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Golden Opportunities to Teach Goal-Setting
Six Steps to Empathy
A Cognitive Approach: Stop and Think
Five Step Method for Conflict Resolution
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by James Windell
Every parent wants to guide his or her child to healthy social relationships-within the family, with friends, and with the world at large. But sometimes teenagers have a hard time dealing with their emotions. Feelings of anger, frustration, and sadness can come out in difficult or destructive ways.
Your teen may have a problem with social skills, but it's a problem you can help with. The social skills training you provide can lead to important benefits for your teenager, including an enhanced self-concept, better self-esteem, an improved ability to control his or her own destiny, and the strength to resist negative influences.
An emotionally intelligent adolescent can get along with others, has the ability to monitor his or her own behavior, knows how to calm down when upset or angry, and can successfully solve conflicts. Wouldn't you like your child to fit that description? It can happen.
EXCERPT: Golden Opportunities to Teach Goal-Setting
When it comes to setting goals and striving to reach those goals, life in family is full of golden opportunities. Whether it's a parent's personal goals at work, family goals, or the goals of one of the children in the family, you have plenty of chances to show teenagers the importance of the goal-setting process.
For example, if one of the children in the family decides that she will try to make the swim team at school, you could use this as an opportunity to teach everyone-especially your teenager- about setting a goal and working to achieve it. You could say, "Let's all try to figure out what Cynthia has to do in order to make the swim team." When others are invited to join in the process, they get a chance to brainstorm ideas, to make suggestions, and to watch you guide your child to identify her goals, make a plan of action, and decide what her first steps will be.
Or let's say that the family wants to take a summer vacation to Disney World. Talk about setting goals for the trip (planning the itinerary, saving the money, deciding on a time, getting airline tickets, and so on). Discuss how everyone's working together can make it a reality.
You don't have to be heavy-handed about pointing out that your adolescent should learn from the process and apply it to his life. If he is involved he will be learning a process-whether he intends to be learning or not.
EXCERPT: Six Steps to Empathy
1. Establish a Genuine Relationship - "...When you show genuine care and concern for your child, you are beginning to give her the capacity for learning to care for other people. - "...When you show genuine care and concern for your child, you are beginning to give her the capacity for learning to care for other people.
So a first step is to form a solid relationship with your child. If you don't have a good relationship and if the adolescent doesn't feel you care for her, then you have to begin to build one and use it as a foundation in teaching. This is particularly important in this all-important social skill of having empathy for others.."
2. Discuss Feelings with Your Child - "Empathic young people typically have parents who discuss their own feelings and encourage their children to talk about their feelings. You cannot hope to have a teenager who understands others' feelings if he's never had discussions about feelings. The language of feelings and emotions will be like a foreign language unless there is plenty of discussion around what is going on in the inner world of members of the family.
It's through talking about feelings that kids come to learn how others feel and are able to identify their own-and others'- feelings. The ability to identify their own feelings is a precursor to the skill of identifying the feelings of other people. And without this skill, there is no empathy.
3. Demonstrate Caring Behavior - "...When working with teenagers, I try to show a positive example of caring behavior in several ways: First, I ask them about their feelings and respond to them in what I believe is a sensitive, feeling, and caring style. However, in some groups of adolescents when one member of the group relates an unfortunate incident, some of the other teens may laugh, giggle, or snicker. They might even say something rude or uncomplimentary, such as "It serves you right" or "That was a dumb thing to do."
No matter how ridiculous or unthinking the behavior of the teenager, I try to show my sympathy and concern for her. "That must have been unsettling," I might say, or "I would have felt very hurt if that had happened to me. How did you feel?"...
Second, I ask adolescents about their feelings after I tell them my impression of their feelings: For example, I say, "You sound frustrated. How are you feeling today?" This approach is useful for troubled adolescents because they are not skilled at listening for the feelings of others. But I want them to learn to listen beneath the words that are being used so they can pick up on emotional tones and cues..."
Third, I ask teens to practice making sensitive, supportive statements to others. That is one of the ways adolescents can earn extra credit in my groups - by making supportive, caring, complimentary comments to others. When someone does this, I point it out and give them positive feedback and praise..."
4. Provide Consistent Rules with Clear Consequences - "As with other points in these six steps to teaching empathy, it's best if you begin in the early years of childhood and continue through adolescence. if you have been following through with consequences, don't stop now just because you child is gaining some independence. Simply adapt your rules and consequences. And if you haven't been doing this, it's better to start now than not at all.
You can tell your teen what's right and wrong, but you have to back up and practice what you preach through actions. Do you really believe that a certain behavior is wrong? Then be sure you have a clear rule about it, and enforce that rule with consistent consequences.
Adolescents know what you value and what behavior is important to you based not on what you say, but on your having rules and enforcing those rules through reasonable consequences and punishments. In this way their understanding of what is right and wrong gets reinforced. If you're willing to provide consequences for a misbehavior, then there's no guess work about whether you love them and wish them to adopt a certain code of behavior..."
5. Use Reasoning - "...When you tell your teen that specific behavior is right or wrong, you can use reasoning to help them understand why this is so. Reasoning means explaining why you set certain rules for your family. Reasoning works best if you include what I call a "victim impact statement": You let your kids know that the reason an action is right or wrong has to do with how it affects other people....Melissa, a 15-year-old, can be rather ruthless about her teasing of other teens who are younger, smaller, less intelligent, or even just different from her....."Melissa, when you tease LuAnn, you are calling attention to something that she already feels bad about. Your teasing makes her feel worse and that just isn't a kind thing to do."..
When Melissa hears these reasons, she stops her teasing. When she has heard this kind of message often, I expect that she will think about the feelings of others before she starts to tease."...
6. Teach the Golden Rule - We want our kids to be sensitive to other people. To be empathic means to put yourself in another's shoes: to feel as they feel. The Golden Rule - Do unto others as you would have them do unto you - teaches this concept. If your teen would like others to treat her with dignity and respect, then she must treat others in precisely this way....
When Jeremy was laughing behind the back of a janitor at his school because the man was severely physically disabled, his mother overheard. "Jeremy," she said, "I'm very disappointed in you for making fun of another human being. Because he is disabled doesn't make him less of a person. And, on top of that, life must be a real struggle for him. I want you to think about how much more difficult your life would be if you were disabled in the same way as he is."...."I am upset that you would think a person with his disabilities was funny. I'm serious about this, and I want you to write down some ways your life would be more difficult if you were born with his disabilities. And I want you to show me what you have come up with tomorrow."...
By requiring Jeremy to think seriously about this issue and to reflect on how being disabled would change his life, his mother was forcing him to put himself in another person's position. When she saw his list the next day, she was impressed at what he had written on a piece of paper. Among the things he listed was this: "People might make fun of me behind my back and I wouldn't like it."...
EXCERPT: A Cognitive Approach: Stop and Think
In cognitive approaches to dealing with anger, teens are taught to think about what is happening to them and how they ought to best proceed. One of the best "Stop and Think" approaches you can teach is this one:
* Stop and ask yourself: What's making me angry?
* Then ask: What are ways I can handle this?
* Analyze the ways you've come up with and try the best one.
* Ask yourself: How did I do, and could I have handled this better?
It's a simple process, yet teens who learn this skill must be able to remember it early enough when they're angry that they'll not only use it but remember to follow all the steps. It is important for adolescents to know that even those who handle their anger in impulsive ways can benefit from this technique.
EXCERPT: Five Step Method for Conflict Resolution
You can use an even more formal method by actually teaching children a set of steps and requiring that they not only learn them but follow them when trying to work out a problem.
I know this may be tough to believe, but the teens I work with are able to learn and use a more formal method of conflict resolution. They have to understand the steps in the process and to practice by role-playing several times before they can use it in real-life situations. Many elementary schools around the country teach children a series of steps similar to the ones I will describe here, and I have seen students using this kind of conflict resolution procedure in the hallway and on the playground.
1. What's Our Problem?
The problem has to be defined and stated. For instance, a young teenaged boy might say, "I want ot get my ear pierced, and you're against it." The parent would have to agree that that indeed was what the conflict was about.
2. How Can We Solve It?
Both people in the dispute would have to begin brainstorming the problem to generate several possible ways of solving it. In the example of the boy wanting his ear pierced, one idea could be that he would wear a simple, small earring that wouldn't be gaudy or offensive and that he would take it out for formal occasions. Another could be that he would wait until he was 16 years old. Or they could ask someone they both respected if it would be okay if a boy his age wore an earring.
3. What's the Best Solution?
After generating several possible solutions, both parties have to evaluate the ideas. That means looking at the consequence of each idea and trying to figure out what would happen if that idea was selected. Using the example laid out in step two, if the parent and the teenager tried to determine the outcome if he used a small, but high-quality earring, the parent could say, "Yes, but that might be to placate me at first and later you would switch to an earring I didn't like." Or the teen might say, "If I wait until I'm sixteen, you might push it to a later date when my birthday came."
4. Pick One and Try It
By evaluating each solution in this way, the two sides could then decide which was the best idea for him. Having picked one, the next step is to use it.
5. How Did It Work Out?
After trying it, both the adolescent and his parent would each have to ask themselves, "How did I do? Did this turn out the way I thought it would?"
If it had a successful outcome, both could give themselves a pat on the back or feel good about their efforts. If, on the other hand, it wasn't such a successful result, they might decide to try a different type of solution in the future.
As I said earlier, it's been my experience that when children and teens learn these steps and rehearse them several times, they will use the method.