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Sharing & Negotiating - In the family and beyond

    A conversation not long ago started me thinking about the contemporary family, in which so much time is spent working/playing with gadgets, from Game Boys to PDA, from computers to cell phones. Follow this with the need that many people appear to feel to learn more about emotional intelligence. Stay with me, folks, there is a connection here. I am wondering if the former leads to the latter.

    (I am in no way original in suggesting that excessive focus on gadgetry make us less likely to interact with other human beings on a face to face basis. Much research has been done in this field. In fact, years ago, when I was trying to decide on a topic for my dissertation research, I seriously considered the subject of the computer as a source of support - not in the sense that it can link us to others via instant messages, e-mail lists, etc. but in and of itself in the "interactions" between use and computer itself. However, I ended up studying creativity and motivation instead.)

    The angle I am pursuing here, though, is that I am wondering how much the fact that each child, or adult, has his/her own set of gadgets makes it no longer necessary for us to practice and develop the fine arts of sharing and negotiation. When we have to share, to negotiate, it is important that we learn to understand the other individual. We need to have empathy. We need to be able to see the world from the viewpoint of others, as well as of ourselves. In the past, large families, and less abundance of things than is often seen today, forced children to learn to share.

    I remember seeing an Elvis Presley movie (it might have been "Blue Hawaii") in which the custody of two young children is in question. As they sit in court the camera zooms in on their process of sharing a chocolate bar. One divides the bar into halves. The other one gets to choose which half he wants - thus putting pressure on the one who divides to divide them as fairly as possible. In my family we did the same thing. We learned to do that because we had to share. When children have to share... a television, time on the phone, a Game Boy, they learn what sharing is about. They also learn what it is to negotiate, and that the winning strategy is the strategy that allows everyone to win.

    What is sometimes called "perfect competition," in which there is a total winner and a total loser, may make for high television ratings for people who will never need to see each other again in the future. In real life, on the other hand, when the competitors will in the future be sharing a classroom, an office, a home, perhaps a bathroom, it is a really bad idea. In order for us to work and/or live together, it is important that every interaction allow each person to have a "win" rather than for one to adopt a "my way or the highway" attitude.

    In the last few years a lot has been written about "emotional intelligence." Regardless of the fact that there is a fairly hot dispute between various authorities as to precisely what constitutes emotional intelligence, who first developed the concept, and how it should be measured, all are agreed that it is important. It is important because it contributes to the ability of each individual to work alongside of others, to lead, to follow, to walk beside, in a constructive way. The constituents of emotional intelligence are not the work skills that we learn to equip us to do a specific task. They are not really what we are taught in school or college, or on-the-job training. Rather, they are the oil that reduces friction between people who may be heading in different directions. They are the insight that tells us when our own emotions are close to taking control of our behavior with possibly negative results. They are the outward-oriented insight that makes us aware of what is going on for others around us. They are the communication skills that enable us to both communicate our own views and to really listen and become aware of the views of others.

    Research has shown that these gifts are a vital accompaniment to career success, even more than job skills. Most people have the job skills they need. Something that personal effectiveness coaches such as I often encounter is the individual who has superb job skills, but still does not know how to interact well with others, and so does not move forward in a career as might be expected. If this is the case, then that is what we may work on with them.

    It used to be that an important part of the reports sent home by pre-school and kindergarten teachers centered around the concept of "plays well with others." Or not. My suggestion today is that perhaps, when, for the sake of piece and quiet, we allow every member of the family to have his or her own gadgets, so that there is no need for sharing, no need to negotiate with each other, we are doing serious disservice to the ongoing development of many of the skills that we consider to be important as parts of our emotional intelligence. We know that it is not easy to help a young person hone skills that may be needed in the future. Teaching is more time-consuming, and involves more effort and self-control, than doing something ourselves. Yet, for the most part, parents make the effort to teach. Here is an area where, perhaps, many parents need to think again, and to teach a little more.

    Sure, it is a pain to hear kids arguing, much easier to have them head off to their own individual corners with their own individual gadgets, and so leave us in peace and quiet. The point is, is that the best we can do as parents? Is that the best thing for the kids, in the long run?

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    RECOMMENDED READING

    Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John M. Gottman, Joan Declaire, Daniel P. Goleman

    "In Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, psychology professor John Gottman explores the emotional relationship between parents and children. It's not enough to simply reject an authoritarian model of parenting, Gottman says. A parent needs to be concerned with the quality of emotional interactions. Gottman, author of Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, and coauthor Joan Declaire focus first on the parent (a "know thyself" approach), and provide a series of exercises to assess parenting styles and emotional self-awareness. The authors identify a five-step "emotion coaching" process to help teach children how to recognize and address their feelings, which includes becoming aware of the child's emotions; recognizing that dealing with these emotions is an opportunity for intimacy; listening empathetically; helping the child label emotions; setting limits; and problem-solving. Chapters on divorce, fathering, and age-based differences in emotional development help make Gottman's teachings detailed and useful."

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    Girls Will Be Girls: Raising Confident and Courageous Daughters by JoAnn Deak, Teresa Barker (Contributor)

    "Deak, a speaker, school psychologist and educator, offers a practical and reassuring guide for parents of daughters. The introduction explains why the message of this book is so important: "Girls face an extraordinary challenge in our changing world. They are dealing with more sophisticated issues than ever before, and they are doing so with less adult contact and guidance than ever before. Statistics tell the story of a population at risk both physically and emotionally: one in four girls shows signs of depression. Compared to males, twice as many females attempt suicide...." As any parent of an adolescent or teen daughter knows, even the most straightforward conversation can quickly deteriorate into an argument, tears and frustration on both sides. Deak offers a variety of scenarios along with suggestions for improving the communication."

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    Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Daniel J. Kindlon, Michael Thompson, Dan Kindlon, Teresa Barker (Contributor)

    "Boys suffer from a too-narrow definition of masculinity, the authors assert as they expose and discuss the relationship between vulnerability and developing sexuality, the 'culture of cruelty' boys live in, the 'tyranny of toughness,' the disadvantages of being a boy in elementary school, how boys' emotional lives are squelched, and what we, as a society, can do about all this without turning 'boys into girls.' 'Our premise is that boys will be better off if boys are better understood--and if they are encouraged to become more emotionally literate,' the authors assert."

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    � 2003 by Diana Robinson, Ph.D.
    Diana@ChoiceCoach.com
    Choices Success Strategies Coaching
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