It is sometimes helpful to redirect children with high emotions to a third person. Children’s self-Esteem can be strongly threatened when they must deal directly with the people with whom they are highly emotionally involved.
Parents are often unable to view their own children objectively. This realization became clear to me when I taught first grade and had my daughter Miranda as a student. As a teacher, I saw how well she was doing in the context of a whole class instead of just as my child. My appreciation of her became much more realistic than it had ever been, and my evaluation of her grew more objective. I also became amazed at how much more appreciative and relaxed I was with her at home now.
In contrast, when Wanda had been in first grade ( and I saw her only at home), I was more anxious and concerned about the mistakes she might make, for example, during a reading lesson at home. In fact, I would often focus on her mistakes rather than on how well she was reading.
When listening to Miranda read in class, I could see her mistakes, but I learned rather than on how well she was reading in relation to other children.
I have come to appreciate the value of a new perspective in strong emotional situations. A class of high-school seniors had requested that before they graduated and lost their strong mutual support system, they wanted to air certain misunderstandings and problems that existed between them and their parents. In particular, several of the students were interested in going on to college, but they wanted to take a year off first. In contrast,some parents adamantly insisted their children should go directly to college. At least one set of parents had said if their son didn’t go directly to college, they would never help him finance the rest of his education. Many strong feelings were being expressed by students and parents, and some firmly held values were colliding. Some very unhappy stalemates had recently occurred concerning student values, priorities, everything from the way they dressed, handled family responsibility, and performed academic tasks, to the way they spent money, viewed working, planned for the future, and saw their place in the world. Values, identity, and independence issues of late adolescence permeated the struggles of these students with their parents.
The plan we worked out was students and parents all came to our home on Thursday evenings for six weeks. At the student’s suggestion, parents and students were to be mixed together into two groups, but no student would be in the group containing his or her parents. In this way, all parents had to relate to children not their own, and all children had to relate to parents not their own. One group met in my family room, the other in the living room, each group out of earshot of the other.
Over the first month, both parents and students, each at their own pace, developed openness and listening skills. They learned to communicate well across a generation because they as parents didn’t have their own emotions tied to their own children directly confronting them, and likewise for the children.
On the fifth evening, parents were put into groups with their own children to talk about some of the issues they had been discussing in the earlier weeks.
During the sixth session, everyone came together in one group. By this final meeting, we had moved from a place of listening to someone else’s parent or child (practicing the skills of clarifying and listening nondefensively) to using those skills listening to one’s own parents or children. It proved to be an evening of healthy communication in a large group. The six weeks of meetings had evolved into a celebration of mutual support.
Many of the parents and students remarked how much easier it had been to listen else than to the person they were related to. Their own self-esteem was not as vulnerable hearing someone else’s parent or child, therefore they did not have to be as defensive. The emotional climate was less volatile. They were able to hear and respect the value of another person which was different from their value system and still feel esteem and respect for that person, as long as that other person, as long as that other person wasn’t someone in whom they had invested much strong feeling. In that context, they could think more openly, express themselves more freely, see more alternatives, not feel as locked into a position, not be so defensive, and not have so much at stake emotionally.
Self-Esteem Principle: Children’s self-esteem can be strong threatened if they must deal with adults which whom they are directly involved in emotional problems and value conflicts.