I've been experimenting with a new approach to guiding and coaching adolescents through difficult times lately. I've had some success with it and I wanted to pass it on in case it is helpful to anyone else.
When someone hurts our feelings, makes us angry, or so on, our human reaction is to focus on our feelings. We go over and over the incident in our mind, probably to our friends, and focus on what someone did to us.
Most adolescents, and many adults I think, instinctively focus first on how they feel ("But that's not fair!" "You hurt my feelings!" and so on). They then focus on the actions of others. ("But she did it first!" "He was mean to me!").
Recently I was in several situations where I felt another person (or people) totally misunderstood me. It is frustrating, it made me mad, it hurt my feelings, it made me sad--you name it. I had the whole range of emotions.
This is very natural and very human.
It is also ultimately unhelpful and accomplishes nothing at all.
I realized something. I had many emotions, but comparatively few choices. I also realized I could vent and rage against the unfairness of the world and all I could not control--or I could focus on my choices.
A lot of adults do this for sure (myself included although I'm working on it) but I think adolescents, who often experience things in very vivid, heightened emotional terms are particularly prone to this. I am convinced that much of what we do and feel is actually habit--and that those habits can be formed (and changed) with effort. So, I'm trying to help my students and children develop this habit early. Lately, here's what I've done. When one of the adolescents in my charge comes to me, upset, angry, or hurt, I listen. And then I express empathy. And then I say: "What are your choices here?"They usually restate why they're upset. I express empathy again and say, "Yes, I understand that. But what are you going to do? What are your choices here?"It sometimes takes a few rounds of this, but eventually, they all come around to focusing on what their choices are and not on what someone else did to them. There is something incredibly empowering about making choices--acting, as opposed to being acted upon. As as a side note, it's also interesting to me how once the student is thinking consciously about their choices, they almost always make the right choice. I think that many times, it's obvious what the right thing is--when we consider it dispassionately. It's when we act in the heat of the moment that we make mistakes.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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