Magazine article Work & Family Life

Achieving a Healthy Balance between the 'I' and the 'We'

Magazine article Work & Family Life

Achieving a Healthy Balance between the 'I' and the 'We'

Article excerpt

The tension between two predominant cultural messages-"you're number one" and "be a good team player"-affects our children as much as it does us. How do we help our children achieve a healthy balance between the "I" and the 11 we"? One way is to help them develop what I call "team intelligence."

Children with team intelligence know how to be part of a team without "losing" themselves. They can be assertive at times, putting themselves and their judgment first. At other times they allow their needs and opinions to be second to the group. This isn't about leading or following. It's about honoring one's core self and still being a cooperative player who makes an individual contribution to the greater whole.

How team intelligence works

Team intelligence enhances the capacity for empathy. When young children play together, they learn to tune in to others. As they become more observant, they notice than some kids learn or run faster than others and that children from different cultural backgrounds may have different attitudes and points of view. With team intelligence, children develop the capacity to remain true to their own convictions while recognizing the beliefs and feelings of others.

Team intelligence leads to conflict resolution. If Joan is part of a group working on a school project, for example, she may come up with her own ideas but she must also cooperate and negotiate, know when to speak and when to listen. Team intelligence is taught at home when kids learn that their needs are not the only ones that must be met and that sometimes they have to work together toward common family goals.

Why it's difficult to achieve

Parents tend to foster the "I" in their children. They take pains to make sure children know they're "special" but may be unaware that their doting behavior can affect a child's participation in collective activities.

The peer group and popular culture send mixed messages. On the one hand, group membership rules dictate that you should be part of the gang and keep grownups out. On the other, there's a powerful focus on the self, promoting the "I-gotta-be-me-at-any-cost" mentality. Some kids have trouble putting aside their own needs for the sake of the group. Others turn themselves inside out to be "cool" and conform to peer standards.

What can parents do?

Groups are difficult to negotiate. It is hard to break in. Judgments are made. There is pressure to conform and perform. Children need parents' help to develop group skills and to hone their ability to come up with solutions that enable them to fit in or to have the strength not to be part of a group. Here are four steps to help kids become effective team members in or out of school, without compromising their core selves.

#1 Listen...

Keep an ear tuned specifically for the emotional consequences of group pressure. How you listen can thwart or encourage a child who is feeling bad about himself. Pay close attention to your tone as you ask questions. Keep your voice kind, firm and nonjudgmental. Be patient. It may take a while to find out what happened.

Don't ignore or try to dismiss the issues your kids raise. There's almost always akernel of reality in a child's fears about his or her relationship with other kids. For example, if your daughter says, "They think I'm a geek," maybe there's something about the way she presents herself that makes her an easy target. Validate what she is saying. …

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