-empowers.org/people-we-support/david-pitonyaks-10-things-you-can-do/)  to empower a person. This  option certainly changes the dynamic in dealing with a person exhibiting challenging behaviour. Previously when seeing behaviour that challenges us, our first thought is ‘how do I stop this behaviour?’; what Pityonak is saying is that our first thought should be to look at the person’s wellbeing. What can I do to help, what would help that person?

Challenging behaviour is the human response when your wellbeing is being challenged. Think of the last time something directly affected your well being. Whether it was that 40kph driver on the M50 in front of you,  not knowing you had an important meeting at 9am; or the credit card bill that comes in after Christmas and makes you want to curl up in  a ball.

People revert to behaviour that challenges when they do not have an alternative way to say what they want to say. Imagine if you did not have the skills to tell someone your tooth is sore, or you miss your friend or you are bored at doing the same thing over and over. One man who used a sheltered workshop service threw a bucket of nails at staff causing injury and property damage. Why? At first sight, this action was dangerous and made little sense, but on finding out about the man and his ‘job’ it turned out he had been sorting out the nails into smaller buckets for 10 years, and not only nails, but he had been sorting the same nails as the staff poured all the divided nails back into the big bucket on a Friday.

So using Pityonak’s approach, rather than an ultimatum to Bill that his job was at risk should it happen again; alternatively you could ask Bill what would help, the options include ….. maybe a walk, or a ride in the car, a breather before we start exploring the message of Bill’s behaviour.  In the future if the message is ‘I am bored and feel devalued through this work’,  then we could start by looking at what Bill sees as his desirable future and start to identify new skills for Bill to learn and to support him to get a new job. (In addition, to reviewing the activities provided in the facility, many times it is the environment that needs to change not the person).

David Pityonak focuses on how people in services, especially those labelled as challenging, are lonely; ‘extraordinarily lonely’. Positive, respectful, human relationships are key in increasing people’s wellbeing. The example above gives us a way to start.

If you are interested in exploring supports for people labelled as challenging, and/or person centredness see the Open Training College’s course area. Link here.

Choice as an alternative to ultimatums