I stood in the kitchen looking at a child facing an all too familiar social emotional learning (SEL) hurdle. “We keep coming back to this place right here to talk about your behavior”. She was remorseless and I was exhausted. Was I going to ground her this time? That was the look in her eye. I wasn’t and corporeal punishment was out of the question... she’s too intelligent for that and I’m way too opportunistic to lose a teaching moment.
I brought everyone into the kitchen and lined them up. It took us an hour but we focused on each person in front of the group. During that hour each family member went on an introspective search and shared their flaws, worked through their positive and negative habits, and solicited feedback from the others. Even I participated. It was transformative. But we didn’t stop there… Each person left with a social emotional learning “promise” to the other members.
I won’t “out” my kids to the world and share theirs but I’ll share mine: “I need to work on keeping my promises to everyone else and also keeping my promises to myself”. My oldest came up with that bit of stinging wisdom. I see myself as a very promise keeping kinda person so to hear her say it and to feel it hurt so deeply made me evaluate why she said it and why I was lightweight insulted... but I don’t keep my promises all the time. I often tell my kids small empty “yes we will” to their ideas and dreams as a way to appease them so that I can go back to work... and I forget I said yes later on. That must suck. And I don’t keep my promises to myself. I haven’t been to the gym in a month, I haven’t started my business or built my apps yet, and I haven’t reached my savings goal for mid-year 2018. That said I’m still very excited for new beginnings.
At any moment in our lives we can stop and reevaluate our goals and progress toward that goal. Life is not a linear experience. It’s circular, in fact it’s more like a web. We keep building connections, creating, taking on new challenges, and reacting to new experiences. All of these play into who we are and what we can accomplish. When we get caught up with accomplishing the goal, we forget that there may be another way to achieve it. This is why this exercise was so helpful for us. Ultimately we want to be whole, contributing members of our family and ultimately of society. That can’t happen without social emotional growth.
We used the first day of the second half of the year to re-evaluate ourselves and each other. We started the year with habit trackers and analyzed the skills and qualities we wanted to improve. That has fallen off since we moved but now we are more conscious of our actions and the habits we are committing to physical and mental memory. Now with these personal affirmations to keep promises, think introspectively, walk courageously, or evaluate our actions within the context of family, we are excited to look back when December 31st comes.
Stepping Out Of The Forest...
Emotions are the messy stuff that prevents us from seeing where we want to go but growth can only happen when we have vision. And during this process, it’s important critical to have a loving and supportive network of people around you. These people help lift us up, remind us of our goals, and push us toward our greatness.
So what about public shaming? In our home, we live by the idea that there is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed of in our family. When you shame or embarrass others, you assume they have prior knowledge of how to engage and that they are incapable of intelligently working through a situation to a better mode of engagement. Growth is the result of learning from our mistakes. Mistakes will happen and you must choose to grow. When you focus on the mistake, you're wasting time you could be using to grow. Shame is a very effective parenting and behavior modification mechanism, but after a while it stops working or drives a person to self-harm. We want whole people and whole societies, therefore, we do not use shame as a social emotional learning tool in our home.
Whenever we get into trouble or experience a misstep, everyone stops and allows the person to read their affirmation out loud to the group. Sometimes in tears and sometimes really angry, reading our affirmation out loud to the group reminds us of our goal and it reminds the group that we are helping our family member work through their problem with loving words. No one is exempt from this exercise. Each of us will experience vulnerability and each of us will have our time in the circle to read and reevaluate what we could have done differently with the support of everyone else.
I say all this to say... You can always start over. Don’t ever limit yourself to the idea that the tracks that you’re walking, are the only way out of the forest... there are so many different paths to success. But in order to get to your goals, you have to be very frank and very honest with yourself. What do I suck at? How am I failing others? Where can I be more supportive of the group? These are the questions that should be pondered when we begin to think of a new start. It’s so critical. The first step is to look inward and evaluate where you are in relation to where you want to go. Good luck!
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working to make life more equitable for all people. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.