Emotional Intelligence | Stevehein.com


Some of my interactions with kids


(These are mostly stories from my old personal journal when I first started to realize the importance of parenting and of how we treat children. S. Hein)


# of

A surprise encounter - Building uniqueness 340
JW - a story of a pre-schooler who I bonded with, then who was emotionally abused by his teacher. 3,500
Laura and the silverware 400
Building trust with a basketball 200
At the barbers - watching a child get invalidated 650
Why children like me - Part 1  


July 1999

A surprise encounter

While camping one day I was on my way to take a shower when I had a short interaction with a little girl outside the building. She walked up while I was locking my bike. We were both a bit surprised to see each other appear from around the corner. I said "hi" to her, and she said "hi" back quietly. I asked, "Did you get wet when it rained?"


She then asked, "Why don't you have your shirt on?" I said, "Because I was hot and I am on my way to take a shower." Then I asked her, "What about you, are you hot?"


Then she walked away. I saw a trace of fear in her face as we encountered each other. More fear than just surprise. Then the fear or cautiousness remained as we spoke, something very unusual for a child of her age. And I wonder now why her first concern was why I wasn't wearing a shirt. She didn't seem to ask it in a curious way, but more in a judgmental way, as if she had already learned rigid rules of social conformity. But I mostly wanted to write about this little interaction to point out the way in which I spoke to her, because I believe it is important how we speak to children each time we encounter them.

When she asked why I didn't have a shirt, I could have responded, "Because it's hot out." In fact, I almost did respond this way. But instead I said, "Because I am hot." I wanted to make it clear it was my perception, my experience. I didn't want to make a global statement and sound like a voice of authority on what "hot" was.

I then asked for her perception, wanting to help her believe that it mattered; to help her feel important and encourage a sense of her own uniqueness. I also wanted to help her get used to expressing herself, even when her perception differed from an adult's. It was a small interaction, but I believe these little interactions add up.


Building Trust With a Basketball

One day I found myself in a primary school at lunch time. The kids ate lunch in the gym. Before the kids came in I was shooting baskets. When the first group of children came in I passed the basketball to the first two or three as they walked by. I was a little afraid I might have started something which would get out of control, but I wanted to show my trust in them. I silently signalled to the first one that I was going to throw the ball to her just before I let it go. I wasn't sure if she would catch it. But she did and passed it right back. The next two children also did so flawlessly.

Later a line formed as the kids waited to get their food. I silently bounced the ball to one of the boys. Again I was a little afraid. My fear was that he might throw it across the room or run away with it. But I trusted the child and my instincts. He caught it and bounced it right back with a look of pride. I did this with the next child, who again bounced it back. The next one dropped the ball. I silently picked it up and gave her a second chance to help rebuild her self-confidence. She caught it this time and bounced it back to me. I smiled and so did she.

(This was taken from Notes from a day in an elementary school in the USA)

October 1999

At the barber - This is almost exactly as I wrote this true story in my journal, with minor editiong.

At barbers yesterday:

Mother and barber were invalidating a child. Telling him "don't be scared, it doesn't hurt."

Boy: Yes it does!

Mother: No it doesn't, you are fibbing, stop telling tales.

The more they invalidated him, the more he protested. She held his head in place while she invalidated him and kept ordering to sit still. The barber tried to distract him and talk him out of his feelings. They said he was going to look handsome, like a big boy, etc. They sounded so fake, so phoney.

I wondered what people said to me when they forced me to get my haircut. I remember I protested loudly also. But I don't remember how they forced or manipulated me.

I wish I would have started standing on my own much sooner in life. I wish I would have realized how I was manipulated and controlled and forced to conform.

I said to the boy, "I didn't like it the first few times I got my hair cut either." He looked up at me, startled, but we connected. I smiled compassionately. He felt understood for a brief moment.

Then the mother started to defend her self, "But this isn't his first time, he shouldn't be afraid anymore..."

I said, "It still feels a little funny to me when I am getting it cut now."

The two barbers looked stunned. Perhaps they had never seen anything like this, perhaps they had never thought of showing understanding or of validating a child. Probably they have never heard of the word validation or invalidation. Maybe one day it will be taught in schools. Till then, millions of children will suffer the same pain that this young boy, who reminded me so much of myself, had to needlessly endure. I feel empathy, even sympathy for him, living in such a home and world.

I still resent having to get my haircut against my will, having to tuck my shirt into my pants. No one listened to me when I said it felt uncomfortable, in whatever language I had available to me at that young age.


After thoughts:

This is a case where resentment can be a positive thing. My ability to re-feel the invalidation which this boy was experiencing helps me write about it now. (sentir = to feel in French and Spanish) Or maybe it is better to say my resentment guides me towards what is important and it inspires and energizes and motivates me to take some constructive action. And it allowed me to understand and connect with this boy, who I had never seen before and will never see again, in a way that, in all likelihood, not even his own mother ever will.

So parents, the next time you take a child to get his or her hair cut, ask yourselves, "Why am I really doing this?" What is more important, how I feel about his hair, how others feel or how or how he feels?

More thoughts...

Notice that the mother said "Stop fibbing" and "Stop telling tales." In other word, she was accusing the boy of lying about his feelings. What affect might this have on him? Wouldn't it confuse him? Wouldn't he feel falsely and unfairly accused? Wouldn't this cause him even more psychological pain?

Also, notice what she said when I tried to show compassion for him. She said "he shouldn't be afraid..." But he was afraid and instead of soothing him with understanding, she completely invalidated him. What is is he to make out of all of this? He can only learn to doubt his own feelings; to learn that his feelings don't matter, and that he will be forced to do things against his will, and perhaps even worse, with no one to turn to for understanding.

Earning a Child's Respect

Here are a couple little things I do to earn a child's respect, cooperation, friendship etc.

When they are learning to use my computer, I wait for them to ask me to help them, or I offer to help them by saying, "Want some help?" when I see they are stuck. I don't take the computer away from them, I don't move their hands out of the way etc. as so many adults do. Nor do I shout at them or help them feel incompetent.

And when I want them to help me with something I say something like "Do you want to help me?" or "Could you help me with something?" I don't say, "Come over here," as so many adults do. This morning for example, I said to a 10 year old, "Claudia, do you want to help us?" and she said "Yes!" and ran over to help with a smile on her face. Nearly everyone else around her though, would just shout, "Claudia! Come here now. Take this outside."

These are small things, but they make a difference. They are the reasons why when I ask a child or teenager how much they feel respected by me they always give me a high score. Even when they can't put into words why they feel respected, they know that I treat them differently because of these kinds of little things.

S. Hein
December 2004