EMOTIONS. In the era of technological progress and consumerism, what makes us different from a machine (and let’s hope it will be for a long time ) is the capacity to share emotions, a fundamental human characteristic in every experience and relationship, with others and with the world. The etymology of the word “emotion” (Latin e-move-re :to move outside) refers to a movement which starts inside us and goes towards others. In this prospective, emotions can be seen as an essential precondition, registered in us which enable us to relate to one another. There are many theories that have followed and tried to explain what are emotions, it’s not enough to know that emotions are a relational experience. They represent the first form of communication and the first mode of relationship, when we come into the world. This makes us understand that emotional language, together with body language, come before verbal. Just think of how a child interacts in his first weeks of life: the cry, the smile, the arm, leg and body movements. Verbal language is added later, after this emotional and corporal language. These three forms, which are modes to relate to others are strictly connected. In children, however, emotional language is more important than the others.
We must learn to go along with children’s emotions, this allows them to develop what is called emotional competence: the capacity to deal with their emotions and that of others. Having defined emotions as a relationship, it is a fundamental aspect that good and bad emotions don’t exist. If they are registered in us, they are part of our baggage when we come into life and it makes no sense to give them a moral judgement. It makes more sense to ask ourselves, what are they for?
PRIMARY RELATIONSHIPS. Where are emotions born, what is the origin of social-emotional development in a child? We have defined emotions as a relational experience, now we are going to look at the first relationships of a child, especially with his mother, The tie that binds tightly a mother and child is prevalently love. Just as a child is fed by his mother’s milk (physical nourishment), at the same time he feeds on maternal love (psychological nourishment). In this way he feels reassured inside a welcoming personal relationship, “warm” sweet, protective, serene, loving. The other characteristics of this very special personal relationship are:
- it represses anguish and gives a positive feeling to a child
- it modulates the gene expression: our genetic patrimony expresses itself, it also manifests according to interaction with an external environment. This influence is very strong in the first months of a child’ life.
- it promotes the separation process from himself to others. In the first months a child feels one with his mother, he has no idea of himself or of others. The separation from his mother is fundamental to begin to know himself and then build relationships with others.
- the relational modes that develop represent the prototypes (the conditions) for all future “I-you” relationships.
Observing the mother-child relationship helps us to understand the role children have in a relationship in general, therefore also with us. Calculations show that 60-70% of moments between mother and child during the day are not coordinated. She can’t always interpret his needs: does that cry mean he’s hungry? That he has a sore tummy? That he is tired and sleepy? This helps the child to differ his way of crying according to his needs, and his mother learns to recognise the cry and the specific need that the child is expressing. The repetition of this mode results in the internalization of this behavioural pattern in the child: if I cry like this I will have milk, if I cry like this she will massage my tummy, if I cry like this she will lull me to sleep. This wonderful relationship of love tells us that a child is a co builder of relationships.
EMPATHY. It’ s the instrument par excellence to enter into a relationship. Today everybody talks about it, but let’s try to understand what it is…Empathy is the ability to walk in another’ shoes.
It’s the key to the other: a kind of invisible bridge which allows to cross our boundaries and enter delicately in the interior world of who is in front of us, to stay as long as is necessary to understand his most intimate place and make him feel “touched” by the message you leave which is: I know what you are living because now I am living it with you” before going back into ourselves.
An empathic relationship is much more intense than it seems, for both persons: it is the sharing of your being even before sharing a fact or a circumstance, It is what many of us call “becoming one”.
To behave empathetically we must “empty ourselves” in order to welcome the other inside ourselves: suspend for a moment our thoughts, our opinions, our judgements, our desires. Furthermore, empathic relationships promote the change from a competitive and conflictive perspective (I against you), always more frequent in today’s relationships, to a more brotherly collaboration (I with you). To walk in someone’s shoes is such a fulfilling experiencing that it helps us to understand ourselves better, to reflect on out way of thinking and our emotions. Mutuality is also the key for this: starting from my emotions, I tune into the other’s emotions which, in turn, gives me the possibility to grow and understand myself better. To teach how to be emphatic means teaching reciprocity: the first brick and parent strength of universal brotherhood.
TRUST. The smaller the children, the more they put their needs( love, understanding of the world, relationships) in the hands of adults. They represent the secure base to leave and find out about the world, to come back to in movements of tiredness, suffering or disorientation.; we are the guide that helps them interpret what’s happening around them: the supporting hand that encourages them to take on new experiences; the rock to collide with when they need to show their independence in thought and action. So never break a child’s trust! It would be very serious. Not only would it weaken their relationship with us, but it would have a negative effect on their growing up, because not only do they trust us but they entrust themselves to us. To find out that they can’t do this any more would be detrimental. We must bear concrete witness, be forceful, credible, coherent. Luckily children teach us to begin again and from this lesson we can learn in our turn to say sorry: this is a very strong educative gesture.
WELCOMING AND APRECIATING OTHERS. As we have already said we live in a divided society where difference is understood to be a constraint and not an enrichment, as a danger and not as a gift. Try and think of when you felt unwelcome! If we want to put relationships as a central point, welcome is a prerequisite. To welcome means making space for another inside us, to turn down the volume of our subjectivity in order to listen to who is in front of us, to understand what he is living and what is his point of view. It is important that children have this experience at home. We must promote a rational climate in our homes based on appreciating the other members, where each one feels recognised, welcomed, respected and loved. Giving a child the chance to experiment this rational mode, in a secure environment, means it can be internalized ,becoming a real and personal way of life to take outside of the family. In this way the family is a rational laboratory.