Thinking of ourselves as a car can be a very useful thing to do. Clean and green with zero emissions, of course. Or maybe not. Depends on the fuel you are putting in your tank, the junk in the trunk, the road you take and who is behind the wheel.
Inspired by Choice Theory, Reality Therapy and strengths-based ideas, Cars ‘R’ Us is a conversation-building card set written by Russell Deal and Ivan Honey, and first published by Innovative Resources in 2006. And now in 2019 it is about to go into its umpteenth re-print. You could say it’s a classic model. One reason for this is that the car metaphor is so accessible to everyone—young and old—licensed or on your learner’s plates.
Whether or not you can see evidence of burn outs (highly likely if you are a human service practitioner), Cars ‘R’ Us is a very useful tool for exploring feelings, making choices and setting goals.
Where am I heading?
How will I get there?
Who is in the driver’s seat?
Is it time for the accelerator or the brake?
Here is an inspiring story of how Joan Hoogstad, an instructor with the William Glasser Institute and a certified counsellor at the time Cars ‘R’ Us was first published, used the car metaphor in a primary school to empower children to make good choices and behave safely in the playground.
- Joan built on the car metaphor by creating a drawing of a roundabout with radiating roads complete with stop signs, speed limits and other desired features.
- She explained to children that we drive a car around all the time.
- We choose the cars we drive—our behaviours. (Children can choose their car using the Cars ‘R’ Us cards.)
- We have a preference for certain cars (behaviours). These become our habits.
- When we allow others to control us, we are giving them the key to our car. You can ask the child, ‘Who is driving your car?’, ‘Is that what you want?’ and ‘What can you do to drive your own car again?’
- Joan tells children that feelings are our friends because they tell us that our behaviour is either working well or not working so well.
- There is nothing wrong with being in any car (or having any feeling). However, the stop sign reminds us that, at times, we need to stop and consider whether driving this particular car is the best way of managing the situation.
- Similarly, when we reach the stop sign, we need to stop and become aware of the feelings, consider where these feelings may take us, and if necessary, take a U turn back to the roundabout.
- When ready, we can select another car that will work better for us.
- When children say that another child told them to act a certain way (for example, leaving the school grounds to collect a ball) the teacher’s response could be: ‘Do you mean that you need a back seat driver?’, ‘When someone tells you what to do, how can you remain in charge of your own car? Or with very young children, ‘How can you remain the boss of your car?’
- At playtime, she tells the children, ‘There will be 300 cars in the playground. What might happen?’ The children always say, ‘There could be crashes!’
- The children in the class talk about what is required to be a skilful and safe driver in the playground, which leads to discussion and practice of social skills (also known as driving lessons!).
The use of the behaviour car model is limited only by our imagination.
[Adapted from the booklet for Cars ‘R’ Us.]