By Sam Piha
In our last blog post, we discussed the film, “Inside Out”, and the importance of children having an awareness of their internal feelings as well as the ability to manage their feelings to avoid negative behavior toward others.
Below are the responses of an interview we did with Sheri Glucoft Wong, LCSW. Ms. Wong is a well-known family therapist who focuses on children’s issues. She is a leading consultant to schools in the Bay Area and is best known for her parenting workshops.
Q: Did you see “Inside Out” and/or our blog post? If yes, what did you think?
A: Although I haven't yet seen "Inside Out”, I found your blog post about it to be one of the most thoughtful and useful pieces I've read about the film.
Q: There is a great interest in social emotional learning and character building within afterschool and summer programs. Important components are “self-awareness” and “self-control". This includes understanding and being able to identify one’s own emotions. How important is it that we help kids with this task?
A: While it's always been important, I think it's more important now than ever. Self-awareness and self-control are key aspects to relating, and the ability to relate well to others is at the core of every aspect of development: emotional, social, academic, team-playing, and navigating one's world.
Q: What are some of the consequences if we ignore this?
A: There are consequences to every aspect of a child's being when we ignore this core aspect of children's development--their sense of self and relationship to others-- and when we fail to guide them and provide them with the tools they need to understand themselves and relate to others. To succeed academically and eventually in the work force, to contribute to positive social environments (home, school, afterschool, sports teams, etc.) and to manage any of those when they are challenging, children need self-awareness and communication tools.
Q: Do you agree that the out-of-school setting is the right place to contribute to this?
A: Yes, I do. I think out-of-school settings give kids an opportunity, on a more leveled playing field than the classroom or sports teams can offer, to develop aspects of themselves and their relationships with others. Staff can be trained and these programs can be structured so that the HOW of performance and achievement becomes integral to the activities and learning that takes place; for example, how kids demonstrate caring, compassion, cooperation, collaboration emphasizes the importance of knowing and managing their feelings and behaviors toward others.
Q: How might efforts to promote self-awareness and self-control look different for elementary age kids versus older youth in middle and high school?
A: Young kids are still trying to figure out how the world works and are especially responsive to understanding "results”, that this behavior prompts that reaction, and that there is a connection between what they do and what ends up happening. With younger kids, it's especially important to let the learning about emotions, behaviors and relationships emerge from what is happening in real time.
Q: What kind of training do adults who work with children in out-of-school programs need to provide the learning, guidance and support that children need in these areas?
A: The adults need to be self-aware so that they can identify their own responses and interact with kids with the kind of clarity and human values that we are trying to encourage. Much of what we would like to see in terms of kids' behavior and interactions cannot be legislated, it needs to be inspired, so adults in teaching roles need to understand how, at each developmental phase, kids experience and process feelings, and what children are capable of regarding behaviors and relating. Educators should also be provided with the communication skills training needed to coach kids and to partner with parents in these areas.
Sheri Glucoft Wong, LCSW is a family therapist, parent educator and consultant who is known for offering practical, useable tools for raising kids. Sheri has led workshops for Bay Area public and private schools for over 30 years. In addition to working with parents and children, Sheri has provided training to teachers, school administrators, counselors and others who work with children and families.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.