Building Skills for Successful Relationships

I’ve been pondering a lot this week about how we often try to get what we want out of relationships.  As many of you know, I have been working every week with Years 5 and 6 through a program called Social Decision Making and Problem Solving. This program aims to explicitly teach and build skills for successful relationships with both peers and adults.

Last week the teachers and I did a few role plays with the students and we discussed three types of communication – Aggressive, Passive and Assertive. We defined these as:

Aggressive – Communicating through your words and body language that the situation needs to be all about you – coming in and “blowing up” or “exploding” a situation. This form of communication rarely gets you what you want, and leaves others feeling scared or angry.

Passive – Letting everything happen to you, and not expressing what you need to in ways that others can understand. This form doesn’t affect others as much, but does leave you feeling miserable and without getting you what you wanted.

Assertive – Communicating what you want in a way that is open and respectful. You may not get exactly what you wanted, but you will maintain a relationship and achieve a compromise that suits both of you.

I won’t claim that our performances were of Academy Award quality, but I think Year 6 in particular will remember the role play where I “blew up” my friends’ game of handball by being aggressive. It got the point across that this is not a great way to solve problems. Several of the kids were also quite concerned when I left the passive scenario in tears.  They could all see the benefits of being assertive.

I heard two comments about the program on the day that I thought were worth sharing – the first was from a student who asked – “So if I want my parents to buy me an Xbox, I shouldn’t throw a tantrum about it, but ask calmly instead and accept their decision?” The second was from a staff member who reflected that “Their future wives and husbands will thank you!”

These comments got me thinking about how important the relationship between a child and a parent is for learning how to cope with other relationships in life. Parents have a tricky job – we have to build a sense of affection and safety, while also having to say no sometimes and to set boundaries. We’re in the position of constantly modelling appropriate ways to manage conflict and emotions – whether we feel up to the task or not.

Parent modelling and interaction is vital for helping to prepare our kids for relationship issues they may face in their lives –  for the boss who asks them to do a task they don’t like, for when their friends want to go see a movie that they don’t, or for when a salesperson tries to take advantage of them on a large purchase.

I’d like to encourage you all to keep persisting through this challenging task, I know our kids are worth it.