Providing Children with a Toolbox of Emotional and Communication Skills with Sarah Shawesh Part II [IEP 037]
This is Part II of a conversation we started with our guest, Sarah Shawesh, in last week’s episode, Episode 36. Be sure to listen to that episode before diving into this one.
Understanding how the words we use when we communicate with children, specifically when we’re describing feelings like anger and sadness, can have a huge impact on how children grow up understanding those terms and internalizing them in their own relationships.
We’re joined again by Sarah Shawesh. Sarah is a Program and Family Development Specialist at Clever Endeavors Early Care & Education, Inc., a Child and Adolescent Studies Faculty Member at California State University, Fullerton, and Program Coordinator, Orange County Association for the Education of Young Children (OCAEYC).
Full show transcript at the bottom of this post.
What We Discuss in This Episode:
- Why we’re doing children a disservice if we simplify the terms we use to describe otherwise traumatic occurrences
- What message does spanking send to a child and how does it affect them as adults?
- Knowing how to communicate and phrase your feelings as an adult, specifically when speaking to children, can have a huge impact on how children understand those feelings themselves
- Having important conversations about feelings is something that should be done when the child is still young
- How to teach children about “good guys vs. bad guys” and ensure they understand that we’re all people at the end of the day
- Children who watch the current immigration events and witness border patrol placing children in cages are learning certain behaviors and values that aren’t necessarily positive
- “Good boy” and “good girl” are ambiguous phrases so it’s important to be specific about the characteristics you want them to practice
- Can important conversations with children be had on social platforms like Facebook?
- What about “stranger danger”? How valid is that warning that many parents give their children
Sarah Shawesh LinkedIn
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Full Show Transcript
Vickie Brett: Welcome to the Inclusive Education Project. I’m Vickie Brett.
Amanda Selogie: I’m Amanda Selogie. We’re two civil rights lawyers on a mission to change the conversation about education, civil rights, and modern activism.
Vickie Brett: Each week, we’re going to explore new topics which are going to educate and empower others.
Amanda Selogie: And give them a platform to enact change in education and level the playing field.
Vickie Brett: Welcome back projectors, Vickie here, just wanted to pop in real quick before this episode. This is actually a part two of a longer interview that we had with [Sarah Shawesh 00:00:46]. If you recall from our previous episode, number 36 if you’re keeping up with us, Sarah is a program specialist for a private preschool. Amongst a long list of other things, she is a child and adolescent studies faculty member at Cal State-Fullerton, she’s also a program coordinator with the Orange County Association for the Education of Young Children. For this part two, we definitely wanted to discuss a lot of the recent events that have been happening surrounding the trauma that some of the refugee and immigrant children that are coming into the states have been suffering.
If you didn’t catch part one of this interview, that, again, was episode 36, please give it a listen before you listen to this one, it’ll make more sense, believe me. All right, let’s get right into it, enjoy.
Amanda Selogie: We kind of ended our last episode talking about how the way that we treat kids when they’re very young, how we talk to them, the words we use, the way that we interact with them not only is going to have an effect on how they react and learn right now, but for the rest of their lives. We had a conversation a little bit earlier, something that Vickie and I are very affected by and very upset by, and if you’re listening to this in June of 2018, something that’s affecting our entire country is these children getting separated from their families at the border and getting put in these horrible detention centers, and how the country is looking at this from a political stance. What we wanted to talk about is more from the humanistic stance, and looking at these children as human as they are, and how things like this really are going to have an impact on the rest of their lives.
Vickie Brett: We’re not saying we’re trauma experts or anything like that, but I mean with the type of clientele that we work with, you know we work with the foster youth, we work with the children in the juvenile detention centers in the context of special education, but under special education with mental health, we do have those eligibility categories that deal with just social/emotional issues. We see it under autism, we see it under the eligibility of emotional disturbance, we see it in almost everything. This episode is really just talking about what we have experienced with children that have been separated, you know when you are in foster care, you may be jumping around to three or four different foster homes by the time that you’re six years old.
You’re not getting any roots anywhere, you have probably been separated by a parent that you think you’ll get reunited with. In the context in which we were talking and Sarah had mentioned, they should be treated like little mini-adults, to a certain extent obviously. You have “kid gloves” on, if you will, but I think that’s what it is for us. If you have a five-year-old and you’re like, “Yeah no, you’re going to see your mom,” and she’s in jail for six years for God knows whatever, and we’re not having those conversations and we’re just using the had/sappy … “Sappy”, sad/happy-
Amanda Selogie: Sometimes it feels like that, yeah.
Sarah Shawesh: It’s sappy content.
Vickie Brett: That is the sappiest thing, right? I think that’s what a lot of teachers struggle with too, is not knowing this type of information and not knowing how to speak to the child about it, but you should be able to, and what we’re hoping we can accomplish is to give you that confidence to treat children in a way that we’re preparing them, like you said, the toolbox, I love that, I love the toolbox.
Sarah Shawesh: There are so many things that are popping out at me as we even just start this intro, there are so many things coming to mind. One of the things as you’re talking right now, I can remember in my very first college class, which was probably six years ago, we were talking about this happy/sad/glad/mad, and how we start talking to children on a deeper level. This student was explaining how a three-year-old student of hers had just recently lost their mother to cancer, and she said it was really sad. Like, “Wait a second, let’s pause a moment, there’s something traumatic and devastating to have a three-year-old who is just …” Let’s not spend all of this time harping on the fact that it’s traumatic, but give it due diligence by understanding that, you know what’s really sad? When you skin your knee on the sidewalk.
Really, losing your mother is traumatic, and so when we give them only one three-letter word to describe skinning your knee and losing your mother, we’ve done them a disservice. Really, like even when we look at what’s happening now, that experience is not really sad, this experience is traumatic, is trauma, is going to cause a disruption in their development, and there are resilient factors, there are things that will help them be successful adults, but we’re going to have to use lots of preventative measures to get there, because this is trauma, this is going to disrupt development.
Vickie Brett: I think that that’s where a lot of people, they go to therapy, right? Sometimes it can stem from an early childhood trauma that wasn’t dealt with in a way that that child could understand, and 20 years later they’re in their 30s and they’re paying a therapist $150 an hour to figure out like, “Wait, what do you mean all my issues are stemming from this?” I think that that’s really hard just for adults to comprehend, but if they weren’t given the tools, you’re learning the tools, that’s what therapy is supposed to be about, you’re learning tools of how to cope, of how to move forward and how to address these emotions other than happy and sad.
Amanda Selogie: Well, and I think that we’re very quick as adults to say things like, “Oh, you know I’ve got emotional baggage,” or stuff like that, but do people really understand not just how it affects on the greater scheme, but little things? Like how the little things that we do come from something, and we don’t realize it. I think Sarah, you were mentioning before we even started recording about the spanking, if you want to talk about that.
Sarah Shawesh: Get me started on the spanking. There are a few things that just send me into tangents, spanking being one of them, where it is a common parenting practice, and especially between the ages of zero to three, but when we look at the fact that this is their first model of relationship, this is their first mapping of relationships, what we’re telling them is that it is okay for someone who “loves you” to hit you. If it is okay at three for someone who loves you to hit you, is it okay for somebody at 20 who loves you to hit you? That’s not a connection I’m comfortable making for children.
In addition to that, we know that when we get hit, it doesn’t turn our pathway into like, “Oh yeah, let me crack that behavior.” Even for children, it turns their pathway to focus on that pain, to focus on that synapse that says like, “Oh, that hurt,” or to build resentment. Oftentimes those pathways, oftentimes they start thinking about how upset they are at you, not at their own action, at their own behavior. We really see it as though although it stops the behavior, it doesn’t create stronger relationships, it doesn’t teach them how to healthily move through a relationship. I think that one of the things that we as adults should get really good at is expressing our emotions to them, not blaming them for our emotions.
We’re not saying, “You caused me to be mad,” we’re saying, “In this moment, I’m feeling angry, and here’s how I’m going to control myself, here’s how I’m going to calm myself down.” Then when they feel it, when they’re able to identify, when they’re able to say like, “Oh, this is anger for me,” they already have all of those examples you’ve given them to build into their own coping mechanism. It’s okay for us to express anger, we don’t want to blame them for it, but we also want them to know, “This is what it looks like for a grown adult to de-escalate, this is what it looks like for a grown adult to pull out those tools.”
Amanda Selogie: Right, because we talk about kids needing to have, understand coping mechanisms, but like yeah, how are they going to learn it? They’re not going to learn it from just being told, “Well, you need to do this if you’re feeling this way,” because they are going to learn, just as we were saying in part one, that they’re going to learn from what you do. You have to be able to demonstrate, you know we talk about appropriate behavior, or appropriate in that circumstances are expected or whatnot, we’ve gone through that realm, but looking at, “I’m going to do something to show you that this is what I expect of you, or this is what would be appropriate in this scenario,” so then that they know it’s not just being told, “This is how you’re supposed to react.”
Sarah Shawesh: Absolutely, and also telling them stories outside of chaos. For example, in the moment of anger on either side, we’re not thinking clearly, we’re not able to retain as much information. If my brain is telling me that I am angry, upset, hurt, hungry, if my brain is focused on telling me that, then I’m not focused on the conversation we’re having. We need to tell stories and have conversations outside of those experiences, outside of when I’m really upset with my child, outside of when I’m really sad, when I’m really upset, telling those stories, going back and reliving those experiences with our early childhood children. Give them an opportunity to talk about it with a clear head, an opportunity to say like, “Oh, yeah it was frustrating when you told me no, it was really frustrating when you told me no, and here’s what I can do next time.”
Vickie Brett: Thinking that you’re going to be able to have those conversations when they’re 16 is probably a little too late.
Sarah Shawesh: Yeah, absolutely.
Vickie Brett: But I could imagine a parent thinking like, “Oh, I can’t have a ‘serious’ conversation until you understand,” but then once we get to 15, 16, 17, you’re as a parent thinking, “Well, they’re just going through hormones anyways, so they’re not going to be listening to me anyway,” and so it’s like, when are you going to have these conversations, when your kid’s 40 and you’re 60 or 70? That time is passing us.
Amanda Selogie: Exactly, and even with these kids that are not yet verbal, they’re not talking, they’re going to understand a lot more from the way that you act and behave and demonstrate, I think you were saying with like the having eye contact when someone else comes in the room, and being able to understand that someone is someone who’s safe and trusting. I think that that’s something that it’s been really upsetting seeing these kids that are not even able to express how they’re feeling in this moment, with their being separated from their families. They haven’t even had the time to develop the understanding of expected behavior to begin with, and now they’re, I mean-
Vickie Brett: They’re put in cages.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah, I mean-
Sarah Shawesh: Yeah, absolutely.
Vickie Brett: I can’t even imagine the amount of trauma that in and of itself-
Sarah Shawesh: We talked before briefly about messages, and looking at the messages being sent to children, the messages being sent to everybody. When we’re talking about messages, we have to look at the depth of the message, the frequency of the message, and the duration of the message. Anytime we’re having a conversation with the children or an interaction with a child, we have to address, “What is the message?” That’s kind of twofold for me: One, what is the message that we’re sending these children who are being put in cages? We’re sending them this message that this should be their standard of life, even if on some crazy world, and I’m not condoning this in any way, even if in some crazy world separation was appropriate, which it’s not, the standard of living, the standard of care.
When we look at our foster care system, we’re looking at trying to get them the best possible equality right now. That’s not what we’ve done for these children, right? We’ve categorized them as something other than a child.
Amanda Selogie: We’ve categorized them as not human, essentially.
Vickie Brett: Well yeah, it’s the dehumanization of it, and we see that all the time in the context of non-verbal children that I’ve brought up before, or those children that are severely disabled, you know with maybe cerebral palsy, they’re not communicating, but guess what? They are communicating, because when their mom comes into the room and they smile, they’re recognizing a safe person. When they’re grabbing their mom’s finger and squeezing while trying to reach out for the bottle or whatever it is they’re being fed with, I mean they could be eight years old and still having to use a bottle, but we get these districts that go, “Oh no, we’ve done the assessments, they can’t communicate.”
It’s like, “No, they can’t communicate in the way that you want them to communicate, but when you say they can’t communicate, you’re saying they’re not even human, because humans communicate. In one way or another, they communicate,” and I think that that is part of the messaging or the propaganda of, “Oh no,” it’s like you could call it a mesh chain link whatever, isn’t it an enclosement or whatever, an enclosurement? It’s a fence, you’re fenced in, and it’s like, “Oh, well we don’t want them to run away,” and it’s just like we have to be able, the messaging that we’re sending to the world is like unbelievable. That’s why people, and I’ve heard the argument, “Oh, well look at our foster care system.”
Listen, my aunt was a foster care parent for over 30 years, at the end she adopted the three last kiddos that she had, and she tried to give them the best home that she possibly could, and I know I was seeing it from the best available, because she was amazing. Not all foster parents are like that either, but when you have a system that doesn’t have people, there’s no accountability almost, yeah you have some of the social workers are checking in, but are they really? They’ve got 30 million other kids that are on their list, like we have our problems, but the point of the matter is is this has been an influx that we’ve seen most recently, and there are decisions that certain Americans make that get their children taken away from them.
I think the quote that we’ve seen is, “If a parent is willing to put their child in the water, it’s because the land isn’t fit,” and that’s the context in which, and for whatever reason, these parents are doing it, like the separation component I think for us is what’s major and part of that trauma that we’re seeing that will just like … For generations.
Amanda Selogie: Well, and it’s the idea that in the whole grand scheme of things, the way that we act towards children and around children is teaching children how to be adults, and we’re teaching them either positive or negative things. We’re teaching them either how to be a good person, or a not-so-good person. At the end of the day, whether or not we have all these children in our foster care system or not, which we do, but to say that, “Oh, we need to be focusing our energy and attention on the kids that are in our foster that were Americans, but not these children,” we’re saying that some children are better than others, and we’re immediately teaching kids that some people, some humans are better than others. That is not okay, full stop, it’s not okay.
That’s what we’re teaching them, and that’s what gets us fired up because the reason we called it The Inclusive Education Project is because even though we fight a lot for these kids that are living with disabilities, we’re fighting for all children, we’re fighting for a better education, a better community because all children deserve that, all humans deserve that, and it’s really frustrating when people try to make these arguments like the foster care argument or whatever other political argument they want to make. At the end of the day, these kids are human, they’re kids.
Sarah Shawesh: You have indirectly sparked another one of my [crosstalk 00:15:45]. I spend a lot of time with my early childhood generation and my college generation talking about the concept of good guys and bad guys, and that really when we look at each human, doesn’t exist. When we teach them the concept of good guys or bad guys, we teach them that people have to be all one thing, and that’s not the case. We are all people, the class that I’ve already bragged about would leave saying things like, “We’re all people, sometimes we make good choices, sometimes we make bad choices,” but people are composed of choices. When they play bad guys out on the playground, I’ll ask them how many bad choices do they have to make to be an all-bad person, and they say things like, “Oh, you know they made 200 million.”
Like, “Well, that would be devastating,” right? Really we have to teach them that people are made of choices, and that you align yourself with somebody who makes choices similar to you, and you condone but are not in charge of the bad choices that other people make. One of the things that I think that I wanted to cycle back to is in those messages, in those messages as we start to teach them about the devastation that’s happening, as we start to teach other children about the trauma that’s happening with these children, we have to know that this is going to … It’s the cohort effect, this is not only a disruption in the children living in those cages, but in those children who are watching it on TV and those children who are hearing those parents talking about it, in those children.
I think for me, I just hope that parents are sending the message of empathy, like let’s send the message of what this feels like for another family. I think I cut you off, were you-
Vickie Brett: No no no, I wanted to get back to, you had the two-prong with messaging, but where I was going is the good versus bad, the dichotomy that in my women in law class we always talked about was the Jaclyn versus the Marilyn. The Marilyn Monroe, the blonde, the voluptuous, the sexy, and then but being the Jackie, you know Jackie Kennedy, the prim, proper, “I am the mother of your children, and I am here and I’m the brunette or whatever,” and that forcing in all of our messaging for little girls, and we were talking about how it’s just like, “Oh, she’s being bossy, this little five-year-old girl is being bossy, she’s not just standing up for herself.” Whereas if it was a five-year-old little boy, it’d be like, “Oh, look at him standing up for himself, what a little man.”
Amanda Selogie: Or how often do we hear, “Good girl, bad boy”?
Vickie Brett: Right.
Amanda Selogie: Which we don’t often hear, “Bad girl, good boy,” right?
Sarah Shawesh: Well, you know the thing is that it’s a very common phrase, it’s a very common thing to say both ways. I hear parents say like, “Be a good girl today, be a good boy today,” but that’s a really ambiguous term, and so we’re sending them this really ambiguous message that ironically in high school, takes on a new message. In high school, nobody wants to be a good girl or a good boy, we want to be rebellious and we want to try out this new side to us. Instead of saying things like “good girl” or “good boy”, we say things like, “Make really empathetic choices today, make really safe choices today,” and being really specific with them about the characteristic you want them to identify with.
In high school, that’s not a bad characteristic to be empathetic, it’s not a bad characteristic to be compassionate. If I’m using that phrasing over this general “good girl” or “good boy” … Like I shared with you guys, that I just recently became an aunt, and so my sister will tattle-tale on herself and be like, “I’m so sorry, I accidentally called her a good girl. I’m in the habit because that’s what I call the dog.” It’s like, “Well, let’s start talking about characteristics you would want this child to develop, what’s the message you’re trying to say?”
Vickie Brett: At least she’s aware, right? If she was just like, “Whoa, what am I doing?”
Sarah Shawesh: They’re overly aware of the things that I rant and rave about, yes, yeah.
Vickie Brett: I’m sure, but you know it’s nice to get that conversation started. We’re not sitting here telling you if you’re been telling your daughter she’s been a good girl that you’re an awful person, like that’s not what we’re saying.
Sarah Shawesh: Absolutely not.
Vickie Brett: We’re just talking in general about what it is that we’ve seen in our experience, and one of the things that you had mentioned is the story of the little girl that was really dressed up, and her getting, “Hey, yeah, I know I’m going to wear this nice pair of earrings because I’ve gotten compliments in the past, and today I feel like getting six compliments, so yes, I would like to wear these earrings,” but that messaging that’s just been ingrained in me like since before I was born, and being able to take a step back and think like, “Whoa, that’s crazy,” is nice that you’re able to start the conversation and it resonates.
Amanda Selogie: Well, and I think it’s so important, I think being careful with the language that we use around kids. We say all the time, we try to use the “person-first” language, talk about their abilities first as a person living with a disability, rather than a disabled person. I’ve heard this critique before, and it doesn’t help that my family is very politically charged and not on the side that I agree with, but I hear all the time-
Vickie Brett: “You’re not on my side.”
Amanda Selogie: Well no, I hear the idea, and also from friends and other people, that it’s like, “Ugh, we always say we have to be so politically correct these days, we have to be so careful with the words.” It’s like, “Yeah, actually you should be,” and because it’s like, “Oh, these days we have to do this, these days,” like the way that it was done for years, just because it was done for so many years, was the right way to do things. Well guess what? Right now we have people doing horrible things. 20 years ago, 120 years ago, people did horrible things, so we’re not perfect, we’re not a perfect society. No society is, so there’s nothing wrong with trying to improve upon what we have, and just because something was done a certain way does not mean it’s right. Yeah, you know what? We should be careful.
Sarah Shawesh: I think that I work really hard not to say that things are right or wrong, things are effective and ineffective, and what we learn from history is that there are lots of ineffective things that we can make more effective. It’s not about “these days”, it’s about progress, it’s about making small changes that turn into really big outcomes. I too find myself being overly passionate about things I believe in, and so I have to really remind myself like, “How do I convey this in a way that lets them know that their side isn’t wrong.” I’m not saying your side is wrong, what you do now, if you are a parent who uses the “good boy, good girl” language, I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m saying, “If at any chance you wanted to send a different message, here’s how you could do it.”
Vickie Brett: I think that’s important, that’s the toolbox, because it could be in your toolbox and it could not, and it depends on what happens in your childhood. I think for me, it’s made up of experiences. We see in our field of work a lot of attorneys, at least where we’re at right now, special education has only been around since the 70s, so about 40 years. That first generation may have just been those like, “Hey, I see this as an area they may not have even known a child with a disability, it is what it is.” In the last like 20 years, a lot of special education attorneys are those solo practitioners that had another life as a big corporate attorney, then they themselves had a child with special needs, and then they went through the process and they’re like, “Hey, wait a second, is this an area of law? Let me get into it.”
Then you have like, I say our generation, Amanda and I, where we don’t have children with special needs. Yes, Amanda had experience in college as a one-to-one aide, and yes, I do have a cousin, so I do have that familiar connection, but we got into it because this was an area of the law that we felt really passionate about and felt that there was a need for. Now we’re seeing a kind of third generation, if you will, or fourth generation of kids, I say they’re kids, they’re like 25 graduating from law school, but who have siblings that they grew up with and have just a completely different experience. It’s not your child, it’s someone that you grew up with or you saw your parents, and that to me really shapes how people get this right and wrong.
Most of the time we’ll get kids in college that for the first time are experiencing a political ideology that is different from their parents, different from the town they grew up in, but if a lot of things didn’t happen to them in the context of, you know they lived in an all-Hispanic community and they’re coming to college and this is the first time they’ve ever seen a Pacific islander, you know like that blows your mind, and I think that that really is what shapes this sense of right or wrong, because everybody wants it black and white.
Sarah Shawesh: Right, it’s not.
Amanda Selogie: Or they think that we need to, like if you don’t agree with everything someone believes, then we can’t be friends. I’ve seen it a lot on Facebook like, “Oh, I’m cleaning out my friends list because certain people I can’t …” Well guess what? Look, you can choose to do that, but people are going to have different opinions, and that’s kind of how we learn too, from hearing other people’s opinions. If we’re always stuck with people that agree with us, we’re never going to make progress.
Vickie Brett: I guarantee you, if you had a real conversation, it would go a heck of a lot different than on this freaking Facebook with memes in it.
Sarah Shawesh: Absolutely. I think one of the things that I take into consideration, especially in regards to Facebook and this traumatic experience that we kind of started with, is that this back and forth dialog that people are having with safety and empathy, and they’re kind of pinning them against each other, where one side of the argument is saying, “But we’re not safe,” and this other side of the argument is saying like, “We’re all humans, let’s be empathetic.” I think for me when I read it, it’s that they’re having this black and white conversation, [crosstalk 00:25:18] but we don’t have to have this black and white conversation, [crosstalk 00:25:20] we can have safety and empathy at the same time, it’s just going to take a different system, it’s just going to take a different role.
For me, that impact, that difference I can make in early childhood. For you guys, it’s in law. It’s looking at where can I make this impact, where can I start teaching people about gray areas, and then parents have the opportunity to do it with their children. That was kind of a tangent without an ending thought, but like safety and empathy don’t have to be a choice, we can be safe and empathetic whether they’re an American or not an American. I think that in regards to everyone, we need to build this, unify safety and empathy, can go together.
Vickie Brett: One of my favorite teachers in law school, professor Patricia Leary, had just such a way with putting emphasis on words, words do hold a lot of meaning for different people, and not just because of the standardized definition in the dictionary, but because of their experiences. To be able to have a discussion or rephrase the argument, I mean half the time if I just say it in a different way, it’s like, “Oh yeah no, I see what you’re saying,” and it’s just like, how did we get to this point where if I hadn’t taken the two seconds to try to even reframe the issue, it’s like automatic you want to go to, “Well, teachers should have guns,” and it’s like, “Whoa, we weren’t even talking about that.”
Sarah Shawesh: As a teacher, don’t give me a gun.
Vickie Brett: Right, yeah, we’re like, “Where did we go, how did we get there?”
Amanda Selogie: That escalated very quickly. [crosstalk 00:26:45]
Sarah Shawesh: Very quickly, yes, very quickly.
Vickie Brett: [crosstalk 00:26:45] can we take a step back, can we figure out how to prevent guns from being in their hands? That’s just one way of looking at it, let’s not get in it, we’ve had a lot of conversations about school shootings so I’m not trying to turn this into that, but I think that in the context of trauma and how children are affected, and if these children will stay, how this experience can just completely shift their entire future.
Sarah Shawesh: I think, not even taking it back to the school shooting, but I think when we look at the heart of some of these traumatic things, is it’s safety versus empathy, and that from a very young age, we teach children that safety means being quiet. We teach them, “Don’t talk to strangers,” which is a message we want to put in safeguards. I’m not saying don’t create safeguards, we do talk to strangers, we talk to strangers all the time, creating boundaries instead of this all or nothing bridge. This is how we put in safeguards for creating boundaries, instead of creating this “just stay away, if it looks scary, don’t go towards it”.
Amanda Selogie: Well, have you ever talked to someone from another country where they’ll come to America and they’ll say, “It’s so weird walking down the street, because nobody says hi to each other.” In other countries, you walk down the street and everyone is, “Hi, how are you doing?” I think that we’ve ingrained in our childhood, we’ve ingrained that safety of the stranger danger to the extent that it’s made us be at the point where like it’s subliminal in our minds like we don’t even say hi. Like a couple years ago I started up running, and one thing that my friend told me who got me into running about running was that runners are very friendly. At first when I started running, I’d be running down a path of other runners, and everyone would be saying hi, and I’m like, “I don’t know you, what are you doing?”
Then now, I’m at the point where I’m the complete opposite, I’m running and I see someone, and I go, “Morning!”, and if they don’t say hi back, I go … You know, because now I’ve gotten used to that because it’s something that I feel like with the stranger danger that we had kind of in our childhood, it became so much that yeah, don’t even say hi to people. It’s like boundary thing is more important, because you can say hi if they say, “How are you doing?”, you can say, “I’m doing great, how are you?” You can have that basic smalltalk without giving them all your information or making you feel like you have to protect yourself, because the majority of people are, they do just mean well.
Sarah Shawesh: Absolutely.
Vickie Brett: What I was going to say is, you know some parents listening are just like, “How the heck am I supposed to do that?” Well, sometimes you’re at the grocery store and you’re chatting up the person … My grandmother on flights when we would go back east to visit family, she like hands down would always be friends, and know the entire person sitting next to us, because it would be her and I and then she’d just know their entire family history, and she was just a good listener but friendly. Obviously she was an older lady, so it’s like, “Okay, she’s not dangerous,” and I know we live in a very … Like Amanda and I listen to My Favorite Murder and all these things, and it’s not necessarily about like you had said, like being quiet is what you’re taught.
It’s like, “No, just be assertive, and it’s okay.” I think a teachable moment for a child is if you are at the grocery store, if you are driving and you’re waving like, “Oh, I waved to him because he’s actually our neighbor, I’ve seen him multiple times, and it’s nice sometimes to just wave.” Having that moment, and like you said, communicate more, I think sometimes we just don’t communicate, and maybe we can over-communicate. I mean, we’re attorneys, so I don’t think we’re going to have that problem.
Sarah Shawesh: I’m definitely an over-communicator. The first time that this provocation ever really came to light for me was a family saying, “How do I teach my child to be social and not in danger?” I was like, “Oh yes, that’s a great question. This is how we get started with that. In the grocery store, we say like, ‘I said hi because this is the teller we always talk to, this is the kind of information that I’m comfortable sharing with them. I’m not telling them about our deepest, darkest secrets, I’m telling them about our vacation, about our this, about our that.'”
Vickie Brett: “We just got back,” yeah.
Sarah Shawesh: “We just got back,” we’re not giving personal details, they don’t know what street we live on, but they know I’m a human, I know they’re a human. I often get into conversations with parents where they come in the door, and my desk at the preschool is right in the front, and parents will come in and say like, “Say good morning, so-and-so said good morning to you,” and I know this is a common thing happening at preschools, and the child kind of like eases up, like power struggle. Instead of forcing and forcing “good morning”, the message is really “acknowledge that this human is in the room with us”. Saying things like, “Hey, you can acknowledge me by smiling at me, or did you see that I acknowledge our neighbor by a wave?” We don’t have to go into a 45-minute conversation. It’s the foundation, what’s the foundation? This person is a human, and this is how we let humans know we see them.
Vickie Brett: I was going to say, so often if I’m meeting, or obviously I know my friend’s child, and last time I saw her she was two and now she’s four, it’s like it’s okay if she doesn’t want to say hi to me, but I see that all the time. It’s like, “Say hi to her, say hi to her,” and not with that particular … That was just like, I remember one of my old colleagues doing that, and I’m just like, “It’s cool, like you’re making me uncomfortable. They don’t want to say hi.” Sometimes I’ll just be like, “Just give me a high five,” or I’ll just be like, “Hey, what’s up,” because as a parent you’re so embarrassed, you’re like, “Oh my God, why don’t they say hi?” It’s like your kid might just be shy, it’s cool, because we don’t want to force them. I’ve seen this a lot with little girls, like don’t force her to kiss her male cousin.
Sarah Shawesh: Anyone.
Vickie Brett: Or anyone, but like the context of it, and I remember feeling that I’m like, “I don’t want to,” and that’s okay.
Sarah Shawesh: I went to someone else’s family party last summer, and the little girls were being, and the little boys, as a younger generation, were being encouraged to hug everybody that came to the door. The goal was to be a really great hostess, a really great host of this party, but I was like, “I don’t know this kid, don’t hug me.” Yeah, for me it was awkward where it was like, “How about we just greet each other, here’s my name before you’re forced to hug me.” It was very culturally-driven, it was coming with good intentions, but for me because I have such clarity around boundaries, I was like, “Let’s start with our name, let’s start with a handshake.” I think it’s just about looking at the messages that we’re sending, that yes, in this context of family, in this somebody who comes to my house, a hug might be appropriate. I said that as I hugged Amanda with no boundaries earlier.
Vickie Brett: I didn’t even realize, I just hugged you.
Amanda Selogie: You know what? I was just thinking that, but you know what? It’s funny, because like we’re huggers too, and I don’t know why I went to shake your hand first, because normally we would just hug, and it was just [crosstalk 00:32:59] such a weird-
Vickie Brett: That was the second time I met you, and I was like, “Hi, what’s up?” I didn’t even think of it until you said it.
Amanda Selogie: Well, because I’m a hugger.
Sarah Shawesh: I’m such a hugger, but I think that I’m hyper-aware with children. Even when people hear me talk about gender differences, they’re like, “Are you super masculine?” I’m like, “No, actually I’m really feminine, but I don’t want to make that choice for a child.” Like the same thing with hugging, because I’m a super big hugger, but I don’t want to make that choice for a child.
Amanda Selogie: Well, and especially it’s one thing with people that they’re really close with and demonstrating affection with people that you care about, but also not having to do that with people if you’re not comfortable.
Sarah Shawesh: Right, and I just don’t want to make that decision, I don’t want to decide whether you’re comfortable or not.
Vickie Brett: Well, you come from a position of power, just between the adult and the child you’re always coming from the position of power, and you don’t want to make that decision for the child.
Sarah Shawesh: Absolutely.
Vickie Brett: You want to make sure that if they have the tools, they can make the decision. I think that that is probably scaring a lot of parents, because they’re like, “I don’t want to give my two-year-old any power.”
Sarah Shawesh: No power, we don’t want to engage in any power struggles.
Vickie Brett: It’s just a little food for thought, obviously we wanted to pull something from the headlines to kind of talk about, but hopefully it’ll give you a well-rounded conversation as to just our behaviors, our messaging I think was a good thing that we hit a lot, and then also the setting of boundaries, so another great episode, I think.
Amanda Selogie: I hope you guys enjoyed the bonus pod and you’re enjoying the start of summer, if you’re listening to it live. If you’re listening to it in December, that’s totally okay.
Vickie Brett: That’s totally fine too.
Amanda Selogie: Hopefully you’re getting ready for the holidays, we’re just getting you ready.
Vickie Brett: [crosstalk 00:34:35] going into those things. Yeah, so hope you guys have a great rest of your day, evening, morning, week, month, whatever, and hopefully you will listen to us next week.
Amanda Selogie: We’ll talk to you soon.
Vickie Brett: Bye.
Amanda Selogie: Bye.