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Lesson Title: Let’s Talk
Learning how to communicate to maintain healthy and satisfactory relationships – both platonic and romantic – is one of the main objectives of the new Human Development and Sexual Health strand of Ontario’s Health and Physical Education curricula. Whether you are 6 years old or 60, learning how to communicate effectively with others is very important.
Throughout my undergraduate studies in psychology, I learned that one of the most common issues that arise among children and adults alike are faulty communication skills. Take a moment to reflect on a recent experience when you had a dispute with a friend, a colleague, a partner, and the like. When you were communicating with this person, how were you expressing yourself? More often than not, when we try to communicate – especially during a challenging or upsetting experience – we place a lot of blame (if not, all the blame) on the other person, which leads the other person to become defensive. It is not healthy or productive to communicate in such a way, though it is easy to default to “You upset me! This is your fault! How could you do this to me?”
I was recently speaking with a clinical psychologist who specializes in Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (currently, one of the most commonly practiced therapies in psychology) who works with pre-teens to adults. He gives each of his clients a worksheet with an exercise to practice effective communication skills. The worksheet looks like this:
“I feel ____insert basic emotion ____because ____insert what happened____. I would appreciate ____insert specific request ____.”
This dialogue is non-threatening. Instead of blaming the person with which you are communicating, you are explaining how you are feeling because of your interpretation of what happened. This allows the other person to understand where you're coming from and hopefully they will respond similarly when explaining how they feel. Then, the two of you can reach a compromise while remaining empathetic to each others' feelings and needs.
When describing how you feel, use “basic emotions” that a six year old would understand – regardless if you are speaking with an adult or a child. Some “basic emotions” include happy, sad, angry, scared, surprised, and so on. Disappointed or frustrated may be what you initially think you’re feeling, but do you think a 6 year old would truly understand that language? Likely not. At the core of disappointment and frustration are usually anger, sadness and/or surprise, so use those terms instead.
Let’s say, for example, you are supposed to meet a friend for a movie at 7 pm, but she arrives at 7:20 pm without letting you know she was running late. This is what a conversation would look like not using the dialogue above:
“I can’t believe you were 20 minutes late. We’re going to miss the movie now. Why didn’t you call me? Or send me a text? You obviously don’t respect my time.”
If you were to use the dialogue "script" above, it may sound something like this:
“I feel angry because we are going to be late for the movie. I would appreciate if you give me a quick text or phone call to let me know that you are running late.”
This communication tool can also be used for positive experiences. People enjoy praise and being complimented. “I feel happy because we got to see a movie together. I appreciate spending time with you because you're a lot of fun to be around, and I hope we can do this more often!”
How to use this activity with your students
1. Ask your students to get into pairs. Ask students to label themselves as Person A and Person B.
2. Ask them to reflect on a recent experience when they were upset with someone.
3. Ask students to role play using the dialogue above. Alternatively, students can make up a situation and role play. Person A starts by using the dialogue script above and Person B can respond. Give students a couple minutes to go back and forth to elaborate on the situation or use different emotions/scenarios. Then students can switch roles. (*Note* Depending on the age of your students, it may be helpful to show them some examples or role play with a student volunteer to model what the conversation would look like).
4. Have a class discussion about how the exercise made them feel. Do they feel more confident about communicating their needs? What did they find effective (or not effective) about this strategy? Ask how they can see themselves using this in their lives.
Relevant Specific Expectations from the Ontario curricula
Grade 3: C1.3 identify the characteristics of healthy relationships (e.g., accepting differences, being inclusive, communicating openly, listening, showing mutual respect and caring, being honest) and describe ways of overcoming challenges (e.g., bullying, exclusion, peer pressure, abuse) in a relationship
Grade 6: C2.5 describe how they can build confidence and lay a foundation for healthy relationships by acquiring a clearer understanding of the physical, social, and emotional changes that occur during adolescence (e.g., physical: voice changes, skin changes, body growth; social: changing social relationships, increasing influence of peers; emotional: increased intensity of feelings, new interest in relationships with boys or girls, confusion and questions about changes)
Grade 12: C1.3 demonstrate an understanding of how relationships develop through various stages, and describe the skills and strategies needed to maintain a satisfactory relationship as the relationship evolves (e.g., communication and interpersonal skills, adaptive and coping skills, conflict resolution strategies)