Creating a toolbox for the future…. Change is happening all around us, whether it be our circumstances, fashions or the relationships that come and go throughout our lives. These things constantly challenge our sense of identity, purpose and ways of living. So how can we best help our children learn to manage these waves of uncertainty?
There is one thing for certain in this complex world of ours – that nothing’s for certain. We as humans tend to respond to change along a spectrum between taking conscious charge of our problems or blaming something or someone else for what is happening to us. What are the steps towards learning to respond in a healthy way to change?
One of the keys to managing change is response-ability. This is defined as being able to respond creatively and effectively to what happens in our lives by making conscious choices to find healthy responses. Rather than blaming outside forces, we can choose to actively examine the situation at hand and commit to finding positive ways to solve problems.
let’s make a toolbox!
I refer to this process as The Toolbox. Put very simply, the more tools you have in your toolbox, the greater the potential you have to be able to ‘fix’ the problem. This is a very good analogy for young people. You can even use a real toolbox to illustrate your point by showing young people how you can use certain tools to fix certain problems. A toolbox needs to have many different tools in it in order to be of any long-term use. Not all problems, challenges and conflicts require the same tool, but some tools will be interchangeable and, just like the ones in the real toolbox, problem-solving tools can be shared too.
The first tool in any situation requiring attention is acknowledgement. While this may seem simplistic, it is often the one we miss. This involves taking a step back from our often intense first reactions and actually seeing the problem for what it truly is.
How we first respond is crucial to the outcome. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to react habitually, often based on our own experiences as children or by following the example set by our own parents. At this point, take a few deep breaths. This helps to create a space for you to think about what you want to say or do and how to say or do it. I refer to this as my Universal Tool. It’s a good first port of call in any crisis!
The vital skill needed at the next stage of problem solving is listening. Listening to your child, listening to your gut reactions, listening to all the different perspectives that relate to this unique situation. For, although it might seem that the issue you are currently dealing with is just the same old drama, in fact, all situations can be treated as unique and solved by a range of different tools from your developing toolbox. It is good to keep in mind that each person will develop their own toolbox depending on what works best for them and this is where the next shared problem-solving tool (perspective) comes into its own.
the importance of perspective
Imagine yourself in a conflict. Is it possible for you to see all sides of what’s going on? The answer is no, more often than not. If you are right in the thick of it, and this is exactly what happens for young children, you and they will find this hard because of emotional responses. However, this is exactly what needs to happen. Using the analogy of a globe with all its different peoples, cultures, geographical terrains and climactic conditions is a good way to explain the principle of perspective to young people.
creativity and fun
Now it’s time for creativity and fun! Using techniques like brainstorming, comparing, evaluating and practising reflective listening can all help to diffuse a situation and create possibilities for change and growth. By making a conscious effort to look at an issue from all sides and share in the problem-solving process, rather than blaming or shaming, you can create opportunities for change to happen anywhere anytime. A brave new world where you and your children can create different choices together, developing respect, generosity and empathy for each other and the Earth, while helping them to nurture a sense of mastery and independence.
practical tools for your toolbox
- Draw/write the conflict/issue/problem on big pieces of paper with coloured pens or on a whiteboard.
- Role play with stuffed toys and/or puppets.
- Going for a walk while you talk over what’s on your mind can make space to create different options for dealing with a situation. Moving your body in fresh air gets your brain moving too.
- To help them understand perspective, stick pieces of paper with your names on it onto a ball and show how it’s hard to see the other person from your side of the ball. Make paper bridges to connect to each other to show how it is possible to see someone else’s side of a story.
- Make a toolbox that contains colourful tool-shaped cards with practical suggestions (examples could be: breathe, take a walk, ask for a hug) that might help with dealing with a situation or conflict. Take turns at taking one out and discussing if it might help to ‘fix’ what’s going on.
Kristina Jensen is a poet, freelance writer, musician and homeschool parent living on a boat with her family in the Marlborough Sounds.