Using MINDSIGHT to manage conflicts
Imagine this scenario. You pick up your daughter or son.....for this post let's say her name is Hazel. She looks upset and flustered. Hazel angrily says that her friend Penny just called her annoying! You ask why Penny might have said that and Hazel is certain there is absolutely NO REASON at all - she just said it! Sound familiar?
Last year during kinder, my four year old daughter often came home saying that she had no friends and no body liked her. Yet whenever we dropped her off the children would run to her with beaming faces, open arms, and calling her name. This behaviour did not match what my daughter was saying. When I observed her playing, I noticed that at times she was in a closed, reactive state. When her friends asked her to play, she would walk away or say no. Or when they were playing, she would walk away in the middle of a game or start crying. This lead to her friends not including her in activities, or just continuing on with the game without her. They weren't purposefully excluding her, but gave up on asking her to play. I could see that her shyness, her difficulty in communicating what she was thinking or feeling, and her stubbornness to compromise in games contributed to her feeling like she had no friends.
Children can find it hard to see anything from someone else's perspective. It is very normal for children to be egocentric, particularly the younger they are. Children see what they see, or sometimes only what they want to see. This can happen with adults too. Having personal insight (knowing about oneself) plus empathy is what is needed to have MINDSIGHT...seeing things from other people's perspective. Dan Siegel, a neuropsychiatrist describes it as
INSIGHT + EMPATHY = MINDSIGHT
For children to have healthy relationships they need to have mindsight. It is important for children to be able to stay connected with others and be a part of "we," (social world) but also not lose sight of their own personal identity - "me," (identity). In other words, this means being able to see things from their own point of view, as well as someone else's point of view.
“Having personal insight, plus empathy is what is what needed to have MINDSIGHT...seeing things from other people's perspective.”
Learning how to use mindsight takes a lot of practise, guidance, modelling and support! How well children use mindsight to participate in the "we" is dependent on the quality of their relationships with their caregivers. This does not mean only parents, but significant adults in their lives such as teachers, peers, grandparents and so on.
So how can we manage conflicts using mindsight? Let's go to Hazel, from introductory scenario. With Hazel our aim is to model how to use mindsight to resolve the conflict in a healthy way. This is a tough skill to teach and learn, particularly if the child is angry.
So instead of dismissing her by saying "Maybe you did something wrong, or maybe don't play with her. Or what did you do?", you might connect with Hazel by saying, "You seem really upset." Then you might ask why her friend was calling her annoying, and what it might have looked like from their perspective. Hazel may be finding it difficult to see things from her friend's perspective. Particularly if she finds reading non verbal cues challenging or if she is upset. It is important to discuss that non verbal cues can communicate more than words. Sometimes children don't realise that their body language and tone of voice can contribute to friendship conflicts. Asking Hazel to reenact the scene, or questions about non verbal cues can help her see it from another perspective.
I'll admit, this does not always work, and it can take time to learn. I have also seen it work very well. Asking questions about how both parties may feel, why they reacted, and what they may have thought can encourage empathy in children and help them tackle friendship conflicts in a healthier way.
Reference: Siegal, D. & Bryson, T. (2012). The Whole-Brain Child. Scribe Publications Pty Ltd. Brunswick Australia.