Keeping the Peace During the Holidays

Now that Thanksgiving and the holiday season are upon us, there are a few things we can be certain of: good food (and too much of it!), sweet treats, festive activities, shopping until we drop, and time with extended family.

Unfortunately,, for some of us, time with extended family can be strained. And when tensions are high, people are much more likely to take offense. This week, I’d like to talk about HOW you communicate with others and how you can avoid conflict as you interact with family, friends, and others over the next month.

Miscommunication and spats happen to all of us, probably more often than we’d care to admit. There are, however, some simple things you can do to minimize them, especially by remembering how others receive our messages:.

 

  1. Word choice – This factor is huge, especially when we discuss sensitive topics or relationships (here’s a hint: No talking politics over turkey dinner!). In these situations, our emotions can interfere with our thinking, and we often use more provocative language that we later regret. In the “heat of battle,” we can be so focused on proving our point that we forget to show tact, empathy, and understanding to the other party. The end result is that things spiral out of control, and frustration and anger take over..

 

  1. Delivery – Sometimes it’s our manner of delivery that gets in the way, even if our word choice is fine. Examples include speaking with a harsh or condescending tone of voice or displaying arrogant facial expressions or body language (e.g.,, eye rolling). No matter what words we use, if the “packaging” is incongruent, our message will lack credibility and rub people the wrong way. No one is convincing when they show disrespect to their audience.

 

  1. Form – Ever wanted to jet off a nasty email when you’re upset or irritated? Don’t be so quick on the draw. The advantage of verbal communication is that the audience hears you speak, allowing your tone to help convey your ideas. In contrast, written communications (e.g., emailing, texting, social media comments and messages) have a major disadvantage because the audience imposes their own interpretation of your tone. Aunt Sue’s perception may be light years away from what you intended. If so, you have a big problem on your hands.

 

  1. Filter – Depending on whether your audience likes or distrusts you, whether they’re in a good or bad mood, or focused or distracted by other thoughts, your message may not get through in the way you intended..Unfortunately, you can’t control their filter.

 

There are two other irritating tendencies that are becoming more common and sabotaging our times together. One is when people use every opportunity to politicize, even during get-togethers that are supposed to be festive and harmonious. The second is when people emphatically express opinions as though they are facts. This is a predictable consequence of the media bias we are seeing. Please be mindful of these tendencies and respectfully suggest a change of subject if you’re on the receiving end.

This holiday season, I hope you never find yourself having to say “I didn’t mean it like that!” to an uncle, aunt, parent, sibling, or cousin. By remembering these influences before you speak, you’ll do your part in spreading peace and harmony to others.

Do you pay close attention to how you communicate and how your words are being received? What are some ways you’ve learned to be a more effective communicator?

 Happy Holidays from all of us at LifeSmart!

Friendsgiving and the Four Stages of Friendship

The holidays are already just around the corner (how did that happen?), and so many of us are already filling up our calendars with festive events, dinner parties, school functions, and traditional gift exchanges. It’s a season to focus on family and friends. How many of you are having a Friendsgiving celebration this year? I know that I am, so I definitely have the topic of friendship on my mind.

With so much focus on spending time with those we love, I’m reminded of what real friendship looks like. “Friend” is one of those words that has taken on a new meaning in today’s social media-inundated world. Now, the word “friend” can easily refer to a life-long confidante, or simply someone you just connected with on Facebook or started following on Instagram! BIG difference, don’t you think?

Generally speaking, healthy long-term relationships progress through four stages and—no offense to Facebook—“friend” isn’t the first stage. Ideally, each relationship stage should build on the other and at the proper pace. What advances a relationship to new stages or levels, IF it is meant to advance at all, are: mutual trust, compatibility, a shared interest in cultivating a deeper friendship, and the tests of time.

The stages go like this (imagine a pyramid, starting at the base):

  1. Acquaintance
  2. Prospect (a potential friend)
  3. Friend
  4. V.I.P. (Very Important Person)

Every person who becomes more than an acquaintance will start in the first stage.  Most stay there forever while others may progress into the next stages. Only a very few will make it to the VIP stage—and that’s the way it should be. Most of us usually have 4-5 VIPs, the crème de la crème of people in our lives.

Unfortunately, many people—particularly young people—can rush the stages, prematurely moving from one to the next in a quest for intimacy, new friends, popularity, or a full social calendar. When the stages are rushed, people exhibit behaviors in one stage that should be reserved for a deeper one. Inevitably, these relationships disintegrate due to a breakdown in trust, a loss of interest, or a pace that is uncomfortable for one or both of the parties. Note this applies to both friendships and romantic relationships.

If you want healthy, lasting relationships, don’t rush to stage four (like they do in the movies!). When you do, you risk making an emotional investment without really knowing the person—a mistake that can take a major toll when the relationship ends. It’s better to go slow through the stages and reserve the VIP level for people who really prove their friendship, commitment, and compatibility over time.  Don’t forget that good friendship and true love take time and good timing, and that’s okay.

Take some time to think about your current relationships. Can you recognize which stage each one is in? This holiday season, make a conscious effort to invest your deepest relationships and those poised to move up to the next stage. Those are the friendships that will build you up and last a lifetime!

Crisis Decision Making 101

It used to be that when I was upset, I either made a rash decision or said something I would later regret. I remember having to go back and clean up my messes or apologize for saying something out-of-line. Being impulsive in the heat of the moment never worked in my favor.

I may have learned it the hard way, but eventually I figured it out. The fact is, we don’t think as clearly when we’re in a highly emotional state (whether we are feeling angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, etc.). There’s too much distraction and we don’t think objectively. Today, if I’m upset and need to make a decision, I make a tentative one, but (where possible) wait until the following morning to confirm it. Generally, it proves to be a better decision because my thinking is clearer and more objective the next day. Often, with the perspective from time and reflection, I change my decision for the better.

Why do we tend to make poor choices when we’re under stress? It’s because of our physiology—that’s right, it’s how we’re wired. But we can learn to compensate.

Being in a stressful situation messes with our brain—and can impair our decision-making capabilities.  A new study shows that in a crisis (or even what feels like a crisis), the brain tends to focus on reward, and ignore the possible negative consequences of a decision. That’s why “feel good” decisions like eating what we shouldn’t, blowing off steam by losing our temper, giving in to peer pressure, or making a rash purchase we can’t afford are more likely to happen when we’re stressed-out.

Even worse, not only does stress make us focus on the ‘feel good” aspect of a risky decision or behavior, it impairs our ability to think about the negative consequences. (Frankly, I’d say that’s a pretty good recipe for potential stupidity, don’t you?)

When you’re in this situation, hold off until the following morning if you can, or at least defer it until you’ve settled down and can think clearly. Ask for more time if you need it. Learn to recognize and release your stress.  Here are 3 quick tips to help unwind and cool you down:

  1. Reach out to your support system. You don’t have to go through hard moments alone. Their wise counsel and perspectives can help immensely.
  2. The endorphin rush you get from exercise will up your mood and help chase away the blues.
  3. Practice conscious breathing and relaxation techniques. Meditate, pray, do yoga, or all of the above. Connect your mind, body, and spirit for a holistic de-stressing.

Also, think about the things that make for good decisions and force yourself to follow them. You’ll be glad you did!

Have you noticed that your decision-making improves when you’re not in an emotional state? Which young people in your life can benefit from this lesson when facing stressful situations?

3 Tips for Conquering Conflict

Question: What do the Montagues and Capulets have in common with convincing a five-year old to eat her brussels sprouts? Answer: Conflict! We can all relate to this on some level, right? Whether it’s conflict with a boss, coworker, spouse, child, friend, parent, teacher, or even a next door neighbor, the fact is conflict is a part of life! We aren’t going to always see eye-to-eye with everyone. What matters is what we do (and how we react) when conflict arises.

We invite you to use this article as an opportunity to perform a self-check. How do you rate on your levels of self control, understanding, and respectfulness when conflict arises in your life? What can you do to better handle conflict with others?

Here are three tips to help you manage conflict:

  1. Respect yourself and your right to be heard. Whether it’s peer pressure, a challenge to your rights, personal safety, or position, it’s important to stand up for yourself. Sometimes, we allow others to intimidate or dominate us out of fear or insecurity. Also, certain personality types (especially the “S’s” in the DISC model) are so focused on “keeping the peace” that they risk being taken advantage of, especially by people with dominant personalities. Although conflict is uncomfortable, we must respect ourselves in the process while being respectful to the other party. Don’t ever sacrifice your well-being or comfort for the sake of someone else. You deserve to be heard just as much as the other party.
  2. Strive to be an agreeable disagreer. So often, conflicts arise from misunderstandings that could have been prevented or at least controlled. Sometimes they’re based on different philosophical views or perspectives where there isn’t a right or wrong answer. (This is especially true when it comes to talking politics. The current political climate is pretty tense, and conflict is high—both on social media and in real life.) We may want the same outcome as others with whom we disagree, but simply have different strategies to get there. Always strive for mutual understanding, while being attentive to your tone and body language, but agree to disagree if that’s the case. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Consider having a heartfelt retroactive talk about it once things have calmed, and vow to do better next time if it didn’t go as smoothly as you’d have liked. And, remember that barking, yelling, and name calling won’t change anyone’s mind, anyway. Instead, it usually emboldens.
    Finally, if you’re in a heated conversation and your emotions are bubbling, try using this phrase: “I have a different perspective.” If the other party is disrespectful after that, simply suggest a follow up conversation at another time and move on.
  3. Choose reconciliation over grudges wherever possible. We’ve all been victims of a wrong or a mistake. It causes anger, shame, resentment, depression, and worse. However, when we harbor grudges and refuse to forgive, it can be like an all-consuming cancer. Strive for reconciliation whenever possible and don’t hesitate to seek support. Holding a grudge and/or refusing to ever speak to someone again will not make you feel better—it will feel like a burden that just won’t go away.

The ability to manage conflict is a hallmark of a true leader and a symbol of integrity and maturity. What is your favorite tip for handling conflict? Do you have any life lessons from past experiences you’d like to share?

Never Underestimate the Power of Your Words

Think of a time when someone spoke loving or encouraging words to you. Those words will probably stay with you forever. However, you can probably think of even more instances when others have been critical or mean spirited or gossiped about you. Those words won’t be easy to forget, either, but for a different reason.

Words have incredible power—they can be uplifting and change someone’s life for the better, or they can be destructive and leave people with wounds that will last a lifetime. The thing is, the only words we have power over are our own. Once spoken, there is no way to get them back. Plus, we can’t control what other people do with the words we’ve spoken. Even if you don’t want them to, your words could end up traveling in a million different directions and—depending on what you said—get you in trouble one day. (This is especially true for anything we put on social media.)

It’s crucial to understand that our words reveal much about our character. Our words are reflections of our trustworthiness, loyalty, kindness, and respect for others. Also, they’re telltale signs of our temperament and self control. What do your words say about you? How are we doing as a nation?

In recent history, some horrific tragedies have occurred among young people when they were publicly ridiculed through gossip, texts, or social media posts. Some of these even resulted in suicide. So much heartache—all caused by words used heartlessly and irresponsibly. Yes, our words can literally be a matter of life or death, especially to people who are vulnerable.

Here are four ways to guard our words and ensure we’re received as a person of integrity:

  1. Only say things about other people you wouldn’t mind them hearing. Try it for a week and you will truly be amazed by how it affects your choice of words. (I wish every school would take this challenge. Imagine what it would do to bullying!)
  2. When offering constructive criticism, recite it back to yourself in your head before giving it to the person. How would you feel receiving this exact criticism? Be empathetic and CONSTRUCTIVE (not hurtful!).
  3. Do not put anything on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram (even in private messages) that you would not want getting out. The internet is not private, ever.
  4. If you’re in a disagreement with someone, watch out for accusations, assumptions, and the tendency to name call. If you sense that you’re reaching the “boiling point,” pause for at least ten seconds to collect yourself and your thoughts. Above all, strive for mutual understanding and avoid words that incite emotion. A calm tone, especially in disagreements, makes a big difference.

When you apply these concepts in life, you’ll be admired for your tact, restraint, and uplifting spirit. You’ll see that your words can change your heart, body, and mind from the inside out, and your relationships with your friends, significant other, coworkers, and even your children will improve. And, if you can get others to join you, it might be the beginning of a wonderful movement in our culture! Are you up for it?

What are some ways you’ve helped build a positive culture of words

in your classroom, school, family, workplace, or community?

Eight Ways to Avoid “Foot-in-Mouth” Disease

These days, it feels like the majority of our communication is online. Thanks to Facebook (and other social media platforms), e-mail, blogs, and the capability for many career positions to work remotely, most of us are more comfortable communicating online than we are in person. In fact, because we live in such a tech-inundated world, face-to-face communication skills (especially amongst young people) are at their all-time worst. Needless to say, we could all use some tips on how to avoid miscommunication—for those times when a text message or SnapChat just won’t do.

You see, it’s not uncommon for the messages we send to be received differently than we intend. And when it happens, it can be a disaster. It’s crucial that we are aware of the way we say things and how we come across to others. This applies to making first impressions at job interviews, dating, relating to your employers, making new friends, and more. It can’t all be done online! (Thank goodness!)

Miscommunication can happen to all of us.  Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to minimize it. Three things affect how others receive our messages… and any one of them can be the cause of major misunderstandings if we’re not careful. As you step out from behind your computer, look up from your smart phone, and engage with the people around you, keep these three tips in mind:

  1. Word choice – This factor is huge, especially when we discuss sensitive topics and issues we are passionate or emotional about (e.g., politics and religion). In these situations, our emotions can interfere with our thinking, and we often use more provocative language that we later regret. As a result, the other person can become hurt and offended. Take a deep breath or two before you speak so your internal filter can soften your rhetoric.

 

  1. Delivery – Sometimes it’s our manner of delivery that gets in the way, even if our word choice is fine. Delivery is especially important when meeting people for the first time. Examples include speaking with a harsh (or bored, unenthusiastic, or condescending) tone of voice or displaying certain expressions and body language that are not received well by others (crossing arms, standing over someone, frowning, smirking, rolling eyes). No matter what words we use, if the “packaging” is incongruent, our message will lack credibility and rub people the wrong way. Always pay attention to the non-verbal cues your audience is sending!

 

  1. Filter – (No, I’m not referring to Instagram.) Depending on whether your audience likes or distrusts you, whether they’re in a good or bad mood, focused or distracted, your message may not get through in the way you intended. Unfortunately, this happens all the time, and you can’t control it. Filter is the one aspect of miscommunication is that most out of our control.

 

In short, here are eight ways to help you avoid miscommunication with others (and needing to put your foot in your mouth or apologize later on):

  • Be sure your expression (body language, facial expressions) are in sync
  • Think before you speak
  • Strive to be empathetic by putting yourself in the receiver’s position
  • Closely monitor the receiver’s body language to see whether he or she may be interpreting your words differently than you intend.
  • Be a discerning listener when they respond
  • Be quick to apologize for any misunderstandings
  • Avoid coming on too strong, especially with people who don’t know you well. It takes time to build the relationship capital needed for people to give you the benefit of the doubt.
  • Remember, it’s okay to be professional in casual settings, but not the reverse!

How do your own in-person communication skills rate? Do you have any other tips on avoiding miscommunication you’d like to share?

 Note: This is an excellent lesson for role-playing in the home or classroom. Encourage your teen or students to act out different scenarios in which the verbal communication could be misinterpreted. You will find a great lesson in our What I Wish I Knew at 18 study guide on this subject.

Communication Strategies that Empower and Influence Your Teen: Part Three

If you’re a parent, mentor, teacher, or coach with a teen (or teens) in your life, you’ve likely had some communication hiccups. Let’s face it—teens can be hard to talk to at times and I’m sure I was no different. That’s why we’re sharing our best tips to relate in a way that’s empowering, uplifting, and effective.

If you missed the first two parts of this series, hop over here to read the first installment and here for the second.

Strategy 5: Invite them into your decisions and respect their opinions.

One of life’s special honors is to be asked for our opinion. It makes us feel respected and valued, especially when we’re in a subordinate position. (In fact, it’s one of the top three motivators of a workforce!) So, knowing this, is it any surprise that our teens will appreciate being asked for his help or opinion?

I’ll never forget my indecision when choosing a title for my first book. I developed a new list every day for weeks, but nothing stuck. Then, in a moment of exasperation, I decided to call my son Michael, who was a sophomore in college at the time. I shared my frustration and without a second of thought, he blurted out, “Dad, why don’t you just call it what it is…it’s what I wish I knew at 18.” I knew it was the perfect title from the moment I heard it. Why didn’t I ask him from the beginning?

Because we parents are older and (usually!) wiser than our children, it’s easy for us to fall into the trap of deciding everything ourselves. Yet, our children can offer invaluable perspectives just like Michael did. If we are training future adults, it’s imperative that we treat them that way, and that includes seeking out their opinions whenever we can. It’s an honor for them to be included, and it can legitimately help with our decisions and understanding.

 

Strategy 6: Remember, how you say it can matter more than what you say.

It’s easy to think that our words are all that matters, but nothing can be further from the truth. Our non-verbal cues can have far greater impact on how we’re received than the actual words we speak.

Our attitude and tone are particularly important in our communications with teens. If we come across as condescending, negative, angry, or irritable, they’ll tune out, shut down, or worse. Repetitive comments, excessive reminders, and above all, nagging, are as counterproductive with them as it is with us. It helps to check our body language, tone, and even attitude before we address an issue—even if it means pausing for a few minutes before we respond. After all, we’re raising future adults and we need to set the example.

 Strategy 7: Fully engage and have fun!

One of the greatest relationship destroyers affecting families is busyness and over-commitment.

How we prioritize our time and allocate it to our children is profoundly important—to us and to them. It’s critical that we create the capacity in our busy lives to invest in them. We will never get the chance to “do-over” and get this time back. That’s a life regret to avoid at all costs.

But, just as important is to have fun and take time off of the performance track. During the teen/young adult years, it’s easy to allow our time and conversations to become consumed by their daily tasks. (A good test is to monitor how much of your communication with them is task driven.) Make room for fun and good times and enter their world. It builds relationship capital for now and in the future.

There you have it! We hope these tips have been insightful and that you’ll consider applying them to your current adult/teen relationship. Remember to acknowledge the uniqueness of your child and to tweak your communications to fit his or her personality style.

Have you applied any of the above strategies to your relationship with your teen? How have they helped (or not helped)? What are your personal strategies for getting your teen to open up and maintain an open line of authentic communication?

 

Communication Strategies that Empower and Influence Your Teen: Part Two

With all the busyness that parenting teenagers entails (homework, sports, after-school activities, sleepovers, college applications, financial aid, finals, parent/teen relationship struggles, etc.), sometimes practicing good communication can fall to the wayside. It’s important to remember that we will never influence and empower our teens to be their best selves without applying effective communication strategies .

Are you struggling to “get through” to your teen? Feeling like you don’t know how to communicate with them as they’re gaining independence and you’re releasing control? This second installment in our three-part series will fill your toolbox with practical ideas to set them up for success (and feel good about it yourself, too!).

If you missed the first two strategies, check out last week’s blog.

 Strategy 3: Value and recognize the person more than the performance.

We all want our children to do their best. But, isn’t it more important for them to be their best? Over the past decade or two, our culture has been breeding “performance parents.” You know, folks who define their own identity and success by the performance of their children. You see it in the stands at Little League games and the desire for “bragging rights” when socializing with other parents.

I witness this firsthand when I speak with teenagers at schools. Many are heartbroken and resentful because of the pressure they feel, the comparison to siblings who are performing better, and the perceived lack of interest by their parents in the person they’re becoming. It’s not healthy and these pressure tactics don’t set them up for success. Rather than feeling valued, they feel controlled, as if managed by a driving supervisor..

Whenever possible, honor the admirable character qualities and behaviors of your children. Instead of simply praising their 3.5 GPA, honor their perseverance, discipline, efforts to improve, character, resilience, and dedication to excellence. Recognize their journey and what got them there, not just the destination. Express your pride in them, even when they don’t take first place. Show them that your love and belief is unconditional. Help them see how much you believe in them.         

 Strategy 4: Test the waters and start with positivity.

It’s not uncommon for teens to experience greater mood swings for reasons we don’t always know or understand. It’s hard when the child who at one point couldn’t stop talking is now the aloof and uncommunicative teen. Sometimes they just need to be alone. It’s important we respect that. It’s been one of my biggest growth areas as a father because I’m an analytic and so interested in their world.

When your teen is quieter than usual, it pays to test the waters with simple, non-controversial questions to take his or her “communication temperature.” If his answers are brief, or his mood seems closed, give him space and let him know that you’ll be around to chat if he wants. Try again the next day, or when you notice his or her temperament is a bit more upbeat and open. Here comes the most crucial part: try to start your conversations with a positive tone or topic. Even when we have tough conversation topics to discuss, it helps to get off on the right foot by saying something that will be appreciated. Negativity from the outset will only close the door. (Note to parents: If you notice your teen’s lack of communication is extended or out of character for them, it may be a sign of deeper struggles they’re experiencing. Be attentive to that possibility and gently ask if everything is okay.)

Communicating with teenagers who may be moody, closed-off, or eager for independence can be difficult. I’m sure it was for our parents, too! Remember to recognize their journey (not just the end result), give them space when they need it, and stay positive.  Stay tuned for next week’s post to learn more strategies for effectively communicating with your teenage children or students.

What strategies have you employed when it comes to communicating with your teen? Have you found some methods that work—and some that don’t? Feel free to chime in—we’d love to hear from you!

Communication Strategies that Empower and Influence Your Teen: Part One

After just finishing up a weekend that focused on all things “Mom,” (and what a great weekend it was!), parenting is fresh on my mind. Parenting is good work. It’s certainly not easy, but it’s vitally important work that forever impacts the lives of the next generation. As I reflect back to when I was parenting young teens, I am reminded of the importance of intentionality in this season of life.. In fact, there is one area that can either make or break your relationship with your teen. Can you guess what it is?

 Communication!

In order to set our kids up for success in adulthood, parents must be effective communicators. The crux of it is this: We may have all the wisdom in the world to offer, but if we package it in an unappealing way, it won’t stick.

Today’s post is the first installment in a three-part miniseries about communicating with our teens and is based on one of the most important chapters in Parenting for the Launch. We hope these strategies help you engage with your teens in a way that promotes trust and mutual respect, while still empowering and influencing them in a positive way.

Strategy 1: Meet them where they are.  

It took me far too long to realize that my kids, Michael and Lauren, were much more communicative at different times and places than others. Deep dinner conversations, chats during commutes, and all the times that were convenient for me often didn’t work for them. I learned that our best conversations were away from home at coffee shops or restaurants. A change of environment made all the difference in the world in terms of their willingness to share with me.

My wife, Jeanne, and I also learned that doing something with your kids (e.g., cooking a meal, watching a show, playing games, listening to music, taking a walk, building something, having a manicure or pedicure, or playing a sport) works. We noticed that a little distraction can take the “heaviness” out of a parent/teen conversation and cause them to open up more. It really helped build relationship capital by enjoying the experience and the conversation—and it could do the same for you!

Find the time and place that works best for your teen and sacrifice your convenience for them at this critical time. Notice what environments bring out more conversation and which don’t and operate accordingly. If they’re not in the mood to talk, let it be and don’t take it personally. After all, they have their own rhythms, too.

Strategy 2: Focus more on understanding and listening.

Because parents have the benefit of experience and wisdom, it’s easy for us to overly direct and control our conversations. The busier we are, the more we run this risk. We can easily do most of the talking and give them advice without first listening to their perspectives and feelings. Sometimes they just need to vent and only want us to listen. We can fall into a trap of prejudging and jumping to conclusions, without giving them the benefit of the doubt and respecting their opinions. Without realizing it, we’re devaluing them, harming our opportunity to influence and their opportunity to grow.

It’s amazing to see the difference in our conversations if our goal is merely to understand, share, and relate. By asking open-ended questions, valuing their opinions (even if you disagree), and focusing more on listening than talking, you’ll build capital and grow deeper in your relationship.

Bottom line: think “share with” rather than “talk to.” It’s a telltale sign that you’re treating them as the adult they are becoming, and they’ll appreciate you for it.

Do you have any special strategies for communicating with your teen? What have you noticed works well in your own parent/teen relationship? Stay tuned for next week when we will dive into two more communication strategies.

 

Connect! (Part 3): Why Hope Matters

pathwaytodestinyforblogWhat does it take to “succeed” in life? This is a question we often ask not only for ourselves, but also for the young adults in our life whom we want to see thrive, succeed, and achieve their destiny.
In our work with teens, educators, and parents, we’ve developed a helpful diagram that illustrates the path that most of us travel throughout life on the road to accomplishing our goals and “life purpose” (aka “destiny”).

You can see it starts off with our personal development, which combines our education, experiences, and nurturing. Next, comes a healthy self-awareness (i.e., Who am I? What do I have to offer? What are my passions and interests?) The invaluable outgrowth of these two steps is a sense of value, hope, and belief in ourselves and our future. Buoyed by these three steps, we can now develop a positive vision for our lives that, through daily implementation, determines our DESTINY.

More often than not, as parents or educators, we tend to jump in at the “vision” or implementation stages when we want to motivate teens (i.e., “You can be whatever you want to be,” or “Study hard; clean your room; stay out of trouble!”). But, when there’s not been enough time spent on the preceding stages, the child may “check out” at the Value, Hope, and Belief step—which makes it exceedingly difficult to impart vision or teach implementation skills. All too often, they drop out of high school or become involved in high risk behavior and groups to find a sense of belonging. Bottom line, when kids don’t feel valued, they lose hope—and may miss out on reaching their full potential as a result. Their destiny is compromised.

Research and experience inform us that the best way to build value in people of all ages is to connect with them—to affirm, relate, and encourage in a relational way. So, how can we do this with our children and/or students, and particularly if our relationships are strained?

For one thing, we have to get to know them as individuals. A good relationship between any two people rests on the platform of mutual respect and valuing the other’s unique gifts and contributions. Each person has characteristics that make him or her special and that set him/her up for a unique destiny. Teens vary remarkably in their needs, reactions, communications, and behavioral styles. This impacts how they respond and relate to the world around them. As famous football commentator and coach Tony Dungy wisely said, “It’s hard to lead someone you don’t know.” This is just as true in educating (or raising) teens as it is in coaching football players!

That’s where connection comes in—and with it, value, hope, and progress toward a successful future. Connection leads to understanding, which can help you:

  1. identify what motivates (and discourages) them
  2. appreciate their strengths and be empathetic toward their challenges
  3. communicate in such a way that they receive your messages in the manner intended
  4. respond to them in such a way that they feel safe, heard, and understood
  5. have realistic expectations of them
  6. respect differences
  7. develop strategies that work best for all of you

Ultimately, when we connect with our kids and students, we foster a sense of hope and expectation they need to thrive. Hope has the power to buffer people from stress, anxiety, and the effects of negative life events. More than that, neuroscience tells us that hope actually changes brain chemistry! Hope motivates learning and enables kids to move forward to their destiny, and to absorb and apply the valuable lessons and skills they need along the way.

Bottom line, the next time there’s a challenge with a student or a child, take a step back. Consider the Pathway to Destiny and see if you can identify where that child has the greatest need right now.  Is it really for a pep talk or a how-to lesson? Or is there perhaps a need to back up a few steps, to focus on the foundations, to communicate, relate, and connect? When we do, we plant HOPE—which has exponential power to propel kids forward on the path to their destiny.

This was Part 3 in a series on Social Emotional Learning; visit our blog archive to see Part 1 and Part 2. Also, check out LifeSmart’s What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources for developing life skills, college and workplace readiness, and a strong personal leadership foundation in high school and middle school students. Conversationally written, and designed to impart life wisdom and practical skills in a relational context, our resources will help you make social emotional learning a vital part of your classroom or home environment.