by Nancy Monson

Learning? Not unless I'm OK with my friends

Does your child:

  • Express feelings?
  • Ask for what they want?
  • Speak up with opinions?
  • Listen to others feelings or opinions?
  • Get teased or bullied?
  • Tease, boss, bully or leave others out?
  • Have friends of both sexes?

When kids have trouble in their relationships with peers or adults, it is a serious block to learning, in fact, some kids can’t learn at all.  When you have had a fight with your partner, or someone you are close to, how easy is it for you to focus?  When we look closely at all the violence in schools, at what the kids are saying, the main cause is feeling left out, rejected, alone, and angry and helpless to change it.  But, we plug away at curriculum, testing and higher achievement standards instead of getting at the foundation of what education is.

Feeling safe, respected, empowered, accepted and vital in relationships is at the HEART of education.

Let’s back up.  What is life about? It’s about being in relationship to your self (I know and am deeply connected to who I am), to other people and to the world around me.  When you ask people, bottom line, what is MOST important to them in their life, it is their relationships, LOVE.  But where is that in our children’s education.  How are they taught to be IN RELATIONSHIP?  Not told, but given the time, experience, guidance, support to be fully themselves in their relationships. 

Parents express a lot of concern to me about their children’s relationships, fears they have of their children being left out or being too controlling, of having no friends, or being swayed by peer pressure.  Why?  Because it happened to them and they know the pain of it.  They ask me, what can they do? How can they help?  They know in themselves that relationship problems, in the three ways I mentioned (self, others and world) cause the most problems for us as human beings, from depression (lack of connection to meaning and love in and for life), divorce, abuse, neglect, all the way to the destruction of the environment (lack of caring beyond immediate gain and vision towards long term effects past our limited life span) and war (complete breakdown in communication, compromise and teamwork).  Where does it start? 

Start by looking closely at yourself.  Children learn relating by how it is MODELED.  Do you work out problems in front of them (the ones that you can?)  Do you share with them the mistakes you make? (I wish I wouldn’t have yelled at your dad, I feel bad about it, it must have hurt.  I think I’ll go and talk to him).  How do you work out problems with your kids, do you control or are they part of the process?  Do you listen to them?  Do you respect their opinions? What are your relationship problems?  Do you stand up for what you believe in, say how you feel, work things out or walk away, feel like you are always right, wrong, etc….The other night I asked a group of parents what it would feel like if everything they had to say to the people they were closest to was said, how that would feel, how much energy that would free up.  The room was very quiet.  Your kids inherit your relationship problems.  You honestly work on them, they feel the hope for change, they reap the benefit along with you.

What happens at your child’s school?  Did you know that most schools have two 15 minute recesses, with 100 kids watched by a few teachers?  Do you know how much STUFF goes on between kids in that time?  How can they learn to relate (which they mostly do through their play) in group situations, with all the dynamics, if that is the space they are supposed to do it in, and who is out there helping them figure it out? Does your school have councils where kids learn how to talk to each other honestly in groups, or learn to solve problems, take responsibility for their part. Do the kids learn to mediate for each other? Does the teacher take them time to help kids relate better?  Is there teamwork as part of the curriculum, where every angle has value, where coming up with solutions that all are involved in is at the heart of learning how to be in and be responsible for your own community.  And the goal IS to be in COMMUNITY with each other.  When kids are in community they can trust and relax.  Then, they can learn.

We need to look deeply at where we place our priorities in education. When you REALLY ask yourself what is most important in life, shouldn’t that be part of your child’s curriculum at school?


© Nancy Monson, 2005. All rights reserved.

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