A very dear and wise friend gave me the above advice (the zebra bit, not the blunt card) when I was still in training for some health care work I did. The gist of it is to always look for the simplest explanation first because there's a good chance that really was the answer. We saw a variety of problems including some pretty severe and complicated ones, but we needed to remember that those were rare. For the vast majority of people we worked with, the solutions were simple and basic. We needed to be aware that the troubling situations existed and required extra care, but we also needed to remember that most people would not have those complex difficulties. If it seems simple, it probably is. Treat it as such without jumping to uncalled for conclusions.
I was reminded of that advice this week.
Why would a 5-year-old child cut his things with scissors?
Some suggestions included that he was one step away from self mutilation, that he was very angry and unable to express it, he was deeply troubled, he was feeling abandoned and (as would obviously be the case with any of these) that he needed professional help.
However, all of those suggestions were way off base. The child's true motivation is actually a horse, not a zebra.
Here's a simple little story to explain.
This is the comforter that S. slit.
Here is the bed all cozy and warm covered by the comforter that S. slit.
Here is the window alongside the bed all cozy and warm covered by the comforter that S. slit.
There hang the curtains in the window alongside the bed all cozy and warm covered by the comforter that S. slit.
Here is a curtain rod threaded through HOLES THE BOY'S MOTHER CUT to hang the curtains in the window alongside the bed all cozy and warm covered by the comforter that S. slit.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, when I sat my son down to have a heart-to-heart talk as to what his possible motivations could be, the conversation went very much like this:
Me: What were you feeling when you cut your comforter?
Him: I wasn't feeling anything.
Me: What were you thinking when you did it?
Him: I wasn't thinking anything.
Me: Were you angry or frustrated when you cut it?
Me: Were you feeling sad?
Him: No. (pause) Well, I guess a little sad.
Me: What made you sad?
Him: Because it looked bad and it wouldn't even hang up.
At this point, I was completely and utterly baffled.
Him: (pointing to his curtains) You cut holes in those and got them to hang up, but it didn't work for me.
(pause here for mom's "Eureka" moment)
Me: So why did you hide it from me?
Him: I didn't hide it from YOU. I hid it from ME because it doesn't look cool. It just looks broken. I don't wanna see that.