How Comic Books Can Help Your Kids Behave Better

My kiddo is now of the age where superheroes and comic books reign supreme. As a highly visual person, he loves to see the progression of events laid out graphically every step of the way. 
Nevertheless, his love of comics worked to our advantage when I brought home our first Superflex book. This series of comics is actually a social learning curriculum developed by Michelle Garcia Winner that was recommended to me by an occupational therapist from CARE. It’s absolutely one of the best tools I’ve ever purchased for helping my son with his behavioral challenges.
I recently attended a conference on the Social Thinking curriculum and had the opportunity to see Michelle Garcia Winner speak. Her down-to-earth, often humorous approach was not only very accessible, but inspiring. She showed clips of her techniques with clients to help drive home how to implement the Social Thinking strategies in the real world. 
The one major theme that ran through all of Michelle’s stories was that of compassion. She deals with a lot of different kinds of kids, but no matter how difficult, she strives to see the world from their perspective. Often, children with behavior difficulties have no one in their lives to do this. 

Taking Responsibility

By far my favorite thing about the Superflex series is how much it engages my little guy in managing his own behavior. The ingenious concept is that a young boy protagonist who typically has troubles being a “flexible thinker” is transformed into his favorite superhero, Superflex, and is thereby able to become a “social thinker”.
In his capacity as a socially thinking superhero, he protects the people of Social Town from a series of “brain invaders”. Our personal favorites (because they are most relevant to us) are Rock Brain, who makes the citizens of social town get stuck on their ideas, Glass Man, who shatters at the slightest change in his emotional state, and One-Sided Sid, who only wants to talk about himself and what he’s interested in.
My son asks to read the book frequently before bed, and we discuss which characters are infected by which brain invader. He invariably gets it right. We also especially love the card game that offers several different ways to play (he’s a real board game aficionado). Despite his clear comprehension of the material, he is a bit reluctant to apply the concepts to himself, insisting that “they’re not really real, mom”.

I remedied this by applying the brain invaders to myself and my own behavior, because, yeah, I can be a little dramatic and distractible myself. My son of course gets a huge kick out of this strategy, and is quick to tell me which brain invaders might’ve infected my brain that day. This way, he gets to learn the concepts without a sense of shame or blame.   

I found that once I humbled myself—i.e. showed my son that I’m a human being who doesn’t behave or react to situations perfectly all the time—it gave him permission to do the same. He became a lot more open to, at least tentatively, applying the concepts in the book to himself. He has a seriously difficult time admitting fault and taking responsibility, to the extent that he’ll often turn and yell at me when he’s stubbed his toe and I’m ten feet away. No exaggeration. It’s that “mom is the all-giving everything” phase, which means mom is also at fault for everything. Really fun.   

Anyway, the fact that he’s even poking around the vicinity of honestly looking at his own behavior is a revelation. Nothing could be more exciting to me as a mom than instilling the muscle for this kind of self-reflection at such an early age.

Responsibility vs. Blame

Of course, I want to tread carefully and ensure that my son’s reflection doesn’t become self-criticism, as I already suspect that he takes after mom in the realm of perfectionism and high expectations of himself. I model compassion for myself when I reflect on which brain invaders I’ve been inadvertently affected by that day, reminding him that it’s okay to make a mistake and that I’ll do better next time.  

This gives him a framework for working through his own process of identifying the behavior, taking responsibility for it, and then dropping it. No holding, no self-blame, and no long lectures about how to do better next time (those never, ever work for us, by the way). I trust that this process is deepening his capacity to eventually reflect in the moment and catch himself during an undesirable behavior, and even further down the line to have the pause to choose to avoid the behavior altogether.  

Until then, patience, both for him and for me. I always remind him that he can change, that he can improve, that he has a choice and is not beholden to any labels or preconceptions, and especially to the past. I remind him that change takes a lot of time and a lot of effort, just like the warrior characters in one of our favorite TV shows who are dedicated to lives of discipline and practice.   This analogy always puts the wind in his sails. He is my little warrior, and he deserves to see himself that way.

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